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Auditing FCC.Gov with Open Source DeveloperView

Posted March 3rd, 2011 by Chris Barna

The current FCC.gov has hundreds of thousands of pages, hidden across a myriad of different directories and subdomains. When thinking about how we wanted to migrate content over to the new FCC.gov, we had to find a way to organize these pages into categories based on a number of different factors. No existing product fit our needs so we made our own and called it “DeveloperView.”

DeveloperView is an open source PHP/MySQL project designed to allow government agencies and other organizations, by aggregating otherwise distributed institutional knowledge, to overlay a third dimension of information over a web page and provide website stakeholders the ability to view, organize, and collaborate in the management of site content. When used in conjunction with our open source website crawler, it can provide complete statistics on tag usage and progress to a goal of tagging every page.

Here at the FCC, we’ve had each office and bureau use DeveloperView to categorize their pages into four main tags: archive, rewrite, consumer, and industry. We are now using these tags to import and classify pages into the new FCC.gov.

We’ve found DeveloperView useful in the redesign project and want to share it with any organization redesigning their website. The source code is released under the GNU General Public License and our current release is available on GitHub. Right now the project takes a bit of knowledge of PHP and MySQL to set up but we are planning to release a version of DeveloperView that runs right out of the box on a flash drive.

We encourage you to give the tool a try or if you are familiar with PHP, invite you to contribute back to the project itself.

Posted in Office Of Managing Director Developer
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More News with the FCC Registration Numbers

Posted February 24th, 2011 by Warren Firschein

 FCC license holders and others doing business with the Commission are likely to be already familiar with the Commission’s Registration System, also known as “CORES,” which primarily is used by registrants to obtain an identifying number called an FCC Registration Number, or “FRN.”  These unique ten-digit number sequences allow registrants to submit or file applications to the Commission, as well as remit payments, and are used by all Commission systems to easily identify individuals and companies when they interact with the agency.  They also serve an important role by aiding the Commission’s compliance with the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, which was enacted by Congress to address concerns that debts owed to the Federal government were not being properly collected.  

On December 6, 2010, the Commission released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) proposing modifications intended to make CORES more feature-friendly and improve the Commission’s ability to comply with various statutes that govern debt collection and the collection of personal information by the federal government.  One of the primary goals of this proceeding is to improve the interface with CORES so that you can use the system in a more efficient and effective manner.  Some of the proposed modifications to CORES are summarized below, but the full text of the NPRM can be found on the Commission’s web site.  Note that comments to the proposals raised in the NPRM must be submitted on or before March 3, 2011, while reply comments must be submitted no later than March 18, 2011.  

I’d like to also mention that on March 10, 2011, we’ll be holding a forum with staff and the public to explore legal and technical challenges associated with the proposed modifications that were raised in the NPRM.  The workshop will be held in the FCC’s Commission Meeting Room at our headquarters in Washington, D.C., beginning at 10:00 a.m.  Mary Beth Richards, Special Counsel to the Chairman for FCC Reform, will present opening remarks, and I’ll be moderating the forum.  If interested, you’re encouraged to attend the forum or to follow along over the Internet from the FCC’s web page at www.fcc.gov/live.  For more information, please refer to the Commission’s Public Notice announcing the public forum, which was released on February 15 and can be found on the front page of the Commission’s website.

Here are highlights of some of the proposals raised in the NPRM:

A Single FRN:  Since the creation of CORES, companies have been able to obtain multiple FRNs so they could better internally manage their dealings with the agency.  As a result, however, it has been difficult for the Commission to identify all the FRNs that are held by the same entity and tie them together in order to examine the entity’s entire course of dealing with the agency.  Thus, the NPRM proposes to limit each registered entity to a single FRN, possibly through multiple sub-accounts that are linked together electronically.  If enacted, this would have numerous benefits, both to our regulatees and the agency itself.  For example, limiting each registrant to a single FRN will enhance our ability to inform them of past due regulatory fees and impending license renewal deadlines, through e-mail or on-line notification messages.   Furthermore, it would enable the Commission to roll out a series of new features for CORES, including a company-centric “dashboard” that filers would see upon login, through which they’d have the ability to review the progress on their filings, fees that are due, the history of files they’ve submitted, as well as other important information.  Such features could only be made possible by limiting entities to a single company-wide identifier.  The NPRM also proposes to limit individual filers to a single FRN as well.

The NPRM describes some methods that we’re considering to limit registrants to a single FRN while retaining flexibility to organize their filings and other dealings with the Commission among logical business lines of their choosing, such as creating sub-accounts under a common FRN, and seeks comment on some of the technical and managerial challenges for each idea—take a look and let us know what you think.  

