Posted October 15th, 2010 by Yul Kwon
As you may have heard, October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and throughout the month the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other government agencies are providing information for consumers to better protect themselves while online. I’m happy to be able to pass along some critical information to you regarding wireless (or “Wi-Fi”) network security. I even narrated a video to help educate consumers about the importance of securing wireless networks. We’re disseminating this information through several formats: this post, a video, a fact sheet and a checklist. This information, as well as much more to come, is available on www.fcc.gov/consumers. We also have links to other important cybersecurity information, including guides provided by the Federal Trade Commission and the National Cyber Security Alliance.
Many of us use Wi-Fi networks at home as a convenient way to connect computers, laptops, and other devices to the Internet through a wireless router. Wi-Fi is great because it doesn’t require a tangle of wires and a fixed location to access the Internet. You’re free to roam your home and oftentimes your patio, backyard, and porch, while still being connected. However, it seems that every technological opportunity comes with its own technological challenges. One of the challenges with a Wi-Fi network is that it can be less secure than a wired network.
As explained in more detail in our video, fact sheet and checklist, there are several steps you can take to better protect your Wi-Fi network:
If these simple steps aren’t taken, unauthorized users may be able to access your personal information, view the content of your transmissions, download unlawful content using your network, or infect your computers with viruses or spyware. Unauthorized users may also cause harm to others by sending spam, spyware or viruses, and the activity can be traced back to your network. For more information on this and many other important cybersecurity topics, please visit www.fcc.gov/consumers.Posted in Consumers
Posted October 15th, 2010 by Susan Fisenne - Consumer Education and Outreach Specialist
The response from consumers to the Commission’s actions on bill shock has been an encouraging sign that our initiatives are resonating with the people that need them the most.
Earlier this week, Chairman Genachowski spoke at the Center for American Progress about ways consumers can avoid cell phone bill shock. Consumers who have personally experienced bill shock were also on hand to share their stories. My conversations with consumers leading up that event gave me second-hand bill shock -- I just cannot fathom getting an $18,000 cell phone bill!
Reaching out to consumers raised two points in my mind. The first was a creeping anxiety about my own family’s cell plan. Did we really have the unlimited text and data plan I believed we did? Was I about to get the bill shock of my life courtesy of my texting tween at home? Thankfully, a call to my carrier was all it took to confirm my plan and clear my mind.
Secondly, I wondered how bill shock might affect America’s seniors. I visited a local assisted living facility and, with the help of the Director of Resident Services, chatted with five residents. Sure enough, two of those residents had experienced bill shock. Ms. Ana’s voice-only plan – typically $80 a month – jumped unexpectedly by over 50%. Unable to get help or a clear explanation from her cell provider, Ms. Ana gave up. She returned her phone to her provider’s nearest retail store, terminated her contract and paid the early termination fee. She is now a very satisfied customer of AARP’s Consumer Cellular plan.
Another resident –Ms. Sunny– was shocked by a 30% jump in her bill. Her provider was likewise unresponsive. She told me that dealing with her provider’s customer service left her feeling “helpless.” After cancelling her plan, Ms. Sunny is currently without a cell phone and is thinking about her options. I suggested that she may want to consider a phone with pre-paid minutes. I also suggested that she go down the hall and talk to Ms. Ana about her AARP cell plan.
My hour spent with Ms. Ana and Ms. Sunny did confirm my suspicion that seniors can fall victim to cell phone bill shock too. Their stories may not be as dramatic or extreme as an $18,000 cell phone bill but when living on a fixed income, even a modest increase is upsetting. These American seniors are another group of consumers who will be impacted and empowered by the FCC’s ambitious Consumer Empowerment Agenda.Posted in Consumers
Posted October 14th, 2010 by Julius Genachowski - Chairman, Federal Communications Commission.
New technology is an exciting thing, and what's happening in the mobile space is simply incredible. With any new technology, consumers need to be empowered to address concerns quickly and with simple solutions.
During the October Open Commission Meeting we took bold moves on our consumer empowerment agenda. Following the meeting I recorded a video that outlines how the FCC is taking on important consumer issues -- like bill shock -- to empower and educate Americans.
