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FCC’s Data Innovation Initiative: Reinvigorating the FCC’s Data Assets

Posted June 30th, 2010 by Greg Elin - Chief Data Officer

As part of the FCC reform agenda to improve our fact-based, data-driven decision making, the Media, Wireline Competition, and Wireless Telecommunications bureaus have released simultaneous, identical Public Notices seeking comment on all aspects of how they collect, use, and disseminate data.

Along with Public Notices, we are also publicly announcing a cross-agency data team of Chief Data Officers in the bureaus, a Geographic Information Officer, and a Chief Data Officer for the agency to ensure a better connection between data and sound analysis in policy processes.

These actions are part of the FCC’s Data Innovation Initiative publicly launched yesterday. They are the next steps of a journey that began last fall with the Commission’s first-ever, agency-wide inventory identifying hundreds of distinct data sets. The Public Notices initiate an iterative process examining all the FCC’s current and future data requirements, starting with these three Bureaus.  

Yesterday’s Public Notices invite you to join us on this journey for the next 45 days as we openly and transparently look closer at, and seek your comments on, nearly 340 data sets managed by the Media, Wireline Competition, and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus and consider future needs. Each of the three Bureaus has compiled a working inventory of their respective data collections to make it easier for everyone—not just those who file information year in and year out—to provide us with comments and insights on innovating how the agency collects, uses, analyzes, and shares information.

Introducing the FCC’s New Data Team

To help clear away the Agency’s data cruft and keep it cleared away, the Commission has put together a cross-agency data consisting of newly created positions of Chief Data Officers in each Bureau, starting with these three Bureaus. They are: Robert Alderfer, Chief Data Officer, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, who joined the FCC from OMB; Kris Monteith, Deputy Chief and Chief Data Officer, Media Bureau, who brings years of FCC experience to the team; and Steven Rosenberg, Chief Data Officer, Wireline Competition Bureau who was previously part of the National Broadband Plan team. Also part of the data team will be Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer, Office of Strategic Planning, joining the FCC from the GIS office for the State of California. Mr. Byrne is the FCC’s first Geographic Information Officer and is responsible for creating a National Broadband Map in partnership with NTIA. Rounding out the team will be Andrew Martin, Chief Information Officer for the FCC, who brings his experience in Auctions and running FCC IT; and finally, me, Greg Elin, Associate Managing Director New Media and Chief Data Officer for the agency. I came to the FCC from United Cerebral Palsy and prior to that at the Sunlight Foundation where I worked on open government data. The FCC has a long tradition working with and disseminating data both in reports and in structured, machine-readable formats, a tradition all of us on the team are looking forward to building upon with your help.

Posted in Open Government Reform - Data Office Of Managing Director

Getting It: the FCC's Role in Bringing Broadband to Health Care

Posted June 28th, 2010 by Thomas Buckley - Manager, Rural Health Care Pilot Program

It's nice to hear from someone in the public that the FCC "gets it."

I heard just such a remark in California last month, when I had the opportunity to travel to the California Emergency Technology Fund's Rural Connection Workshop in Redding, California.  CETF, if you are not aware, is a non-profit organization established by the California Public Utilities Commission, which provides leadership throughout the state to accelerate the deployment and adoption of broadband to unserved and underserved communities.

The Workshop provided a forum for community, state, local, and federal leaders to discuss broadband deployment progress made in California as well as obstacles still faced.  I was honored to provide an update on initiatives in the FCC's Rural Health Care Universal Service Program, including the Rural Health Care Pilot Program, and to hear the many helpful ideas and comments from attendees.

In case you haven't heard of the FCC's Pilot program, here's what it does in a nutshell: it helps build high-speed broadband connections that connect public and non-profit rural health clinics with medical centers in larger communities.  The Pilot is funding projects that will be able to provide rural America with real-time consultations with medical experts at research hospitals, using telemedicine to save lives and money, and bring other benefits that only robust broadband connections can bring in the information-intense world of health care.

I updated the attendees on the progress of the California Telehealth Network Pilot Project, which is eligible for $22 million under the Pilot Program to deploy a new state-wide network that plans to connect over 900 health care providers to facilitate mental illness counseling and improve patient-physician interaction for rural Californians.  Isolation makes treatment and preventive services a challenge.  The new network will address real problems for rural Californians who suffer disproportionately from depression, hypertension, asthma and cardiovascular disease. 

For this audience of rural health technologists, I held up the California project an excellent model of state-wide collaboration of healthcare, technology, government, and other stakeholders to bring the benefits of health IT throughout the state.  Example: some of the key groups of this project are the University of California Office of the President, and the UC Davis Health System, which serves as the legally and financially responsible partner for the project.  The project has also received a $3.3M pledge from the California Emerging Technology Fund and has been granted partial reimbursement for monthly network connection costs by the California Teleconnect Fund program of the California Public Utility Commission.  In April, AT&T won the bidding to deploy the network, and the project is now finalizing its funding commitment request.  Bottom line: the California Telehealth Network shows what states can accomplish when they combine resources to reach as many rural health care providers as possible so that health IT can improve health care delivery in rural areas.

