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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

Spectrum Dashboard Gets An Upgrade

Posted November 18th, 2010 by James Brown - Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

On Wednesday, November 17, the first in a series of enhancements to the Spectrum Dashboard were released.  Along with this release, we are excited to announce that the Dashboard is no longer in beta.

The response we’ve received about the Dashboard has been remarkably positive and in the eight short months since its initial release, almost 200,000 searches have been conducted.  To crunch those numbers further – the Dashboard is being searched about 25,000 times a month or in other words, 800 times a day.  Wow!  What’s more impressive is the volume of activity has been pretty consistent month-to-month.

While this week’s release may not be the biggest or the flashiest, it is however, the starting point for bigger and better things to come.  For example, in the next few months, the Dashboard will include additional releases to track leased spectrum, search for licenses across tribal lands, customize maps, and use Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to access data from the Dashboard.  We don’t plan to stop there.  We will continue to evaluate potential candidates for future enhancements.

Here are some of the changes to the Dashboard released this week.

Advanced Search. The Advanced Search replaces the “License Categories” search and includes several different search criteria located at the same place, including the ability to search for licenses by channel block.  For example, a user can search for all of the licenses in the 700 MHz band or can tailor a search by only searching for A-block licenses in the 700 MHz band.

Auto Complete for Name Search. The auto complete function allows a user to search by a name and the Spectrum Dashboard will display all names that include the string of letters/characters entered.  For example, by entering “Wire,” a list of all names that include “Wireless” will be displayed.

Changes to Filters. The filters have been enhanced to allow a user to open and close filters, as they deem appropriate and to include an additional filter for channel blocks.

• Downloading Results.  When a user downloads results by clicking on the “Export Results” link, the results will download automatically if the results are 65,000 rows or less.  If the results are more than 65,000 rows a user will receive an e-mail when the results are available.

We are looking forward to improving the Dashboard even more and encourage you to continue providing feedback.

Posted in Wireless Open Government Spectrum Dashboard Data Developer Api
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Wrapping up Open Developer Day

Posted November 12th, 2010 by Greg Elin - Chief Data Officer

On Monday, November 11, the FCC successfully held (we think) a first-of-its-kind event in the U.S. federal government! 

FCC Open Developer Day attracted about 100 web developers and other technology professionals to our headquarters building in Washington. We spent a day learning about open data sets and APIs, brainstorming together about how they could be combined to benefit citizens with new apps, and starting coding projects toward those goals.

One focus of FCC Open Developer Day was accessible technology. By facilitating the use of fully-accessible technologies - in line with the FCC’s support for our Accessibility and Innovation Initiative - the FCC is promoting innovation and collaborative problem-solving in the field. One exciting fact: FCC Open Developer Day marked the first time many developers in attendance sat and chatted as a group with others using assistive technologies.

The most valuable take-away from this first foray was the opportunity to build the FCC developer community. The momentum from this event will hopefully help bring the popular activity of Developer Day and "hack-a-thons" to the a federal agency. We were grateful, and a bit surprised, at the number of people who came in from out of town to this event.  It was incredibly exciting to the see the Commission Meeting Room, usually set up for formal hearings and presentations, organized in tables for eight people and laptops plugged into power strips.

Here are some cool things we got from having the event:

One day is too short to get much hacking done, so we are planning to do more developer days to make them a regular activity at the FCC.

P.S. Eager to participate in a gov-related developer day? December 4 is International Open Data Hackathon. FCC will be there. Will you?

(This is cross-posted on Blogband. Please leave your comments there.)

Posted in Reform - Redesign Events Open Government Data Developer Api Accessibility
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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

Announcing Open Developer Day at the FCC

Posted October 28th, 2010 by Greg Elin - Chief Data Officer

On Monday, November 8, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission will sponsor an "Open Developer Day" event at FCC Headquarters in Washington, DC to promote collaboration between web developers in the public and private sectors.

The goal of Open Developer Day is to further innovation in accessible technologies and foster citizen participation in open government.

Open Developer Day will be a public, single-day event that prioritizes accessibility goals, though other web solutions are also of interest. The event will feature guest engineers from the Yahoo! Developer Network and Yahoo!’s Accessibility teamLab and will have a component addressing the requirements and opportunities in the new "Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act."

Think of Open Developer Day as a digital barn raising where software developers learn new tools and volunteer their skills to prototype and build new web applications together.

Engineers from the Yahoo! Accessibility team Lab and Yahoo! Developer Network will be providing technical instruction for some of their technologies that support working with web-based information and their ongoing work in accessibility.