Multiple Registrants with Multiple Points of Contact:  Currently, CORES does not permit FRN holders to identify anyone other than themselves as the point of contact for their FRN, which may limit the FRN’s usefulness, because the listed person is not always the appropriate individual to resolve a particular issue or to provide necessary information to the agency.  For this reason, the NPRM proposes that FRN holders should have the ability to voluntarily provide additional points of contact for their FRNs for specific pre-designated issues, such as “Accounting,” “Billing,” “Licensing,” “Legal Issues,” etc.     

Elimination of Certain TIN Exception Reasons:  Some individuals and entities aren’t required to provide their taxpayer ID when registering in CORES for various reasons.  Over time, we’ve begun to believe that some of these exceptions are unnecessary, and the NPRM proposes to eliminate some of them.  If you’re one of the few individuals or companies that have taken advantage of one of these exceptions, we recommend that you review the NPRM to see if you’d be affected by any of these proposals.  

Registrant E-mail Addresses:  When CORES was first designed approximately ten years ago, the use of e-mail wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is now.   As a result, entities and individuals were given the opportunity to voluntarily provide an e-mail address when completing the CORES registration process to obtain an FRN.  Given the significant increase in the use of and dependence on e-mail in the years since CORES first became operational, however, the NPRM proposes that all FRN holders now be required to provide an e-mail address upon registration, which would simplify the process for us to maintain contact with registrants when a regulatory matter requires attention.  Don’t worry—your e-mail address would remain private and hidden from public view. 

Using CORES to Alert FRN Holders About Financial or Other Administrative Issues:  CORES currently lacks the capability to alert FRN holders about known financial or other administrative-related issues regarding their standing at the Commission, such as their status in the Commission’s Red Light Display System, their debarment status, or the fact that we have discovered that their contact information is incorrect or nonoperational.  The NPRM proposes to remedy this by enhancing CORES to permit the Commission to post individualized warning messages that would appear the next time a user accesses his or her FRN through the system.  Another potential use for this feature might be to display payment histories and unpaid bills for Commission-related activities, such as unpaid fines and forfeitures, as well as the section 9 regulatory fee payment status.  

Tax Exempt Indicator:  Because tax-exempt entities often qualify for a reduction or elimination of their section 8 or section 9 annual regulatory fee requirements, the Commission is considering adding a data field to CORES that would enable entities and individuals to indicate any tax exempt status that they possess.  The availability of such data and documentation through CORES would simplify the process for confirming eligibility for a reduction of (or exemption from) annual fee requirements, thus improving our financial operations, and reducing errors.

Bankruptcy Indicator:  In certain contexts, our various Bureaus and Offices have an interest in knowing when industry participants are filing for (or emerging from) bankruptcy.  For example, the Commission is required to process assignments or transfers of control of licenses for parties that enter bankruptcy.  Also, the Commission’s Office of Financial Operations routinely receives requests for waiver of Section 9 regulatory fees from debtors claiming to be in bankruptcy.  Currently, the Commission does not have a central depository of notifications that an entity is in bankruptcy.  Therefore, to reduce administrative burdens at the Commission, the NPRM proposes to add a data field that would enable entities and individual license holders (or their representatives) to notify the Commission through CORES that they have entered into bankruptcy, or that there has been a change in their bankruptcy status (such as, for example, when they emerge from bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code).  

Company Dashboard:  In light of the Commission’s intent to develop and deploy an agency-wide Consolidated Licensing System, the NPRM seeks comments on the usefulness of utilizing a company dashboard or summary profile that filers would see upon login, which would serve as a central repository of information for the filer.  Through the dashboard, the filer would have the ability to quickly and easily review various pertinent information, such as the progress on their filings, fees that are due, the history of files the filer has submitted, as well as any other important information the filer may need.  Other uses for such a dashboard may include: identifying any information that is missing from a pending application, updating their profile, and detecting actions requiring immediate attention.

Posted in Office Of Managing Director Fcc Reform
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Open Internet Apps Challenge

Posted January 5th, 2011 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

For months, we've been hearing from a committed community of citizens that care deeply about preserving the foundational principles of the Internet.

Many of the same people have been involved with the FCC over the last few months through our FCC.gov Developer community. Now that the FCC has released the Open Internet order, we’re calling on that developer community to help us meet a new challenge.

The Open Internet Apps Challenge, released by the FCC, asks this community -- particularly the researchers and developers -- to help build the strongest safeguards possible to preserve these principles and innovate online.

