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Our Sleeves Are Rolled Up: We Are Ready to Do Whatever It Takes…

Posted May 28th, 2010 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

The 2010 Hurricane Season forecasts predict as many as 15 named Atlantic storms, several of which could reach hurricane-level strength in the Southeast and Gulf Coast.

In my job with the Federal Communications Commission, I am constantly impressed with the leadership, dedication and true heroism of America’s first responders, all of whom make daily sacrifices to serve their communities.  Nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina I still remember hearing the stories following that devastating disaster about how first responders and hospital personnel were stranded in New Orleans without communications and had only limited essential resources with which to survive. Like many others in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, some local public safety officials and first responders were stranded on rooftops, but were still making efforts to assist those in need, to do what they could to help others survive until rescue teams could get to them.  Their efforts were amazing and showed that they were willing to do whatever it took to get the job done—even in the most challenging and trying circumstances. 


Building and maintaining partnerships with federal, state, tribal and local officials, first responders and the communications industry, through a variety of means, is instrumental to ensuring that the Nation has a coordinated and seamless disaster response at all levels of our society.  At the FCC, we routinely foster these partnerships through meetings, speaking engagements, workshops, forums, outreach tours and more traditional means of communications via telephone and email.  This way, when we meet with public safety officials on the ground as part of a comprehensive federal emergency response effort, we have well-established relationships in-play and are greeted by familiar faces who are managing the disaster.  These efforts are in line with our primary mission, which is to ensure the continuous operation and reconstitution of critical communication systems and services. 

Based on early forecasts for the 2010 Hurricane Season, with predictions for as many as 15 named Atlantic storms, several of which could reach hurricane-level strength in the Southeast and Gulf Coast regions of the U.S., it will be critical to our collective efforts to prepare communities in the projected impact zones and assist them in responding to any landfalls.  Of course, we hope that no hurricane hits U.S. soil, but we must stand ready to respond and react if, and when, that should occur.

We at the FCC, have rolled up our sleeves and are ready to do whatever it takes to respond to hurricanes and other disasters.  We learned several lessons from Hurricane Ike, when we had staffers working around-the-clock.  Building on those efforts, we are working closely with our federal partners at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), specifically the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Communications System (NCS), as we assist them with communications response and recovery efforts. 
To that end, we have a number of initiatives that will help improve our situational awareness regarding communications in disaster-impacted areas and enable us to work with our federal, state and local partners.  First, there is the Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), a voluntary, web-based system that wireless, wireline, broadcast, and cable providers can use to report communications infrastructure status and situational awareness information to the FCC during times of crisis.  

We have enjoyed excellent participation in the past with DIRS, which has proven extremely helpful to us and our federal partners in coordinating response efforts in restoring essential communications services impacted by the disaster.  We urge all communications providers that have previously registered in DIRS to ensure that their contact information is current and accurate.  We also encourage all communications providers that have not yet submitted their emergency contact information to register in DIRS.  The information provided will be secured by the FCC and protected from public disclosure.

Second, there is a fairly new initiative known as Roll Call.  This program is comprised of receivers and spectrum monitoring equipment, computers and FCC licensing databases that are used to scan primarily for public safety and broadcaster communications.  The results show which radio-based communications systems are operational within a 30-mile radius.  Roll Call thus enables FEMA to quickly assess the situation and work with state and local officials to strategically place back-up communications in a particular area.  In addition, the information is used by the FEMA and the NCS in coordination with the FCC to assist communications service providers in their efforts to quickly restore the communications services that are out.

The FCC also approves Special Temporary Authorizations (STAs) for communications service providers seeking to provide communications to first responders and emergency managers outside of their FCC license as they work to restore their traditional lines of communications.  Communications service providers needing emergency STAs or seeking consultation with FCC Bureaus and Offices about their communications recovery efforts outside of normal FCC business hours (M-F 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EDT/EST) may contact the FCC’s 24/7 Operations Center at 202-418-1122 or fccopcenter@fcc.gov.  You can find FCC Contact information during regular business hours and more comprehensive details about the process for receiving STAs here.

The FCC is committed to working with all of our government, industry, nongovernmental, and community partners during disaster response efforts; we are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.  We know that the American public is counting on the success of our partnership and will accept nothing less than our collective best.

