Posted January 28th, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau
(UPDATE: Photos from the FCC Team in Haiti below.)
There is much to report on developments related to the US Government’s efforts on communications services in Haiti since my last posting. I traveled with a U.S. team to Port-au-Prince, arriving before daybreak Monday, January 25. We are on-the-ground now, assessing communications needs. We joined an initial group of three FCC technical experts, who deployed to Haiti days after the earthquake to support a FEMA Mobile Emergency Response Team. Our combined team includes two of us from the FCC International Bureau, three from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, one from the Enforcement Bureau, one from the Office of Engineering and Technology and two private sector experts on the team. We are here in response to a request from Director General Montàigne Marcelin of Conseil National des Télécommunications (Conatel), the communications agency in Haiti, in coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said earlier today, “I am grateful that the FCC can lend a helping hand in the Haitian relief effort by providing on-the-ground support and expertise. The FCC team . . . will continue to work with Conatel and local Haitian telecommunications providers to come up with practical and sound options for restoring communications services to the people of Haiti.” (USAID and the FCC issued a joint press release today.)
The team is assessing the status of the country’s communications infrastructure and services following the earthquake. We hope to expedite identification, coordination and prioritization of communications issues, requirements and possible ways forward for restoration of communications services in Haiti.
To that end, we’ve met with the telecom agency, Conatel several times, talked with industry representatives (e.g., wireless, wireline and broadcasting) and visited a number of sites to see the damage first hand. Visits to many of the sites are simply heartbreaking, with buildings housing communications infrastructure decimated, often with loss of life.
The wireline operator, which served many government institutions, embassies and businesses in Haiti, has been severely damaged and isn’t working. Most of the general population uses cell phones and there are four wireless providers in Haiti. The wireless systems are doing pretty well under the circumstances, though they are experiencing very heavy usage, which is causing congestion of the networks, especially for international calling. You can imagine – people here want to call out and people outside want to call in –family members, friends, relief organizations.
Radio and television are important sources of news, information and entertainment in Haiti, especially now. About a third of the TV stations are operating and about 75% of the radio stations – though few of them are operational 24/7. Yesterday, I was at a TV station that had been very badly damaged. At the time of the earthquake, the station had an electronic news gathering truck on site (the first one in Haiti) – and the truck helped save the life of the owner and his wife inside because it basically created a canopy by which to crawl out of the pancaked building. Yesterday, the station was up and running, from an old container truck in a parking lot.
And, while speaking of broadcasting in Haiti, it is worth mentioning the progress on broadcasting issues back home. Since the FCC’s January 13, 2010 announcement on procedures for non-commercial educational stations to get approval for fundraising to aid Haiti relief efforts, the FCC has issued a total of 80 waivers representing approximately 413 TV/radio stations. I’m heartened that people are being so generous in helping our neighbors in Haiti.
The amateur radio community is also contributing to the relief efforts. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the amateur radio community in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere have dedicated equipment and spectrum resources to the relief efforts. For anyone wanting to help, to protect against harmful interference, it is important to go through the Haitian government before any radio equipment or spectrum resources are used in Haiti. Conatel may be reached at Number 97 of the Avenue Panaméricaine in Pétion-Ville (from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm) and throughout the day at (509) 3454-0541, (509) 2516-0000 or (509) 3702-1414, or at the following e-mail addresses: [techommunication at yahoo dot fr] or [info at conatel dot gouv dot ht].
After seeing the destruction of the country, and particularly the telecommunications infrastructure, I have a much better understanding of the monumental task to keep communications up and running in such a difficult environment. What is clear is that the communications sector is making a huge difference on a day-to-day basis for Haitians struggling with tremendous personal and property losses. We are honored to be working hand-in-hand with Conatel on the critical task of restoring communications services to our neighbors in Haiti and to all sectors of the country’s economy.
Okay, back to work. Check back for further updates.
Posted January 28th, 2010 by David Fiske - Director, Office of Media Relations
The vast majority of Commission staff serve the American public each day “behind the scenes.” Sharon Hurd, a Media Relations Specialist in the Commission’s Office of Media Relations (OMR), is one such staffer. If you subscribe to the FCC “Daily Digest”, or are interested in information about Commission actions, the chances are pretty good that Sharon may have been involved in helping to get this information to you on a timely basis. And last spring, you could even have met her personally when she traveled around the country as part of the FCC team meeting with consumers to help with the transition to digital television.