It was when my presentation focused on the longer term goals for the Rural Health Care Program that the audience member chimed in.  I explained the lessons learned from the Pilot Program and the recommendations of the National Broadband Plan to create a permanent infrastructure program, transform our Internet Access Fund into a Broadband Access Fund, and fund data centers and administrative offices because they  are critical to delivering health IT.  It was this vision that prompted the audience member to say the FCC "gets it." 

We want to keep getting it.  So the Commission at its July 15 meeting will be voting on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which asks for public input on how best to improve, reform and expand the Rural Health Care program based on recommendations in the National Broadband Plan and on what we've learned from the Pilot. Meanwhile, you can post any ideas you have on using broadband to save lives and deliver health care efficiently on this blog.

Cross-posted from Blogband.

Posted in Wireline Competition Bureau
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Tracking VoIP: What We Now Know

Posted June 25th, 2010 by Steven Rosenberg

Until today, we couldn’t have told you this: out of 97 million residential phone lines in the U.S., nearly 20% were VoIP subscribers. (Annoying technical footnote alert:  this actually refers to “interconnected” VoIP, the most common form of VoIP service, which is voice service over a broadband connection that also allows users to both receive calls from and place calls to the public switched telephone network, like traditional phone service. We don’t track non-interconnected VoIP, which generally speaking, enables voice service between two computers on broadband only.)

Anyway, that VoIP fact comes from our latest Local Telephone Competition Report, which, for the first time, includes information about voice services delivered over broadband connections. Why, you may ask, has it taken so long for the Commission to get these numbers? Well, interconnected VoIP is a relatively new product, and the Commission is careful about imposing potential burdens, like data reporting, on nascent services. The Commission in 2004 began considering the idea of collecting VoIP data, and finally, in 2008, concluded that the time was right to collect those figures. While private data firms have for some time estimated VoIP penetration, the FCC now has hard data on VoIP subscribers, data that give us a more complete fact base for understanding voice services. 

And why, you may ask, are we just now publishing December 2008 data? What took so long? There are a couple of reasons.  First, any time we change collections, it takes a fair amount of time to update and cross-check the analysis, and then a bit more time to create the new report.  In addition to that, the data in this report come from Form 477, the same form from which we created the High-Speed Services for Internet Access report.  We focused first on the high-speed report and the related work in the National Broadband Plan before turning our attention to the Local Telephone Competition report.  Now that the National Broadband Plan is done and we have the new report format and collection process down, subsequent Local Competition Reports should be timelier. 

Of course we recognize that, even though this is the first report that draws on the new Form 477 data, there may yet be room for improvement.  As we undertake an upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to discuss collection of data for broadband, we may have the opportunity to further improve the data collection for the Local Competition Report.

So take a look at the report. It opens a new window on the competitive landscape that should help the Commission make more informed decisions on behalf of consumers.

Posted in Office Of Strategic Planning And Policy Analysis
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Final Reminders – What should I do when I return home?

Posted June 25th, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

This week we have covered pre-departure steps, overseas calling alternatives, and VoIP services, all focused on avoiding excess charges.  Today we will wrap up the ”Wireless World Travel Week” with an overview of the international calling tips, as well as a few final reminders.

  1. Check with your provider before you travel to see if your phone will work abroad.
  2. If your phone will work, check with provider to see if you can buy a SIM card in the foreign country to avoid roaming charges.
  3. If your phone will not work abroad, choose an alternative calling method that is best for you – purchase or rental of a world phone for instance.
  4. Disable push notification and wireless network settings on your smartphone as much as possible to avoid unintentional data transfer charges.

If you are using a mobile phone abroad, you will need to be able to charge it.  Make sure you have the proper power adapters and converters for the country you are visiting, and any other equipment specific to your phone.

While you should be aware of all charges before you travel abroad, it is important to look closely at your invoice/bill to make sure that charges are accurate.  If there are any discrepancies, notify your provider immediately.  Keep in mind that roaming charges apply as soon as you arrive in a foreign country, so have a plan of action for placing calls abroad before you travel.

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers
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Can I make calls over the Internet from Wi-Fi hotspots?

Posted June 24th, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

[Addendum: The FCC does not endorse the VoIP services mentioned below or any distinct technology.]

We’ve gone over many different options for international calling which all revolved around use of wireless networks and landlines.  However, there is another cheap and easy way to make international calls called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) through a Wi-Fi hotspot.  This allows you to call someone using high-speed Internet service instead of a telephone service.  Just make sure that your phone does not automatically connect to an international mobile network, which can be expensive to access.