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
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21st Century Emergency Alerting: Leveraging Multiple Technologies to Bring Alerts and Warnings to the Public

Posted May 26th, 2010 by Lisa Fowlkes - Deputy Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

When potential threats to life and property are imminent or disasters strike without warning as did the tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas that claimed innocent lives recently, we all know how critical it is for all of us to receive timely alerts and warnings, access to the latest information about an emergency situation and guidance from government officials on what we should do to protect ourselves and our families.  Early and accurate public alerts are a key element in all of this and can make the difference between life and death.

On June 10, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will co-host a workshop to address emergency alerting.  This workshop – 21st Century Emergency Alerting – will bring together experts from Federal and state government agencies, the broadcast, cable, wireless and wireline industries, the disability community and others to discuss how we as a Nation can leverage multiple technologies to provide timely and accurate emergency alerts to the public.  The workshop will also present an opportunity for the public to learn about the progress that has been made to enhance the Emergency Alert System (EAS), develop and deploy the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) and develop and deploy the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).

It has been and continues to be a high priority at the FCC to ensure that all Americans have the capability to receive timely and accurate alerts, warnings and critical information regarding disasters and other emergencies irrespective of what communications technologies they use.  The public relies on a multitude of communications technologies, including broadband networks and the Internet, in almost every facet of their daily lives.  A comprehensive alerting system that utilizes multiple communications technologies, including broadband and the Internet, would have the ability to reach more people, including those on the go, within a short period of time.  

In the event of a tornado, for example, alerts could be sent to the father sitting with his family enjoying their favorite program on over-the-air broadcast, cable or satellite television, the woman sitting in traffic listening to music, news or sports on over-the-air broadcast or satellite radio, the grandparents playing with their grandchildren in a home that relies on landline or IP-based telephone service, the shopper walking in the mall, cell phone in hand, and the student conducting research on the Internet for a school paper.  Such a system would ensure that the public is informed of an emergency and has the information it needs to protect itself.  In short, providing emergency alerts over multiple communications technologies could ultimately help avert danger and save lives.

The FCC and FEMA have been working to bring the Nation closer to this goal.  FEMA has been working to develop and deploy the IPAWS, a state of the art system that will, ultimately, allow Federal, state, tribal and local government agencies to send emergency alerts to the public over multiple technologies including broadcast, cable, satellite radio and television, wireless, wireline and the Internet.  

The FCC continues to work with FEMA to develop IPAWS and to bring more communications technologies into the Nation’s emergency alert arsenal.  For example, the FCC has expanded the scope of the EAS to include digital broadcast radio and television, digital cable, satellite radio and television and wireline video programming providers.  In addition, the Commission has established rules for the CMAS which will allow consumers to receive emergency alerts over their cell phones and other mobile devices.

The FCC and FEMA have also been busy working to enhance the reliability, resiliency and security of emergency alerts.   For example, the FCC has adopted rules requiring EAS participants to be able to receive Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) –based EAS messages.  FEMA is expected announce its adoption of CAP later this year.  In addition, earlier this year, FEMA and the FCC, working with the Alaska Broadcasters Association and State of Alaska officials, conducted a generally successful top-to-bottom live Presidential EAS code test in Alaska.  The results of that test are being used to develop plans for a first of its kind nationwide test of the EAS.

Also, the FCC’s National Broadband Plan recommended, among other things, that the FCC begin an inquiry examining how to leverage broadband technologies, including the Internet, to deliver emergency alerts to the American public.  The June 10th workshop will begin what we hope will be a thoughtful and engaging dialogue on this topic.  We hope to engage all stakeholders on the legal, policy and technical issues regarding the development of a comprehensive broadband-based alerting system.  For example, how can broadband technologies enhance the delivery of emergency alerts to the public?  How can broadband technologies transform EAS and CMAS?  How do we leverage the Internet (e.g., emails, websites and social network forums) to deliver emergency alerts?  

We also hope that this workshop will provide an opportunity to share ideas for addressing some longstanding questions we continue to grapple with.  For example, what changes are necessary to the FCC’s EAS rules in a CAP-based world? How do we ensure that once IPAWS and CMAS are up and running, state, tribal and local governments can and will want to use them?  For example, with respect to CMAS, I have often heard state and local government officials ask why they should use a system in which an alert targeted to a specific state or locality would have to travel through a Federally-operated aggregator in order to reach the people located in the impacted area.  This is a reasonable question.  We must do a better job of explaining CMAS, including its benefits, to our state, tribal and local government partners.  How should we do that?

