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Do Corporations Have “Personal Privacy” Rights?

Posted September 30th, 2010 by Michael Krasnow

On Tuesday, September 28th, the Supreme Court granted the request of the FCC and the Justice Department to hear the case of Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, Inc., No. 09-1279.  The case involves the Freedom of Information Act (commonly known as the "FOIA"), the federal law that permits the public to request and obtain copies of records from the United States Government.  In general, the law requires that federal agencies release the requested records unless they are covered by one or more of the FOIA's statutory exemptions.

The AT&T case involves FOIA Exemption 7(C).  That provision exempts from mandatory public disclosure records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, when disclosure could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of "personal privacy."  The question presented is whether Exemption 7(C)'s protection for "personal privacy" protects corporations like AT&T in addition to individuals (who clearly are covered).  A federal appeals court in Philadelphia held that corporations can have protected “personal privacy” interests under Exemption 7(C).  The Supreme Court agreed to take the case to review that decision.

Briefs in the case will be due the end of the year, oral argument likely will be heard early in 2011, and the Supreme Court should issue its decision by June 2011.  For more background on this case, please see our post dated June 22, 2010, as well as the official webpage of the FCC’s Office of General Counsel.

Posted in Office of General Counsel
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Next Steps on Nonvisual Cell Phone Access

Posted September 24th, 2010 by Jamal Mazrui - Deputy Director, Accessibility and Innovation Initiative

Let me encourage anyone interested to submit comments to the Commission regarding accessibility of cell and other phone technologies to people who are blind, deaf-blind, or have low vision, in furtherance of Section 255 of the Communications Act. Such comments are due by the end of Thursday, September 30, 2010. Initial comments have already been filed, and currently, a reply comment period is underway.

The public notice is entitled "Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Seek Comment on Accessible Mobile Phone Options for People who are Blind, Deaf-blind, or Have Low Vision." It may be downloaded as a Microsoft Word document from the following web address:


Comments may be filed using the web form of the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS), located at:


A web form on that page allows one to upload a word processor document, e.g., in Microsoft Word format. Comments may also be typed or pasted into a simpler web form called ECFS Express, located at:


At the prompt for the docket, input:

CG Docket No. 10-145

Comments may be of any length and address any relevant issue. They will affect how the Commission handles government responsibilities in this area.

(Cross-posted on Blogband)

Posted in Wireless Consumers
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Super Wi-Fi is Super for Energy Too

Posted September 24th, 2010 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

By Nick Sinai and Tom Brown

We at the FCC are very excited about yesterday’s order to free up the unused "white spaces" spectrum between television channels, intended to spur a wave of innovation in new devices and applications. Most commenters have focused on the possible use of this spectrum in "Super Wi-Fi" networks with wider range and better structural penetration than is available today.

But Super Wi-Fi isn’t just for consumers; it’s super for improving how we transmit and distribute energy in America too. The National Broadband Plan made several recommendations designed to integrate broadband into the emerging Smart Grid and enable improved Smart Grid communications; white spaces spectrum is yet another option for utilities to use for their communications networks. As we have seen in a recent trial in Plumas-Sierra County, California, white spaces spectrum can be used effectively and securely for grid automation applications, as well as retail broadband services. Opening white spaces spectrum is also likely to have a particular impact on utility operations in rural areas, which often have challenging terrain and fewer options for broadband service than urban areas.

The FCC remains committed to doing its part to usher in a new era of utility communications, and we look forward to seeing the innovations in all sorts of "national purpose" areas – health care, education, and yes, energy – that will result from yesterday’s action.

(Cross-posted on the Department of Energy Blog and Blogband)

Posted in National Broadband Plan
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Enforcement Bureau Settles Case That Restores Nearly $22 Million to TRS Fund

Posted September 22nd, 2010 by Michele Ellison - Chief of Enforcement Bureau

As the result of a settlement negotiated by the Enforcement Bureau and released yesterday, Purple Communications, Inc., will pay around $22 million to the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Fund.  TRS is a vital service that allows people with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone – through an interpreter – with hearing people.  The settlement follows the FCC’s demand earlier this year that Purple restore millions of dollars to the fund for overbilling it in violation of FCC rules.  The issues under investigation included whether the company unlawfully offered financial incentives to inflate TRS usage and billables, and whether the company recovered not once but twice from the fund for business-related calls to or from Purple employees.  In addition to the payment to the TRS Fund, the settlement also requires Purple to adopt a detailed compliance plan to prevent future misconduct, and to pay $550,000 to the U.S. Treasury.