Watch the video to learn more, then leave your comments below.Posted in From The Chairman , Open Meetings , Consumers
Posted October 14th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
At today’s FCC open meeting, the Chairman and the four other commissioners unanimously voted to propose rules to prevent Bill Shock. These proposed rules would require mobile carriers to send their customers a voice or text message when they are approaching their limit for a text, voice, or data plan, and when they are starting to incur roaming fees. The Commission notes that there are already similar rules in the European Union, where these alerts appear to be helping consumers without putting an undue burden on wireless companies. You can read the proposed rules and the commissioners’ and Chairman’s statements here.
We in the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, which prepared these proposed rules, are happy to have the full support of the Commission as we go forward. What happens next is a period of comment to allow all interested parties – including the industry, consumer groups, and the public at large – to weigh in on our proposals. That’s where you come in. You can go to our Consumer Help Center, at fcc.gov/consumers, and use the “File a Comment With the FCC” button to make your views known. If Bill Shock has happened to you, you can “File a Consumer Complaint” from the same website. You can also share your stories with us posting a comment to this blog, or sending me an e-mail at email@example.com.
In voting to propose these rules, the commissioners stressed the importance of a full record in determining the best way to prevent bill shock. The record on Bill Shock is growing all the time. Just yesterday, we learned about a new Consumer Reports online survey that found one-fifth of the respondents had experienced unexpected charges on their wireless bills. We need to hear from experts and the public alike to understand this problem and make sure consumers have the best tools to solve it. Please let us know about your views and your experiences. We look forward to hearing from you.Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau , Open Meetings , Consumers
Posted October 13th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
As you can read in his blog post here, our Chairman, Julius Genachowski, outlined an ambitious Consumer Empowerment Agenda in his speech earlier today. The goal of that agenda is to ensure that consumers have better, more complete, and more helpful information on all the communications services we use every day. We’re taking the concept of truth in billing and expanding it to truth at every stage – ensuring that you have accurate information when you’re choosing a service provider, choosing a plan, or deciding whether to switch providers, as well as when you’re reading your bill.
Today, we’ve also released a white paper that analyzes the complaints we’ve gotten on wireless bill shock over the past few months. The data are, well, shocking. Out of a total of 764 complaints from January through June, we found that two-thirds involved amounts of a hundred dollars or more; 150 complaints involved a thousand dollars or more; and eight complaints involved 10 thousand dollars or more.
Three consumers at today’s event told stories about their own experiences that show the human side of the bill-shock numbers. One was a woman who was visiting her sister in Haiti when the earthquake hit, and unexpectedly had to use her phone for voice and text back to the U.S. Her carrier told her that they would waive fees for people dealing with this emergency – but it turned out that they only waived fees for voice. She returned home to find a 35 thousand dollar phone bill. The carrier has now waived most of that charge, but is still billing her for over five thousand dollars for using her phone during this emergency situation.
At tomorrow’s Open Commission Meeting the Commission will vote on proposed rules that will take action to prevent bill shock and protect consumers. These rules would require carriers to send you alerts when you’re in danger of running up a high bill. We’ll update you with details on the rulemaking after tomorrow’s vote.
As we take action to fight bill shock and solve other consumer problems, we want to hear your stories. If you post a comment to this blog and want us to follow up, please let us know how we can reach you, either by including your email address in the comment or by sending it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you want to file a complaint with the FCC, you can do so at our Consumer Help Center at FCC.gov/consumers. We’ve heard your concerns over the last several months, and we’re still listening.Posted in Consumers
Posted October 13th, 2010 by Julius Genachowski - Chairman, Federal Communications Commission.
On the way in this morning, I got an email from a friend that rings familiar to way too many Americans.
My friend said that he incurred $2,000 in extra data charges while on a trip overseas, despite buying an “international plan.” He added that this was “more than 15 times” what he had expected to pay.
He was a victim of what we at the FCC call “bill shock,” and, according to our research, there are 30 million Americans just like him.
Bill shock occurs when consumers see their bills jump unexpectedly by tens, hundreds, or thousands of dollars from one month to the next. Common cases are when a subscriber is charged for unknowingly exceeding his or her allotments for voice, text or data, or gets hit with roaming charges that are unexpected.