And, finally, we welcome ideas during the workshop and beyond on how to ensure that all Americans, including people with disabilities and those who do not speak English as a first language have access to timely and accurate emergency alerts, irrespective of what communications technologies they use.  Thus far, most of the discussions I have heard have been in the context of EAS.  But this isn’t just an EAS issue.  It is an issue that arose in the context of the FCC’s CMAS rulemaking proceeding and it will come up again as we examine how to leverage broadband technologies to distribute emergency alerts.  How should we address it?  How have these issues been addressed at the state and/or local government level?  Are there best practices or other consensus-based solutions that work?  

The workshop will be open to the public; however, registration will be limited to the seating available. Those individuals who are interested in attending the forum may pre-register on-line. Those who pre-register will be asked to provide their name, title, organization affiliation, and contact information. Individuals may also contact Deandrea Wilson at Deandrea.Wilson@fcc.gov or 202-418-0703 regarding pre-registration. The deadline for pre-registration is Tuesday, June 8, 2010.

Audio/Video coverage of the meeting will be broadcast live with open captioning over the Internet from the FCC's web page at www.fcc.gov/live. The FCC’s web cast is free to the public and does not require pre-registration. Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities are available upon request. Please include a description of the accommodation you will need. Individuals making such requests must include their contact information should FCC staff need to contact them for more information. Requests should be made as early as possible. Please send an e-mail to fcc504@fcc.gov or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau: 202-418-0530 (voice), 202-418-0432 (TTY).

For additional information about the meeting, please contact Susan McLean by email: Susan.McLean@fcc.gov or by phone: 202-418-7868.  

You can serve an important role in all of this. I look forward to your comments as we move forward on these important public safety issues.

You can also get more information on this workshop and past workshops here.

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Consumers
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Public Safety Outreach in the Carolinas

Posted May 25th, 2010 by Todd Mitchell - Public Safety Outreach Specialist

By Louis Sigalos, Robert Kenny, Todd Mitchell, Paul Coburn, and Doug Miller, Public Safety Outreach Team.

With an outreach and education mission, traveling via the long lonesome highway, covering two states in three days, five intrepid travelers set forth from the comfort of their offices on May 11, 2010.  And now members of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) and the Enforcement Bureau have met with public safety officials in two more states that could be vulnerable during the upcoming hurricane season. We were also joined by a National Communications System (NCS) staff member.  A similar outreach tour with our federal partners of the Gulf States in 2009 included stops in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida and meetings with more than 350 public safety officials to hear their stories.  Now, we have added the Atlantic Coast States of South Carolina and North Carolina.

In South Carolina, we learned that the biggest concerns are hurricanes, nuclear plant disasters, hazmat spills, AND earthquakes. In fact, that morning of May 12, residents in Charleston, SC experienced an earthquake that registered 2.8 on the Richter scale.  The state sits on a fault line, and unfortunately projections do call for a much larger earthquake to occur in that region at some point according to scientists.  We were also invited by South Carolina officials to participate in a major planning exercise being conducted in June and we learned that South Carolina has implemented a program called SC HEART that enlists hospital workers/HAM operators to provide back-up communications during emergencies. 

In addition, we toured the Columbia emergency operations center and became familiar with its capabilities; we visited a PSAP or 9-1-1 Call Center that works with an impressive software platform to track 9-1-1 calls and ambulances; we took a tour of their mobile communications infrastructure; and we met their dedicated staff.  Brian Hood, the EMS Coordinator for the County of Lexington, was extremely engaged during our visit.  Mr. Hood's leadership, dedication and persistence in pushing innovation in the 9-1-1 call center and integration with the area hospitals was truly noteworthy.  Also, the working relationship we formed with Brian and other staff will enhance our ability to assist South Carolina’s preparedness efforts and our goal to provide effective response during a disaster.  Our last stop of the day was at the Lexington Medical Center where we met with hospital officials to discuss their communications and tour their emergency department.  We were impressed with their emergency response capabilities and backup mobile communications in response to a disaster or a public health incident.