The action is a victory for consumers all the way around.  The settlement protects carriers and the general public from overpaying into the TRS Fund.  The $22 million paid back will directly offset what the fund will need in the future to pay for TRS service, and therefore what the public will need to pay to support it.  And, most important, the settlement ensures that the fund will be used for its intended purpose – providing affordable relay services for consumers with disabilities who need and want to communicate with hearing people.

As I said Monday when we announced the Consent Decree, we simply will not tolerate abuse of the TRS Fund.  The settlement with Purple strikes the right balance:  it requires full repayment of the TRS Fund and compels an overhaul of Purple’s business practices; at the same time, it enables Purple to continue providing vital relay services to individuals with hearing or speech disabilities.  We will remain vigilant in protecting the public trust -- the millions of Americans with hearing or speech disabilities deserve no less.

For more information visit the Enforcement Bureau page.

Posted in Enforcement Bureau
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Modernizing FCC.gov from the Ground Up

Posted September 22nd, 2010 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

As IT tides shift in Washington, D.C., the Federal Communications Commission has a special opportunity to become an expert technology agency in the federal government.

We have been hard at work in redesigning FCC.gov: defining personas of citizens and business both current and potential, building our data infrastructure (as I mentioned in my O’Reilly Media Gov 2.0 Summit talk), combing through first-ever site analytics and user surveys, and talking to people both online and off about how they would reimagine FCC.gov.

Today, I'm happy to announce that this agency will be rebuilding FCC.gov using Drupal. This decision is a significant step towards modernizing our own underlying online infrastructure -- a key stage in redesigning and rebuilding FCC.gov.

We're excited to join a group of pioneering agencies and offices -- like Whitehouse.gov, Commerce.gov, and Ed.gov -- that have helped activate a movement that embraces and promotes inter-agency website efforts, while helping to usher in systemic change. As an open source content management system, Drupal also enjoys a robust and active community of users, code contributors, and evangelists. We look forward to engaging with this community to help us innovate and learn, as we build out our own budding community of citizen developers.

We understand that citizen shareholders deserve a government that moves quickly to deliver information, facilitate transactions, and inform and engage Americans. As we continue to reimagine what FCC.gov can -- and will -- be, we're excited to do so alongside the Drupal community.

Posted in Reform - Redesign Open Government Office Of Managing Director

A Case for Next Generation 9-1-1

Posted September 22nd, 2010 by Jeffery Goldthorp - Associate Bureau Chief - Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Like highways, communications networks can get snarled up when they have too much traffic.  Most people have experienced this in the form of the "Mother's Day effect."  A more serious form of this limitation occurs when an emergency results in a sudden surge of calls to a local 9-1-1 call center, resulting in congestion and call blocking.  Next generation 9-1-1 (NG911) uses IP-based technology to manage 9-1-1 call surges dynamically, minimizing blockage.

For more on NG 911 watch the video below:

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
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The New Parents’ Place

Posted September 21st, 2010 by Rachel Kazan - Chief, Consumer Affairs & Outreach Division, CGB

Today we launched our new Parents’ Place webpage filled with resources and information about television, electronic media and online safety. We also link to other sites with great information for parents.  For just one example, click on the link to Net Cetera for practical tips for talking to your children about being online.

We have three categories of online resources:

•    TV and Parental Controls – Learn about children’s television; how to use TV ratings, how to block objectionable programming, and how to report obscenity as well as indecency and profane language on broadcast television and radio.

•    Children’s Safety – Discover information about protecting your children online. Visit OnGuard Online, learn how to discourage your teen from distracted driving, learn about Amber Alerts, and more. 

•    Media and Childhood Obesity – This page includes fun links to LetsMove.gov with challenges to get kids moving and information on good nutrition.  You can also click on Sesame Workshop where you’ll find entertaining ways to teach young children about health and good nutrition.

Want to find television programs for your kids? Type in your zip code to find local broadcast instructional and educational programs in your area.  We also have a link to PBS - so you can find the local times of your child’s favorite PBS show.

We encourage parents to share their practical ideas and insights related to children and communications.  So the website provides a forum for parents and caregivers to share practical ideas about online safety, safe driving and blocking inappropriate content.  Let us know if there are other topics you would like us to add to the discussion list.

If you want to dig deeper, take a look at the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, especially the chapter on education.  And make sure to check out the video of Chairman Genachowski talking with Elmo about the importance of high-speed internet access.  Elmo wants the Internet to be fast, fast, fast!