A few hours ago, I delivered a speech highlighting what the FCC is doing to put an end to bill shock, as well as other fees and billing practices that are giving consumers headaches.
I’m proud that the FCC is pursuing an aggressive Consumer Empowerment Agenda. In a nutshell, our strategy is to educate, empower, and enforce.
We are working to harness technology and promote transparency to empower consumers with the information they need to make smart decisions and to make the market work. And when there is bad conduct in the market, the FCC has acted, and we will continue to act. Consumers must know that the FCC’s got their back.
I hope that you will read the speech to learn the details of our Agenda. I also invite you to check out FCC.gov/consumers, where you can access digital tools like our broadband speed test, and learn more about preventing bill shock.
There’s never been a more exciting – or complex – time to be a consumer of communications technologies. Be assured that the FCC is working to make sure that you and all Americans have the tools to take advantage of new technologies, without having to worry that somebody is taking advantage of you.
Posted October 12th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
No one should be without access to vital emergency services and community resources because they can’t afford it.
Using the telephone has become such a routine part of our lives that many of us take for granted that we can pick up a phone and be in contact with family, schools, friends, employers, doctors, emergency services – that we have the ability to stay connected with the rest of the world. But it is critical that we not leave behind those who are struggling to get basic telephone service and need help to get and stay connected. Some vulnerable consumers can’t even dial 911 in an emergency.
No one should be without access to vital emergency services and community resources because they can’t afford it.
The Lifeline and Link-Up programs of the Universal Service Fund ensure that all Americans can get basic telephone service by providing limited discounts to consumers who might not otherwise be able to afford service. Lifeline involves discounts on the monthly charges, and Link-Up involves a discount on the cost of initiating telephone service. The discounts are available for the primary residential telephone, even if it’s a wireless phone. Many eligible consumers including senior citizens, people with disabilities, veterans and their families, non-English speaking and those living in rural areas and Tribal lands are facing hard economic times, long and short-term. There are eligible consumers for the Lifeline and Link-Up programs in every state. But only one-third of eligible Americans participate. To find out how the Lifeline and Link-Up programs work in your state go to LifelineSupport.org.
At the FCC, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve what have already been two very valuable programs. Teaming up with our partners, the National Association of Regulatory tility Commissioners (NARUC) and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA), we began a stepped up nation-wide Lifeline outreach effort to reach out to educate and raise public awareness of and participation in the Lifeline and Link-Up programs, beginning with the second annual “National Telephone Discount Lifeline Awareness Week.”
We kicked off Awareness Week 2010 on September 13 with a congressional staff briefing on Capitol Hill. The take away I got was that everyone has a part to play in spreading the word to those who need and qualify for these important programs. I was particularly struck by the remarks of one of my fellow speakers, Mark Andersen, Director of the “We are Family Senior Outreach Network” in Washington DC. Talking about the vulnerable low income seniors he and his volunteers help serve, he cautioned everyone in the audience to consider that the word “Lifeline” is “not hyperbole.” He reminded that for many, the telephone is their lifeline - that the senior citizens with whom he and his volunteers work generally live on about $800 a month and struggle with being able to stay connected.
The Lifeline and Link-Up programs offer the 43 million Americans now living at or below the poverty line a means to get connected and pay for basic telephone service immediately. Our goal in the coming year is to promote awareness nation-wide through education and outreach to assure that the message reaches those that need it. For more, including outreach tools on getting out the word, go to www.lifeline.gov.
On September 14, Representative Doris Matsui for herself and Representative Edward Markey submitted House Resolution 1616 which expressed the support of Congress for Awareness Week and commended the FCC, NARUC, and NASUCA for their initiative creating Awareness Week to promote Lifeline and Link-Up subscribership. NARUC President David Coen of Vermont issued a statement in support of the resolution.
In an accompanying guest blog post, New York State Public Service Commissioner, Patricia Acampora, makes clear what is at stake: “Telephone service provides a vital link to family, friends, employment, commercial opportunity and emergency services”.
At the FCC, we’re also looking at ways to improve these programs from the consumer’s perspective. Consumers have filed complaints about billing, enrollment, equipment, customer service and more. We’ll be taking a closer look at all these issues over the coming year.