In North Carolina, on May 13, we learned about VIPER, a statewide 800 MHz, trunked radio system that currently has about 45,000 users and is in the process of adding capacity with the goal of full coverage statewide.  First Sergeant C.S. Taylor, North Carolina Highway Patrol, told us about the effectiveness of this system and how it assists officers in doing their work safely and efficiently. 

We also learned that North Carolina plans to educate its county officials concerning the benefits of participating in the federal communication priority service programs.  We were provided an update about a new state of the art emergency operations center facility that should be ready for occupancy within the year. In addition, we learned that both North Carolina and South Carolina don’t utilize wireless priority services (WPS) extensively due to monthly subscription costs.  Again, we formed the relationships that help to ensure that an e-mail from the FCC gets read, that a request is acted upon, that a follow-up phone call can start with “how are you doing?” And, most importantly, they know that if they reach out to us, we will respond in a timely and efficient manner.

Finally, we let all the folks know about ongoing activities at the Commission and what we can do to assist them.  We covered a whole host of subjects including first responders, health care, 9-1-1 Call Centers, and persons with disabilities.  We also described the FCC’s 24/7 Operations Center, Project Roll Call, the National Broadband Plan, EAS, Next Generation 9-1-1, and the Commercial Mobile Alert System.  We discussed the PSHSB website and clearinghouse with lessons learned, communications plans, grant information, as well as our public safety photo contest.  We let them know that Paul Coburn of PSHSB will represent FEMA Region IV for the FCC and the Carolinas.

We learned many things on this outreach trip, the most important of which was said by Mother Teresa, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

T. Brian Hood, Lexington County, South Carolina EMS Coordinator visits Lexington Medical Center on May 12, 2010 with FCC Outreach Team.

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
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Reflections from the Chairman on the May Commission Meeting

Posted May 21st, 2010 by George Krebs

Chairman Genachowski provides his thoughts on yesterday’s Open Commission Meeting in the below video blog.


Posted in From The Chairman Open Meetings
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Your input matters - Consolidated Licensing System (CLS) outreach continues

Posted May 21st, 2010 by Dorothy Stifflemire

Following our first CLS Public Workshop on May 6th we are actively continuing our efforts to get customer input.  On May 18th we were invited to hold a CLS brainstorming session at the Spectrum Management Association Conference in Arlington, VA.   

This was a very active session reinforcing many of the insightful suggestions we received at the earlier workshop.  The participants at this session included: licensee, third party filers, and other federal government agencies.  Many of the participants offered a unique perspective and very valuable feedback. 

The suggestions ranged for recommendations for improving the access, and search capabilities to our licensing data, to collecting additional technical data in CLS.  Participants also offered suggestions on cleaning up the data in the Commission Registration System (CORES) and recommended creating linkages between the Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) Database and CLS.

The recommendations did not stop there; we went on to discuss enhanced mapping capabilities as well as the need for user testing, training and manuals as we move forward with the new system.

When addressing participants at the CLS Public Workshop on May 6th Mary Beth Richards, Special Counsel to the Chairman on FCC Forum reinforced that we need to hear from you.  She asked participants “to please be forthcoming, and creative, and that we look forward to hearing from you.”  It was obvious at this session that our customers are up to the task. 

Posted in Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
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State and Local Groups: FCC Webinar Event on May 25th

Posted May 21st, 2010 by Emmitt Carlton - Special Counsel, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

SAVE THE DATE:  Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 2:00 pm Eastern time

The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) is staffing a special series of interactive web events.  These outreach webinars are designed to share vital information about Commission actions and priorities and improve federal/state dialogue and information sharing.

The first of this event series, similar to some of the National Broadband Plan workshops that took place at the Commission, will take place on Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 2:00 pm Eastern time. The FCC is seeking a two way dialogue on key events and issues related to telecommunications and for us to learn and/or partner with state and local governments and their organizations.

You can view the webcast at fcc.gov/live.

The e-mail address where questions can be e-mailed on May 25th during the webcast is:  livequestions@fcc.gov.