OMR is the arm of the agency responsible for overseeing the release of official FCC actions and decisions. Ask any agency staff member who they turn to in OMR when they need assistance in getting items released and you can be sure Sharon’s name will be high on that list. These items include a wide variety of documents from high profile policy decisions and Chairman and Commissioner speeches to routine license renewal notices. But Sharon – and the entire OMR team – know that there are a lot of consumers and interested parties who are waiting to learn about these decisions, and they work hard to help get this information out expeditiously.
Do you subscribe to the FCC’s Daily Digest? If not, you should check it out. The Digest provides over 10,000 subscribers across the world with a brief daily synopsis (with hyper links) of all Commission orders, news releases, speeches, public notices, press releases and other FCC documents released each business day. Sharon is one of OMR’s editors of this widely used summary and document source, and she works to finalize it each day in a timely manner.
Last year Sharon volunteered to be a DTV outreach coordinator and traveled to states such as Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to help educate America’s consumers about the digital television transition. A February 2009 article in Wheeling, West Virginia’s Intelligencer newspaper highlighted Sharon and fellow Commission employee Sandy Haase’s DTV efforts.
This summer she’ll serve the public yet again by doing outreach in another vital way -- locating households and conducting brief interviews as a census taker for the 2010 Census. Sharon worked on the year 2000 census so she knows what to expect. “Census volunteers play an important role in making sure everyone in this country is counted,” Sharon said. “I really do find it rewarding to explain to the people that everyone’s voice counts and they need to complete their census forms.”
Sharon joined the agency in 1982 and worked in the Labor Relations Office and Complaint and Inquiries Branch before joining the Office of Media Relations. Sharon is a resident of Waldorf, Maryland and has a son.
She said, “I enjoy my job. I feel like I am doing my part by helping consumers, businesses and even other governments agencies get the communications information they need in a quick and efficient way.”
Serving consumers is what the FCC is all about, and we couldn’t do it without the dedication, commitment and hard work of consumer specialists like Sharon Hurd.
Posted January 27th, 2010 by George Krebs
Commission employees were greeted with somber news Monday morning. An old FCC friend, former Commissioner Jim Quello, died Sunday staff learned in an email from Chairman Genachowski. Appointed in 1974 by President Nixon, his tenure spanned twenty-four years and his influence was felt throughout the Commission. The agency spent yesterday celebrating the life of Commissioner Quello.
Posted January 25th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
This year, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) looked a lot like an auto show. The show floor had a large area on in-vehicle technology with a lot of vehicles there to demonstrate it. Ford’s CEO, Alan Mulally, gave a keynote address describing the new Sync system that Ford is introducing, which you can view here, while Kia unveiled their competitive UVO system – covered by CNET here.
Both Sync and UVO are designed to provide all the different functions consumers might want in a car – not only GPS and sound, but also a number of Web-enabled applications – in an integrated unit. These companies, and others working on similar systems, claim they can improve safety by making these units primarily voice-activated, and by eliminating the need to fiddle with a separate MP3 player, smart phone, and GPS. But at a time when distracted driving has become a major national issue, there are real safety concerns about having these screens in cars – summarized well in a recent New York Times article. While in-car Internet access can have safety benefits – for example, in reaching help in case of an accident – there’s clear cause for concern in having so many different options available on a dashboard screen.
Another issue is the growth of dashboard-mounted DVD players, available both from auto manufacturers and as after-market add-ons. These DVD players are legally supposed to be used only when the car is not moving, but it’s not clear why so many drivers would buy them if that were their only purpose. Even when these DVD players come with safety features that disable them when the car is in motion, drivers may try to override that safeguard. Just search “front-seat DVD player override” online, as I just did, and see what advice you find (but please don’t follow any of it).