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers Parents
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WISENET coming soon! Participate in the Women in ICT's Shared Experience Network

Posted September 21st, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

Very soon, the FCC’s International Bureau will launch a new section of FCC.gov called “Women in ICT’s Shared Excellence Network” (WISENET).  The site is an international online community of women in information, communications, and technology.  Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Meredith Baker will kick off the discussions.

WISENET will be a space for women in ICT from around the world to share views and professional information, and keep in touch with each others’ work and accomplishments. Through WISENET, not only will we be able to stay informed about each other’s professional lives, but we also will have access to resources and referrals we can all use as we face common challenges.  To encourage sharing, we envision a website which will host information that participants contribute.  This will include professional biographical information, as well as other ICT-related input. 

If you are interested in participating, please send to Irene.Wu@fcc.gov:

  1. Your photo, name, professional title, organization, city, and country, as you wish it to appear on the website.
  2. A short professional bio of less than 100 words.
  3. Links to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social networking sites.

Also, we encourage you to send in:

  1. Short blog posts (200 words or less) on topics of your choice – ICT issues, economic development, or your own professional career path.  It is certainly fine to draw on speeches, articles, or other material you may have already released to the public.
  2. Links to any upcoming events or projects you would like to share with the group.
  3. Links to any past events, publications, or other materials you would like to share with the group.

Please be an early contributor to WISENET by sending in your information by September 28, 2010!  We plan to “go live” by the end of the month. 

Posted in International Bureau Wisenet
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FCC License View

Posted September 14th, 2010 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

The FCC is proud to announce this Tuesday's Developer Release: FCC License View.

FCC License View is a tool designed to make FCC license management information more transparent and accessible to a broad range of users.

This release follows last Tuesday's launch of a suite of developer tools and APIs, including the FCC License View API.

FCC License View is an initial release of functionality from the FCC's ongoing Consolidated Licensing System (CLS) project. Thanks to efforts stemming from our the new Data Innovation Initiative, our team was able to expedite the release of FCC License View for speedy release to the public.

FCC License View is available now at http://fcc.gov/licenseview.

Last week at the Gov 2.0 Summit here in Washington, D.C., FCC leadership reaffirmed our commitment to providing powerful, innovative tools into our robust community of developers. Today's release marks our ongoing progress towards those goals -- and the first in a regular release schedule of tools and tweaks.

With this new tool, users from across private and public sectors can digest complex licensing info through a simple and easy-to-use dashboard. FCC License View lets users digest snapshots of FCC license management data that are at the core of the agency’s mission. At launch, FCC License View lets users explore over 3 million total licenses, 2 million of which are active.

This consolidated portal allows users of FCC License View to access information on the number of different licenses across services, the number of licenses owned by particular entities, and which licenses are up for renewal in the future.

The underlying dataset is composed of data across the FCC's five licensing databases, and gives users three options -- HTML pages, raw data files, and Application Programming Interaces (APIs) -- through which to access and reuse agency data.

Get started using FCC License View now, then make sure to leave us your feedback and sign up for our FCC Developer community.

Posted in Reform - Redesign Open Government Consumers Data

Update for /Developer

Posted September 14th, 2010 by Michael Byrne - Geographic Information Officer

Last week we announced the release of four API’s and the site fcc.gov/developer at the Gov 2.0 conference.  We heard great feedback via twitter, direct email and blog comments.  We have taken some of these ideas and implemented the changes right away.  We want to make sure that these services are useful to the developer community and that you know we are listening to your concerns here.  The changes we have made are listed below, but please keep the comments coming.  Your help is required to make these services better.

1. Bug fixes

- We heard about a bug in the FRN API that would cause a timeout when querying certain FRNs.  Sorry about that, it should be fixed now.
- We head about a bug in the Speed Test API that would cause wrong Wireline Maximum Download and Maximum Upload values in some cases.  Again, sorry about that, it should be fixed now.

2. API changes (Block Search)

- You gave us a suggestion that would make the return more compact and usable as we grow the service, so we decided to change the xml and JSON returns.  Now the Block Search API returns data in the following structure to facilitate parsing and future expansion. This
will break client applications of this method call if you implemented calls already to this API. 

New Structure:
<Response executionTime="0.047" status="OK">
<Block FIPS="560239782002133"/>
<County name="Lincoln" FIPS="56023"/>
<State name="Wyoming" code="WY" FIPS="56"/>



3. API Enhancements (Census and Speed Test)

We added the ability to select desired MIME return type from the URL using the parameter format, i.e. format=json. Possible values are xml, json and jsonp (in this last case, the parameter callback should also be used). If no format is specified XML is returned. This change doesn't break the API (old calls would still work, returning XML).  

Posted in Reform - Redesign Open Government Reform - Data Developer