For more information about the kick-off State and Local Groups Webinar, contact:
Emmitt Carlton, emmitt.carlton@fcc.gov, (202) 418-7321 or
Carmen Scanlon, carmen.scanlon@fcc.gov, (303) 418-0544


2:05 - 2:10 p.m.: Opening Session, Welcoming Remarks
Gregory Vadas, Chief
Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau

2:10 - 2:35 p.m.: Overview of the National Broadband Plan
Phoebe Yang, General Counsel
Omnibus Broadband Initiative

2:35 - 3:15 p.m.: Discussion on Proposed Set of Changes to the E-rate Program
Irene Flannery, Deputy Division Chief Telecommunications Access Policy Division
Wireline Competition Bureau

Briefing on the Pole Attachments Order and FNPRM
Marcus Maher, Associate Bureau Chief
Wireline Competition Bureau

3:15 - 3:45 p.m.: Public Safety and the National Broadband Plan
Jennifer A. Manner, Deputy Bureau Chief
Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Briefing on Narrowbanding Issues
Roberto Mussenden, Attorney Advisor
Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

3:45 - 4:05 p.m.: Overview of the Timely Review of Tower Siting Process
Aaron Goldschmidt, Assistant Chief, NEPA Policy
Spectrum & Competition Policy Division
Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

4:05 - 4:25 p.m.: Lifeline and Link-Up from an Enforcement Perspective
Cynthia Bryant, Attorney Advisor
Enforcement Bureau

4:25 - 5:00 p.m.: "Bill Shock"
Karen Johnson, Attorney Advisor
Policy Division
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau

Cramming Issues
Colleen Heitkamp, Chief
Policy Division
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau

Note:  Emmitt Carlton, the author of this piece, is a veteran of efforts to enhance positive interaction between the federal and state government.  During the 1990’s, before coming to the Commission in January 2000, Emmitt served as Consumer Protection and Civil Rights Counsel at the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG).

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers

FCC Grants in Part, Denies in Part NARUC Petition on State Broadband Data Collection

Posted May 18th, 2010 by Steve Klitzman

I joined IGA as a Special Counsel in July 2009 after working as an Attorney, FCC Office of General Counsel, Associate Director,  Office of Legislative Affairs, Chief Counsel and Staff Director, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, and Staff Attorney, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure. Since 1985, I’ve also been an Adjunct Professor, Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America, teaching media law and First Amendment law.

In an action that should be of interest to followers of state broadband deployment and mapping initiatives, the FCC on April 26, 2010, granted in part and denied in part a Petition for Declaratory Ruling filed by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). The petition concerned state authority to collect data from broadband infrastructure and service providers.

 The Commission clarified, as NARUC requested in its petition, that the FCC “has not preempted or otherwise precluded the States from mandating that broadband providers file data or other information regarding broadband infrastructure or services within the States.”  Citing the Broadband Data Improvement Act (BDIA), the FCC Order on the NARUC petition notes that “Congress recognized in the BDIA that State broadband data gathering can be ‘complementary’ to federal efforts.”

 The Commission, however, declined to rule on the question of whether or not the States have or should have the authority to collect broadband-related data.

 Click here for more information on the NARUC petition.

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
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A Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage

Posted May 18th, 2010 by George Krebs

Over one hundred Commission employees were witness to a remarkable presentation yesterday morning in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage month in the Commission Meeting Room. Here’s a rough rundown of the program. The morning started off with Yul Kwon, Deputy Bureau Chief in CGB and today’s master of ceremonies, giving a brief introduction to the assembled crowd. He began by sharing a bit about why he chose to compete in the Survivor program, which he won in 2006. Great misperceptions about Asians persist, Kwon said, and going on Survivor gave him the platform to counter many of these in front of a worldwide audience.


(View the full photo set of the above pictures from yesterday's event. Photo credit: Jenny Hou)

Kwon then introduced the morning’s keynote speaker, Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru. Commissioner Ishimaru is a commissioner at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In his presentation he told stories of little-known Asian-Americans who were on the front lines of history; beside Malcolm X; embroiled in the McCarthy hearings; or, like Ishimaru's grandparents, horrifically deplaced in internment camps during World War II. Americans show an extraordinary capacity for resilience, he noted. Returning to the theme of the month Commissioner Ishimaru touted the myriad benefits of diversity in the workplace.

After talking the audience was ready to be energized. Commission employees were not disappointed when thirty adorable kids emerged in the room, appearing to range in age from 5 to 15 years-old. Twenty of the older set bounded on stage to perform a dance that resembled a Filipino variation of Bernstein and Sondheim’s “West Side Story.” The dance troupe Songspell traveled from the Philippines to tour on the U.S. circuit and proceeded to delight our audience with a veritable mélange of musical acts, songs, dance routines, and costumes. There were rock and roll numbers and national anthem-sounding sets. Each was gorgeous in every respect.