My own in-car entertainment is limited to the radio, my MP3 player, and audiobooks, which help keep me awake and focused on long drives. But younger drivers especially have different expectations for their automotive experience. At a CES session on bringing the Internet to the automobile, it was clear that the concept of the car as a full-fledged “infotainment” center has taken hold. One presenter cited a study showing that Generation Y drivers expect driving a car to be like playing a video game – maybe an overstatement, but frightening nonetheless.
At the FCC, we’re very concerned about the problem of distracted driving, which some believe could soon be the leading cause of driving deaths in America. We’re working on this issue with the Department of Transportation, which has taken strong leadership in addressing it. We’re also encouraged to see the consumer electronics industry beginning to show its concern, and to see innovative companies developing new applications and devices to minimize driver distractions. New products and services can let you access your email by voice rather than typing on a smartphone; disable your cell phone and send automated email responses while you’re driving; and in other ways reduce cognitive distractions while on the road.
We believe that solving the problem of distracted driving requires a combination of education, law enforcement, behavioral change, and innovation. You can access our resources on distracted driving, including a workshop we held in November 2009, at the CGB section of FCC.gov. And we welcome your ideas on the best ways to address this important issue.
Posted January 22nd, 2010 by Larry Schecker - Special Counsel, Administrative Law Division, OGC
On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama declared his commitment to transparency and accountability in government with the issuance of two important memoranda regarding Transparency and Open Government and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The presumption of openness of government processes and records would be the hallmark of the new administration. As legal counsel to the FOIA program at the FCC, I have seen firsthand how the Commission has embraced implementation of the President’s directives.
Interest in the workings of the FCC is at an all-time high and you can find out what is happening from the Commission’s website. I heard a colleague refer to the FCC’s website as a labyrinth with many passages leading to treasure troves of information. It will be easier to find this information as we redesign our website and make more records available on the Internet. But if you can’t find what you are looking for on our website, filing a FOIA request is the way to go. Filing a FOIA request couldn’t be easier – through our FOIA web page, by email, or by snail mail or fax. I deal with FOIA staff throughout the FCC and I am always impressed with their dedication to responding to FOIA requests as quickly as is possible. And, our FOIA Liaison is always available to help you.
I realized that our FOIA page provides a lot of background information but also wanted to assure you – give us some basic information and FCC staff will get to work finding the records you want. We need your name and contact information, and a good description of what records you want. Your request will be sent to the proper part of the FCC to search for the records. We will try to give you everything you want. There may be fees for processing your FOIA request. When you seek records for your personal use you get two hours of search time and the first 100 pages of records free, commercial users pay all costs, and the news media, educational and non-commercial scientific institutions only pay for copying more than 100 pages. I know you’d like to get everything, but under FOIA some things are not released – national security records, confidential commercial information, and personal private information, for example. FOIA also lets us withhold internal deliberative material and law enforcement records, but under the Obama Memo and the Attorney General’s FOIA guidance, we review and release those types of records unless we reasonably can see that disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of the FOIA exemptions.
So, ask away!
Posted January 22nd, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
My first visit to the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month was an eye-opening and eye-popping experience. You can read about the recent show at www.cesweb.org or in a multitude of news reports. The 2500 exhibits included 3D television, sophisticated voice-activated technology, clever handheld devices, “slate” laptops that function as ultra-portable computers and e-book readers, and a new gaming system that lets you move your whole body as the game controller. It’s clear that we’re not in the 20th century any more.
But the overwhelming theme, for me, was the actualization of a word I’ve heard for years: Convergence. Ever since I became involved in website development in the late 1990s, people have talked about the convergence of the internet, voice communications, television, and other forms of entertainment and applications in an integrated form. For years, this was going to happen any day now – but while progress has been made, many efforts at integration have been more kludgy than seamless. At CES, it looked like “any day” is now finally here. Exhibit after exhibit, and session after session, gave evidence that different communications services are now becoming integrated in truly seamless ways.
By the end of 2010, most HDTVs are expected to be Internet-ready, allowing you to connect them to the Web without having to go through a laptop to do it. This makes it possible to access all kinds of Web applications easily on a large-screen TV. One major application for TV may be Skype, which is partnering with several TV manufacturers to turn your television into a large-scale video conference unit with an add-on high-definition camera and microphone system.