Finally, we’re looking at ways to use Lifeline and Link-Up to help close the digital divide. A national survey done for the Broadband Plan showed that only 40% of Americans with annual household incomes below $20,000 have adopted broadband, and that cost is a major barrier to getting broadband service.
The National Broadband Plan, which the FCC released in March, recommended increasing broadband adoption among low-income Americans through reforms of the Lifeline and Link-Up programs to help support broadband service. It recommended that the FCC integrate the expanded Lifeline and Link-Up programs with other state and local e-government efforts. It also recommended that state social service agencies should take a more active role in consumer outreach and in qualifying eligible consumers. The FCC is looking into facilitating pilot programs to help make these changes happen.
We have some real opportunities to make Lifeline and Link-Up even more efficient, effective, and helpful to consumers. We are asking for everyone’s help to get out the word to assure that eligible low-income households know about the assistance they can get to “stay connected.”
Posted October 8th, 2010 by Patrick Webre
By Lauren Kravetz and Patrick Webre
As you may know, October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and the FCC and other government agencies are providing educational materials and outreach on how consumers and small businesses can protect themselves while online. Online security and privacy are very important issues, and there are growing concerns as we access the Internet to do more and more things, like online banking, purchasing items from our favorite online retail stores and interacting with each other on popular websites.
As the FCC’s National Broadband Plan recognized, protecting online privacy and security are also important for promoting our nation’s adoption of cutting edge broadband services. In kicking off our Cybersecurity Awareness Month activities, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski noted that, "When people fear that new technologies put their privacy at risk, they are less likely to use those technologies. To fulfill the promise of broadband for our children, parents need to feel confident that their children are safe online and that their personal information is protected."
As part of our education and outreach on these issues, the FCC has created a new online privacy and security webpage, which can be accessed at www.fcc.gov/consumers. This webpage provides useful information for consumers and small businesses regarding online safety and cybersecurity. Throughout the month, we will be rolling out tip sheets, checklists, videos, screencasts, and blog postings -- such as this one -- addressing several topics, including:
Our new webpage also contains links to other sources of information regarding online security and privacy, and we encourage you to visit regularly to view the updates. Our friends at the Federal Trade Commission have also made available many helpful sources of information, and the National Cyber Security Alliance has pitched in with a website called StaySafeOnline.org.
Thanks for visiting and doing your part to protect yourself and your family while online.Posted in Consumers , Parents
Posted October 1st, 2010 by Patricia Acampora - Commissioner, New York State Public Service Commission
Can you imagine not having a phone? If your child is sick, how would you contact your doctor? If you are looking for a job, how would an employer contact you for an interview? Thankfully, two important telephone discount programs help "connect" phoneless residents by making telephone service more affordable for low-income folks. The Lifeline and Link-Up programs offer qualified consumers discounts on monthly phone bills and initial phone connection services.
I am concerned with estimates that less than 1/3 of those eligible in this country receive these benefits. This is why our second annual Lifeline Awareness Week was so important. Working with our colleagues at the FCC, states across the country are working together to let Americans know about these discounted phone services, which are especially needed during this difficult economy. Eligible low-income consumers can save $120 a year or more. By joining together the week of September 13th-19th--the Second Annual Lifeline Awareness Week--we have begun to get the word out to eligible consumers and get them connected!
So, what went on in New York State for Lifeline Awareness Week? Our Department of Public Service worked with other state agencies, human service organizations and telephone companies to promote Lifeline Awareness Week and focus attention on these important programs. We held three kick-off events on in Buffalo, Albany and New York City. Throughout the remainder of the week, our staff promoted the Lifeline/Link-up programs at our exhibit booth at outreach events across the state and in meetings with local human service organizations. In addition, we hosted a Lifeline webinar for representatives of service organizations that work directly with low income consumers.
Want to know more about what we are doing in New York State? Visit the Public Service Commission’s consumer Web site: www.AskPSC.com. For more information about the program or to learn about national efforts go to www.lifeline.gov.
Telephone service provides a vital link to family, friends, employment, commercial opportunity and emergency services. Join our effort by spreading the word about Lifeline Awareness!Posted in Consumers
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