Another performance by Soka Gakkai rounded out the morning's program. The two women performed an elaborate drum dance and featured one of the workers at our very own Capital Café. They were dressed in colorful and vibrant Chinese robes.

Remarks by Thomas Wyatt closed the event and a delicious reception followed.

Posted in Events Office Of Managing Director
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Workshop on Expanding Disability Access with Wireless Technologies

Posted May 12th, 2010 by Ruth Milkman - Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

Wireless technologies present tremendous opportunities to benefit all Americans, including those with disabilities.    At the FCC, we are excited about these possibilities for innovative communications services, applications and devices.  We want to better understand how such technologies can bring more access to more people, and how the FCC can help ensure new technologies as inclusive as possible.  

On Thursday, May 13th, the Commission will be exploring these issues during a workshop called “Expanding Disability Access with Wireless Technologies.”  I hope that everyone who is interested will join us in the Commission Meeting Room or via the web from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  If that time doesn’t work for you, the workshop will also be available online afterwards.  

The first panel will focus on current access challenges.  We will be discussing mobile communications access issues facing people with disabilities and disparities in technology access.  During that session, we will be asking our panelists to give us their thoughts on questions such as:

  • What are the key disabilities access challenges that need addressing?
  • How is current technology trying to meet these challenges?
  • What emerging technologies will better meet these challenges?
  • Are there current regulatory barriers that deter technological innovation or negatively affect emerging technologies?

Our second panel will explore technology trends.  During this session we will discuss ways in which new technologies can offer opportunities to overcome challenges in access to mobile communications.  We will be looking at issues such as:

  • How can the FCC encourage the development of technologically advanced accessible products? 
  • How can we stay informed about emerging wireless technologies, and help ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are considered during the design and initial development stages of these technologies? 
  • How should we share best practices, understand consumer needs, and foster innovation across wireless industries?
  • What specific solutions might address the development expense of assistive and adaptive technologies?

We will also have several technology demonstrations so that people can experience examples of advanced mobile communications devices that are designed to provide access to people with disabilities.

Click here for more information on the upcoming workshop.

Posted in Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Consumers
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Consumer View: Stop the Shock

Posted May 11th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

It could happen to anyone, and it happened to me.  Last year, I took on a consulting job that involved working out of town. Without realizing it, I began using my cell phone more frequently and for longer conversations.  By the time I caught the problem, my monthly bill had gone from about $300 a month to well over $500, two months in a row. I worked out a compromise payment with my carrier and changed to a plan with more monthly minutes. I had learned about bill shock first-hand.

Bill shock – surprising jumps in cell-phone bills that happen without warning – is a common and serious problem. The FCC’s Consumer Center receives complaints all the time from people whose bills may double or triple, going up by hundreds of dollars in a single month. Sometimes cell-phone carriers contact customers when they see an unusual calling pattern, as mine did, to their credit. Often they don’t, and the bills go up.

Bill shock has been a major problem in Europe, where you can go into an international calling zone, at international rates, with as little effort as it takes Americans to drive from one state to another. The European press has reported many cases of bills reaching thousands of Euros.  Now the European Union has taken action. Cell-phone carriers in Europe are now required to alert their customers when they’re approaching the limit of their calling plans. This simple solution, which has just gone into effect, should be a practical way to prevent bill shock. At the least, it will ensure that every customer has fair warning.

Today the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau of the FCC issued a Public Notice asking if there are any reasons that the European solution can’t be used in America, and inviting comment on other ways to prevent Bill Shock. This action is one of the first initiatives from the FCC’s new Consumer Task Force. Please let us know your thoughts on how to “stop the shock.” Here are some links to get involved:

• Read our Public Notice and press release
• Learn tips for avoiding bill shock
• If you’ve had a problem with bill shock that your carrier hasn’t resolved, you can reach our Consumer Center at 1-888-CALL-FCC (225-5322) or file a complaint online.
• Comment on the Public Notice for the record (Proceeding #09-158).
• And if you have a general comment on the subject, please add it to this blog below.


Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Public Notices Consumers