Of course, you must have Internet access to use a VoIP service, as well as a computer with microphone or webcam, or a smartphone that has VoIP capabilities.  Assuming you have access, you can use one of many popular VoIP services such as Skype, Fring, or Truphone.  If you use a VoIP service to make a call to another person using VoIP, it will probably be absolutely free (not including any fees you may have to pay to access the Internet).  If the person you are calling is not using VoIP on their computer, you can also call them directly on their phone.  This is often cheaper than using a calling card or local SIM card. 

The main advantage of using VoIP to make international calls is that it is very inexpensive (free in certain circumstances).  The downside is that it requires Internet access, and a computer or mobile device that has the necessary VoIP application.  Also, international equivalents of 911 and E911 may not be fully functional with VoIP calling.  Make sure you are aware of these limitations before relying on VoIP as your primary calling method.  Visit the following links to learn more about VoIP services and to look up calling rates to individual countries.

UK +44 (0) 203 318 0742
USA and rest of world +1 (646) 360-1689

As always, check out our tip sheet, Wireless World Travel Made Simple, for detailed tips and provider contact info.

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers
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Once I am overseas, what calling options can I choose from?

Posted June 23rd, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

You have arrived overseas, and are ready to make a call.  After verifying your carrier’s policies and charges, you should have a plan for how you will communicate while overseas.

Some phones are capable of using a SIM card that can be purchased overseas (call your provider for details on your specific phone and whether it’s compatible with the system in the country you’re visiting).  This means you will have a local phone number, and not the same phone number you use in the U.S., but you will not have roaming charges. International calls and text messages placed from your destination will be much cheaper, and incoming calls will most likely be free. Keep in mind that it may be more expensive for the calling party because they will be calling or sending text messages to an international number.

If you plan on using your phone heavily, an alternative might be to purchase an inexpensive phone as well as a SIM card with prepaid minutes in the country you are visiting, so you know exactly how much you will be spending. You can also purchase a calling card if you need to make a long distance call to the U.S., as this is often much less expensive than using a hotel room phone. While it is not a good idea to use hotel room phones for a direct long distance call the U.S., you should use them if you want to call between rooms in the hotel.

Use your international calling card from a phone booth and not your mobile phone, as regular per minute charges usually apply if you use your mobile phone. And if you have an option of contacting someone in the country you’re visiting at either a wireline or mobile number, call the wireline. 

Another popular option is using the internet to make phone calls, called Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on how to use this inexpensive method!

As always, check out our tip sheet, Wireless World Travel Made Simple, for detailed tips and provider contact info.

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers
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Will I be able to use my phone overseas? What preparations do I need to make?

Posted June 22nd, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

In order to maintain communication with people back home in the most affordable way, you need to be ready ahead of time.  First, make sure you understand the telephone system in the country you’re going to.  Different countries use different types of mobile phone networks, so don’t assume that your phone will work in a foreign country.  And even if your phone does work for voice calling, some of its other functions – such as sending and receiving data or text messages – might not work.  The most important thing is to check with your wireless provider before you leave for your trip.  When in doubt, ask.

For most U.S. customers, the service plan that covers domestic usage does not cover usage while traveling abroad.  And the rates may be much higher when you are abroad, because of the additional fees for “roaming” on a foreign mobile phone network.  Roaming can be complicated, and charges may vary by country and mobile network.  Again, it is best to check with your provider before you depart to find out the service arrangements that best fit your needs, and to find out all the rates and charges that will apply.  Higher rates may apply to all features of your phone, including making or receiving voice calls, receiving or checking voice mail, sending or receiving texts, and uploading to or downloading from the Internet.  Even if you have “unlimited” use of these features, you may still be charged per minute/text/etc.  By knowing these charges ahead of time, you will be able to save money and avoid any surprises when you return home. 

The bottom line: don’t make any assumptions about your phone or calling plan.  By researching your carrier’s policies and charges, you can decide whether you should bring your own phone along or use one of many alternatives once you arrive in your destination country.  Those alternative options will be discussed tomorrow! 

Check out our tip sheet, Wireless World Travel Made Simple, for detailed tips and contact info for wireless providers.

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers
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Kick-off – How can I make calls while I’m abroad?