This is an opportunity for the FCC to tap talent in a variety of fields -- technology development, research, monitoring, and more -- to build a powerful toolkit that protects and informs consumers. These software tools could, for example, detect whether a broadband provider is interfering with DNS responses, application packet headers, or content.

The winners of this challenge will have their work widely seen and used. We think that there a number of interesting opportunities in this challenge, particularly for researchers with deep experience in highly-technical and specified fields of industry and academia.

We've called on the FCC Developer community before, like the Open Developer Day we hosted in October, and this challenge presents a new opportunity for the agency to partner with innovators and researchers working towards important goals.

Check out all the details for the Open Internet Apps Challenge at Challenge.gov.

Posted in Open Government Office Of Managing Director Developer Api
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The FCC and First Year of Open Government

Posted December 7th, 2010 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

In the modern federal landscape, the FCC finds itself increasingly at the intersection of technology, law, and citizen participation. It’s a challenging place to be -- these arenas change quickly, and move in ways that advancements in one ripple out and can change the others. But the opportunity to make progress on these fronts has never been greater.

Modernizing the rulemaking process -- keeping up with these changes to best serve the American public -- was the focus of an event hosted by the Brookings Institute last week. As an invited member of the Digitization – Past, Present, and Short-Term Future panel , I spoke about two key benefits that new technology offers to the rulemaking process.

First, erulemaking can make government work smarter. Moving from a largely paper-based system -- the norm very recently -- to a digital system has led to a rulemaking process that’s accessible, searchable and less weighed down by troves of paperwork.

Second, moving rulemaking online has allowed the FCC to open a process that was closed for too long. Traditionally, access to rulemaking required access to the expert legal mechanisms typically out of the reach of most citizens, yet the rules we are creating are created for all and often impact people who don’t have access to legal support. We’ve made strides on this front - You may be familiar with our online comment crowdsourcing platforms, the ability to integrate blog comments into the public record, and our other moves to make the FCC process as open as possible – there’s more to come.

Something most people don’t know: the FCC is also developing ways to help citizens that lack access to the Internet participate in rulemakings remotely via voicemail, powered by increasingly accurate speech-to-text technologies. It’s another way that the spirit of open government is pushing us to tinker with the process, open up closed structures, and empower citizen experts to meaningfully engage with rulemaking.

With the help of open technologies, agencies like the FCC increasingly find themselves as repositories of valuable insight generated by citizen experts. New technology makes that information available as data outputs that are easily shared, syndicated, and mashed-up against other data sets. As part of our team’s effort to reimagine a new FCC.gov, we’re revamping the Electronic Comment Filing System that allows for bulk download, RSS subscription to particular rulemakings, and infusing our own processes more with the web services model that’s ubiquitous in the modern Internet.

An open and participatory FCC is in line with the spirit of President Obama’s Open Government Directive -- passed one year ago today -- that is creating a more open, transparent, and participatory government.

On this anniversary, we think it is worth looking back and compiling the agency’s open government accomplishments. Take a look, then add your voice in the comments and help us continue improving the FCC’s rulemaking process.

Posted in Reform - Redesign FCC Staff Open Government Spectrum Dashboard Reform - Rules And Processes Reform - Data Office Of Managing Director Data Developer Api Accessibility

Open Developer Day’s First Chapter

Posted November 9th, 2010 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

In a packed Commission Meeting Room on Monday, a coalition of tech developers and accessibility advocates made FCC history.

By organizing and hosting the FCC’s first Open Developer Day – one of the first of its kind in the federal government, and the first hosted at a federal HQ – the Commission took another big step towards realizing the full potential of the broad community of folks that FCC data and FCC tools have the potential to impact.

The success of the event proved that citizen developers are eager to engage in open collaboration with the FCC to find innovative uses for government data. Cooperative efforts like this help find efficiencies for users, open the door to new economic and creative opportunities, and stretch the value of the .gov dollar in ways we’re continuing to explore.

Open Developer Day also highlighted the ways that FCC initiatives can create efficiencies across the landscape of other government agencies – a pillar of the Gov 2.0 approach. The long-term success of these methods depends on agencies’ ability to cultivate an active community. I think this event shows us that we’ve made a great start, and we’re learning how we continue to improve on the steps we’ve taken so far.

Our own wrap up of Open Developer Day is coming, but I wanted to share this great video interview shot in our new, soon-to-be-released FCC TEC lab. O’Reilly Media’s Alex Howard sat down with Gina Trapani – a Developer Day veteran herself – to talk about the take-aways from the event. If you attended in person, watched via the livestream, or participated on the #fccdevday hashtag, leave your thoughts in the comments below. Tell us what you thought worked well, or pass on your ideas for the next FCC Open Developer Day for us to read.