At the other end of the scale, handheld devices are becoming even more versatile, full-service units. Google’s Android gives service providers and device manufacturers a new platform to bring together phone and texting, Web access, GPS, and a host of applications. And new companies are finding ways to bring TV to your handheld – by downloading programs from your DVR, setting up portable Wi-Fi hotspots, or using the Web to connect your home TV and all its functionality to any device you own.
The industry is now talking about “three screens” – handheld, desktop or laptop, and TV – that will all have the same functionality and will be able to supply the same content. This seamless convergence will offer new benefits to consumers – and will also heighten concerns about the use of spectrum and other issues involving our work at FCC. We’d like to hear about your experiences with these different products and services and any questions or suggestions you have.
The Consumer Electronics Show also made it clear that a fourth screen is emerging – the screen, or screens, that we have in our cars. That’s a screen that raises both opportunities and serious issues, as I’ll discuss in my next post.
Posted January 21st, 2010 by Rachel Kazan - Chief, Consumer Affairs & Outreach Division, CGB
As the last step in the digital television (DTV) transition, the FCC is embarking on an aggressive outreach campaign to ensure that users of wireless microphones are aware of the Commission’s rules to cease operations in the 700 MHz Band no later than June 12, 2010. This outreach is necessary because using a 700 MHz wireless microphone can cause harmful (and potentially life threatening) interference to public safety communications, and impede the successful roll out of important new commercial services. It also is important for the public to understand that these rules do not affect all wireless microphones – only those that operate in the 700 MHz Band.
The FCC has three simple goals in this outreach campaign. First, we want to make people aware that they cannot use a 700 MHz Band wireless microphone after June 12, 2010. Second, we want to help people determine if their wireless microphone is a 700 MHz Band wireless microphone. Third, we want to help consumers determine whether or not they can retune their wireless microphone or if they will have to replace it.
To further this outreach, we have developed a helpful Internet tool for wireless microphone users. This website is designed to help wireless microphone users whether or not their microphones are currently operating in the 700 MHz Band. By simply clicking on the hyperlink “Manufacturers Equipment list,” consumers will be directed to a page that contains a comprehensive a list of wireless microphone manufacturers. At that point, a consumer can click on the manufacturer of their wireless microphone and then scroll down to see if his or her model is listed. If it is listed, the equipment must be retuned or replaced. If the manufacturer is not listed, we recommend contacting the manufacturer of the device or calling the FCC at 1-888-CALL -FCC. An FCC representative will help determine if the wireless microphone is on the 700 MHz Band. In addition, the website has links and phone numbers for wireless microphone manufacturers as well as a page of Frequently Asked Questions.Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau , Wireless
Posted January 21st, 2010 by Todd Mitchell - Public Safety Outreach Specialist
Mark Twain once said, "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco." Well, for me, the coldest winter week I ever saw in DC was the one I spent in Juneau, Alaska, as I am recently back from representing the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) in the first-ever "live" Presidential test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the nation's public warning system. Don't get me wrong, it was frigid in Juneau - with its steady cold wind sweeping through the mountains surrounding the small town and state capitol. Sunrise at 8:30 a.m. and sunset at 3:30 p.m. made it difficult to adjust, but the friendly residents were quick to notice newcomers and helped make my stay enjoyable.
This historic, statewide exercise was a result of joint planning efforts by FEMA, FCC, Alaska's Division of Homeland Security, and Alaska's Broadcaster's Association, in conjunction with other local, state, and federal emergency management partners. At 10:00 a.m. Alaska time, 2:00 p.m., EST, on Wednesday, January 6, my colleague Justin Bickford of DoD and I were sitting atop the Juneau Public Library parking garage monitoring over-the-air broadcast signals for 18 radio stations and three television stations to determine the performance of the system as it was being tested in Juneau. Monitors from various local, state and federal agencies were stationed around the state and had similar responsibilities, with the exercise leaders in Anchorage. Other FCC monitors included PSHSB's Shawn Lapinski, and Enforcement Bureau's Marlene Windel and David Charlton who were in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Kenai, respectively.