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

It’s the first day of summer, and the official start to a busy travel season.  Whether you are headed to the tropics to enjoy the beach, or halfway across the world on a business trip, you want to know how to stay in touch with people back home without breaking the bank.  E-mail is a great way of doing this, but you still may need to speak with someone on the phone.  The question is, what is the best and cheapest way to call the U.S. from a foreign country?  To answer this question along with many more, the FCC is kicking off its “Wireless World Travel Week” today.  There are many more variables with international calling than with domestic calling.  You should be well informed before trying to make phone calls from a foreign country.  Useful tips will be posted here throughout the week, focusing on a different topic each day.  Here’s the schedule for the rest of the week:

Tuesday: Getting Ready for Your International Trip
Wednesday: Calling Options from Overseas
Thursday: VoIP – Calling Over the Internet
Friday: Back at Home – Checking Your Invoices

The goal of this initiative is to inform consumers about international calling to help them avoid unnecessary charges while abroad.  We hope our tips are informative, helpful, and allow you to make the best decisions when calling from overseas.

Check out our tip sheet, Wireless World Travel Made Simple, and a video message. You can also follow the FCC on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fcc, where you will find more tips throughout the week.

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers

The Savvy Traveler

Posted June 21st, 2010 by Janeese Parker

As my good friend and colleague who I’ll just call the “Girl in the Paisley Dress” goes off to Europe for a well-needed getaway, I’m wracking my telecom brain to help her navigate the mobile phone landscape for travelers abroad.  In an attempt to make her the quintessential savvy traveler, I’ve decided to blog about useful tips when traveling with a mobile phone overseas, as it may serve other travelers well.

First on the list is to find out what type of phone she has to see if it will work in Europe as some U.S. phones work in Europe and others do not.  She should check with her carrier to see if her phone is GSM enabled (the European standard).  

If the phone is not GSM enabled, she should consider one of the following:  She could buy a GSM enabled phone in the U.S., which would allow her to use her same phone number while overseas (so that her friends and family can call her on their speed dials).  She could also buy a cheap phone at her destination that matches her paisley dress, with a local SIM card.  The SIM card is sort of like the brain of a GSM phone and the phone will not work without it.  Or, she could take her GSM phone and put a local SIM card into it when she gets to Europe.  

Advantages of buying a SIM card overseas:

She gets a local number, no roaming charges, free incoming calls (usually), international calls and text messages will be cheaper than from her U.S. phone, local calls at her destination are not international calls so are much cheaper, and she has to pay as she goes so there are no hidden costs. 

Disadvantages of buying a SIM card overseas:

She will not have the same number she has in the U.S., she must have a phone (or buy a mobile phone) that can take the SIM card, and people calling or texting her from the U.S. will be calling or texting to an international number so it may be more expensive to the calling party.

Since the Girl in the Paisley Dress usually has her stylish pink phone glued to her ear, I recommend that she get a cheap mobile phone in Europe and then buy a SIM card with prepaid minutes so that she knows how much she is spending on her phone.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts for the Girl in the Paisley Dress traveling in Europe:

  • DO use the hotel room phone for calling between rooms at the hotel – DON'T use your mobile phone for that.  You would be surprised how often this happens.
  • DON’T use the hotel room phone for direct long distance calling to the U.S. unless it is an emergency as it is very expensive.  Instead, buy an international long distance card in the European destination (can be bought at any magazine store, quick mart, gas station and even restaurants) as you will get many, many minutes of voice over IP (VoIP) calling for around $10. These cards can be used from local phone booths. If using an international calling card from your mobile phone, be aware that regular minute charges will usually apply.
  • DON’T forget that roaming charges apply as soon as one goes to a new country in Europe.  Even with a local European mobile phone, roaming charges will be assessed for all incoming and outgoing calls.  If staying in the second country for awhile, then consider buying another SIM card.  If only staying for a couple of days, don’t use the phone very much and just pay the roaming charges.
  • DON’T forget to take your charger with you everywhere you go.  If it’s a U.S. phone, DON’T forget the adapter to plug the charger into the wall and when pulling the charger out of the wall, DO check to be sure the adapter came out too.  I have left more than my share of adapters (and chargers, unfortunately) around the world! 
  • DO send text messages rather than talk on the mobile phone as it is much cheaper in Europe.  But DON’T send too many text messages as they are not as cheap as in the U.S.
  • DO find out how to call important numbers back in the U.S. when you get overseas, just in case you need to make that important call back home.
  • DO watch this space to see the next adventure of telecom travel with the Girl in the Paisley Dress!
  • DO have a Savvy Traveler trip!

For more information on our “Wireless World Travel Week”, see the following resources:

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers

Testing Broadband Speeds

Posted June 21st, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

Here at the FCC, we've been working lately on new ways to measure broadband speed and help consumers understand it. We believe that consumers deserve to know what broadband speeds they need for different applications, from email to gaming; what the advertised speeds really mean; and whether they can be sure they're getting the speeds that are advertised. To that end, the FCC is partnering with SamKnows to conduct the first scientific, hardware-based test of broadband performance in America. To help us improve broadband quality in the U.S., volunteer at TestMyISP.com to sign up for this landmark test. The video below explains how it works and how you can get involved.

Read or post comments here.
Cross-posted from Blogband.

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
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