Posted in Events Open Government Reform - Data Office Of Managing Director Data Developer Api
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Gearing Up for Open Developer Day

Posted November 4th, 2010 by Greg Elin - Chief Data Officer

Ed. Note: Visit the Open Developer Day wiki for more info.   

This coming Monday the commission will play host to a one-of-a-kind event in federal government. We’re calling on coders, programmers and developers of all stripes to join us at FCC headquarters for our first ever Open Developer Day. This will be a rare opportunity for developers in the public and private sectors to join forces. Out of this gathering will come innovations, collaborations, and continued open government partnership.

Central to Monday’s event will be three tracks weaving their way through the day. Equipped with our laptops and the fellowship of sharp friends we’ll be working through accessibility solutions and open APIs; and we’ll host a Free Develop, an open-ended developer free-for-all. FCC tech minds and leadership will open the event, situating our Developer Day within the larger open government movement.

Programmers from the Yahoo! Developer Network will be on hand to demo their tools and provide guidance. They will give an overview of YQL, their query language which allows developers to “access and shape data across the Internet through one simple language, eliminating the need to learn how to call different APIs.” We will also see a demonstration of their YUI Library, a set of “utilities and controls … for building richly interactive web applications.”

An undertone, pervading a significant strand of the discussion, will be the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. In signing the act last month, President Obama said the act “will make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or live with a visual impairment to do what many of us take for granted…  It sets new standards so that Americans with disabilities can take advantage of the technology our economy depends on.”

The full day event will start at 9:00am and take place in Washington, DC at FCC headquarters. All developers are welcome free of charge. Bring a laptop and RSVP soon. If you’re not in the DC area and are unable to make it down here, we will be live streaming portions of the day. You can also join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #fccdevday. To email questions write to livequestions [at] fcc [dot] gov. You can participate by visiting Accessible Event, and entering the event code 005202376. For any TTY issues please contact Pam Gregory (pam.gregory [at] fcc [dot] gov).

Start getting excited for Monday. We’ll see you there.


Posted in Open Government Office Of Managing Director Developer Accessibility

Open (FCC.gov) Redesign

Posted October 28th, 2010 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

As you’ve heard from me, we’re hard at work reimagining FCC.gov. The new FCC.gov will, first and foremost, be a resource for American consumers. As we reimagine the site and how it can best deliver the information and services consumers demand, public feedback will continue to be vitally important to our process.

Today, we're showing off some basic sketches for how the redesigned FCC.gov is coming together. And again, we need your feedback.

Take an early look at some of the initial wireframe concepts for the redesign and let us know what you think.

These wire frames are just the first stage in the design process that show us how and where our information will be laid out. Rather than waiting for the release of the 1.0 version of the site, we wanted to give you-the users of FCC.gov-the opportunity to tell us directly what you think about the current ideas. 

These sketches show how, at a fundamental level, we're moving towards a new FCC.gov. Built on a layout that speaks with one agency-wide voice, we're building a stronger consumer resource that's intuitively organized -- not based around an FCC bureaucracy that's unfamiliar to consumers. 

We will soon be testing this and other wireframes with consumers in a usability setting using scenarios most common to the FCC.

Let us know what you think. You can share your comments in our forum or leave your comments below.  If you prefer, you can also e-mail us directly at newmedia@fcc.gov.

We're looking forward to hearing from you.

Posted in Reform - Redesign Open Government Office Of Managing Director

Putting FCC TEC in the right hands

Posted October 26th, 2010 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

As part of this agency’s mission, the FCC supports the field of high-tech devices and solutions that are available to consumers all over the world.

Today, I’m pleased to announce the opening of the Tecnhnology Experience Center here at FCC headquarters. FCC TEC is an on-site technology lab that gives FCC employees and invited guests the chance to get their hands on the latest high-tech tools and toys and grow their understanding of this exciting field.

With the launch of FCC TEC, we’re growing our role as an expert technology agency here in Washington. By expanding FCC employees’ access to the latest technology, we’re continuously improving the agency’s expertise and awareness of a quickly changing -- and increasingly important -- high tech landscape.

FCC TEC also gives manufacturers and vendors the opportunity to display their latest devices in an environment designed for interaction, collaboration, and learning. As an avowed gadget geek myself, I’m particularly excited about expanding the relationship between the FCC and our industry partners, and growing FCC TEC. If you’re a manufacturer or vendor that’s interested in setting up a donation to FCC TEC click here.