The data collected from the exercise is being evaluated by those entities referenced above to determine how well the EAS worked during the test, where some of the problems may be and to help make improvements to the nation's alerting system. Overall, this will help keep the American public informed and better able to take appropriate actions to protect themselves and their families in times of crisis. The exercise was well-worth the effort.
Then came the fun part. Two days, four cancelled flights, and one bear of an ice storm after my original departure date, I arrived at Reagan National. If anyone would like to know the sleeping conditions, and how the food is at Juneau International Airport, please contact me.Posted in Events , Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
Posted January 20th, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau
The conditions in Haiti remain urgent. USAID – the lead agency for U.S. relief efforts in Haiti – gives a daily update of developments in Haiti on its website, including the difficulty in meeting the critical needs of the people devastated by the earthquake.
While life-saving needs such as water, food, and medical attention are the highest priorities, getting those supplies and services to the Haitians in need is made much more difficult without a working communications infrastructure. Communications is the invisible enabler of these services, and of course, it is essential for connecting people in Haiti and outside to know how their loved ones are doing.
I’m happy to report that there’s been a lot of progress in the U.S. Government’s efforts regarding communications issues in Haiti since my blogpost on Friday, January 15. We at the FCC continue to share our expertise in domestic and international communications and disaster recovery with USAID and our other federal partners, including the National Communications System. We are also working closely with the communications industry.
I’m also pleased to report that this past weekend, we were able to communicate with Mr. Montàigne Marcelin, the Director General of Conatel, the FCC’s counterpart in Haiti. In a statement issued this Sunday, January 17, Chairman Genachowski said that “[T]he FCC was pleased to hear from our counterpart in Haiti, Mr. Montàigne Marcelin, the Director General of Conatel, for the first time since our initial outreach [to him] soon after the earthquake. Though he survived, two of his staff did not, several are injured, and the agency's buildings are destroyed. We stand ready to assist Mr. Marcelin and his agency in any way that we can.” We have continued to be in regular communication with Mr. Marcelin, and one of our people on the ground in Haiti met with him yesterday. This direct link between our two regulatory agencies – the FCC and Conatel – has proven invaluable in our assistance to Haiti.
Today, I along with Rear Admiral (ret.) James Barnett, Jr., Chief of the Public Safety Homeland Security Bureau, briefed the Chairman and the Commissioners during the FCC’s monthly open meeting on the communications situation in Haiti and our ongoing efforts to support the U.S. Government’s Haiti relief efforts. As part our report, we noted that the FCC: (1) deployed staff to Haiti to support FEMA’s Mobile Emergency Management System and the implementation of the FCC’s Project Roll Call; (2) assigned staff to work directly with USAID, U.S. Southern Command, and CITEL with regard to communications issues in Haiti, and (3) in response to a request from Conatel’s Director General, is developing a proposal for an FCC-USG team to deploy to Haiti to assess communications needs, priorities and possible solutions.
Here’s a snapshot of the communications situations at this time:
• Mobile service in Port-au-Prince is functioning but there are still problems with call completion due to a high number of calls and because both mobile operators lost a large numbers of cell sites. Mobile service in the rest of Haiti, however, continues to function, but is compromised by the lack of fuel.
• Wireline service has yet to be restored in the capital. Teleco, the wireline incumbent, lost the cable landing facility with the Bahamas which provides its primary international connectivity.
• Reliance on satellite services is high among NGOs, relief workers and first responder entities supporting the Haitian government.
• The largest ISP is operating at 85% capacity, with 8 of its 60 towers down, while its international connections are reported to be at 100%.
• Radio and television services in Port-au-Prince are very limited – two of 18 TV stations are online, and evidence from the FCC’s Roll Call efforts indicates that about 30 of 40 FM stations are running.
• The 2 public safety answering points in Port-au-Prince are no longer functioning, and, in essence, there is no “911” service there.
• Through the efforts of many in the U.S. Government, including the FCC, a shipment is on its way to Haiti that includes telecommunications equipment needed to restore and improve cellular service in the country.
As before, we will continue to provide updates on the status of communications in Haiti and what we’re doing to help.
Please check back here for updates.
Posted January 20th, 2010 by Gray Brooks - FCC New MediaEvents , Open Meetings , Office Of Managing Director