One of the perks of my job is the privilege of working with FCC employees who help get some of the most innovative new tools and toys to consumers in the marketplace. I’m looking forward to ramping up FCC TEC and continuing to grow the expertise that our agency can provide for consumers and industry alike.

Posted in Public Notices Office Of Managing Director
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Clearing things up with a Cloud

Posted October 25th, 2010 by Irene Wu

Imagine you were a reporter and wanted to compare budgets for each of the 50 states.  Or, you wanted to compare the official schedules of governors in 20 states?  Dan Oblinger, Program Manager at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration) suggests that if there were a single cloud for state and local governments, possibly supported by the federal government, the release of data to reporters and the rest of the public could be modernized and streamlined. 

Journalists say now that when they ask for government records, often they get print outs of electronic documents with black marker used to redact certain sections.  These releases can be hundreds of pages long, and completely unsearchable electronically. This is taking place in a context where newspapers are closing and reporters are being laid off.  The number of employed investigative reporters is declining and therefore there are fewer people to keep government at all levels - national, state, local - accountable to the public.
For example, suppose all states kept their birth, marriage, and death certificates and their court and police records on this single cloud.  Whatever format any single state used for its data, the cloud could provide the support to convert it into other useful formats (I understand now that this kind of conversion perhaps is often too costly for any single locality or state to support).  For the public who wanted to use these data, they could access it in a format useful to them, not just in the format the state/local government uses. 

Inside the cloud, each state could specify what level of privacy/security is necessary for each piece of data, adjustable depending on the user's level of rights.  Thus, the decision to redact is made once, and preserved electronically.  For example, records of a policy discussion in 2012 can be accessed by only by people in the legislature for 2 years, and by the general public after that.  In 2012, the records can be entered into the cloud, with instructions to restrict access until 2014, when the cloud allows everyone access.

For individual state/local officials, there would then be no need for every FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to print out the whole record and physically redact with a black Sharpie; instead you just direct the reporter/citizen to the cloud for what was done before.  For the reporter/citizen they can access the data in a modern (i.e. digital) format which is amenable to more sophisticated tools for search and analysis.

With the cloud, can you see clearly now? With the redesign of FCC.gov hosted in the cloud, the commission is eager to engage with other federal, state, and local bodies working on making cloud environments work for them. Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted in Reform - Redesign Open Government Office Of Managing Director

Moving FCC.gov into the cloud

Posted October 20th, 2010 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

To create lasting change in the dot gov atmosphere, its incumbent on us to build better websites on top of better architectures.

But too often, government agencies have struggled to keep pace with technological change at a fundamental level. Cloud computing environments haven’t been within government agencies’ grasp for very long. The reasons have been various -- many of them well-founded and focused on keeping our nation’s information, and our citizens, safe.

Thanks to clear vision and consistent execution from government leaders, agencies are increasingly empowered to leverage the benefits of cloud computing. Private sector innovation has moved at incredible speeds, and it’s encouraging to see federal agencies -- like the FCC -- moving towards cutting-edge architectures in order to deliver quality services quickly to the citizens that depend on them.

As we continue to reimagine how FCC.gov can deliver dot com levels of service, getting cloud environments in the door and ready for implementation has been a primary focus. By hosting our new site in the cloud, we’re equipping the developers and content creators in the Commission with leading-edge technology so we remain agile, responsive, and relevant to the consumers and industry groups that rely on FCC.gov.

We fully expect this move to pay dividends in the short and long terms. Starting now, we’re able to wield highly-flexible sandboxes for our teams to innovate without bounds. And in out years, we save considerable costs -- and mitigate impact to the environment -- by hosting the new FCC.gov in the cloud instead of potentially inefficient and wasteful datacenters.

Many critics -- across sectors -- have voiced concerns about the information security questions that are raised around cloud computing environments. Our team has fully abided by the FISMA standards throughout this process; at relaunch, FCC.gov will have met or exceeded both low and moderate levels of clearance, enabling us to distribute information, power collaboration, and innovate freely.

At the government-wide level, programs like FEDRAMP are moving the ball forward and helping agencies save time and money while procuring the environments that fit their needs. Just this week, GSA announced government-wide clearance for nearly a dozen Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IAAS) cloud providers to be provided via Apps.gov. The momentum behind this movement is growing.

As the FCC continues to fill out our role as an expert tech agency, I’d like to hear from folks that are working towards innovations like these every day -- both in the public and private sectors. Leave your comments below, or send me a message at @stevenvfcc on Twitter.

Posted in Reform - Redesign Office Of Managing Director
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