A priority area is the development of a web application that will serve as a clearing-house of information on accessible information and communication technologies (ICT). The FCC is mandated to create this clearinghouse by a new law called the "Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act," which President Obama signed on October 8, 2010. The clearinghouse is intended to make it as easy as possible for people with disabilities, families, and support professionals to find information about accessible technologies.

The FCC will also be interested in other innovative ways that public APIs may be used to add value to the fcc.gov and broadband.gov web sites. The choice of intellectual property licensing is being left to each developer for code contributions made.

Any developer may participate, without charge. Each participant is expected to bring his or her own laptop computer, and to comply with security guidelines.

To RSVP for Open Developer Day, click here.

We hope to see you soon!

Posted in Developer Accessibility
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FCC /Developer update: Building off community input

Posted October 13th, 2010 by Michael Byrne - Geographic Information Officer

Based on your comments and suggestions, we've just released updates to our FCC.gov/developer API’s.  In particular we have made two enhancements: one to help  navigate the complexities of census geography, and one that's purely stylistic.

Census geography changes, while small or obscure, can be significant.  A tiny change in a census boundary can mean that a rate based calculation includes a completely different denominator for population or demographic value.  These changes, if not watched for carefully can be significant to the results of querying large federal databases. 

To assist the community of developers building off FCC tools, we'll try and point out these small but significant changes when we see them.

The biggest change between 2000 census boundaries and 2009 census boundaries was the addition of a sub identifier to the smallest unit of boundary, the block.  This addition allows for finer resolution to the map base.  However, because of other changes like population growth, demographic switches, and land use changes, the external boundaries of the block boundaries have also changed. 

In order to keep up with these issues, we are supplementing our FCC Census Block API with the ability to query for the current year as well as previous years.  From now on, the current (e.g. 2009) year search will be the normal REST query on the documentation page like this;


To gain access to a previous year, all you need to do is insert the year in the url like this; 


The stylistic change we made removes the @ symbol from the return, moving to a natural JSON notation to allow for better integration with some client libraries.

These changes are live now. Here's a preview of /Developer updates coming down the pipeline:

See below for a more complete description of the most recent changes.  Happy Coding, and don’t forget to let us know what kind of applications you are building with FCC Developer tools.


1)Changed JSON output to follow the natural convention for Block and Speed Test APIs. This changes the output from:




Please note that the @ symbol has been removed from the attributes within a JSON object. This should make it easier for these data structures to be consumed from some libraries such as jQuery.

2) Added version year for census block geospatial search

There is an additional option to request Census Block data for Census 2000. The original call will return the most recent Census Block information (2009)

Original query for Census information (current information)


<Response executionTime="0.054" status="OK">
<Block FIPS="060470009012065B"/>
<County name="Merced" FIPS="06047"/>
<State name="California" code="CA" FIPS="06"/>

Census 2000 block information


<Response executionTime="0.052" status="OK">
<Block FIPS="060470009012065"/>
<County name="Merced" FIPS="06047"/>
<State name="California" code="CA" FIPS="06"/>

3) Fixed the following bug

When passing wrong coordinate information (i.e. outside of the U.S. and territories) the response returned a badly formed XML if no format for the response type was specified.

Posted in Data Developer Api
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Update for /Developer

Posted September 14th, 2010 by Michael Byrne - Geographic Information Officer

Last week we announced the release of four API’s and the site fcc.gov/developer at the Gov 2.0 conference.  We heard great feedback via twitter, direct email and blog comments.  We have taken some of these ideas and implemented the changes right away.  We want to make sure that these services are useful to the developer community and that you know we are listening to your concerns here.  The changes we have made are listed below, but please keep the comments coming.  Your help is required to make these services better.

1. Bug fixes

- We heard about a bug in the FRN API that would cause a timeout when querying certain FRNs.  Sorry about that, it should be fixed now.
- We head about a bug in the Speed Test API that would cause wrong Wireline Maximum Download and Maximum Upload values in some cases.  Again, sorry about that, it should be fixed now.

2. API changes (Block Search)

- You gave us a suggestion that would make the return more compact and usable as we grow the service, so we decided to change the xml and JSON returns.  Now the Block Search API returns data in the following structure to facilitate parsing and future expansion. This
will break client applications of this method call if you implemented calls already to this API. 

New Structure:
<Response executionTime="0.047" status="OK">
<Block FIPS="560239782002133"/>
<County name="Lincoln" FIPS="56023"/>
<State name="Wyoming" code="WY" FIPS="56"/>



3. API Enhancements (Census and Speed Test)

We added the ability to select desired MIME return type from the URL using the parameter format, i.e. format=json. Possible values are xml, json and jsonp (in this last case, the parameter callback should also be used). If no format is specified XML is returned. This change doesn't break the API (old calls would still work, returning XML).  

Posted in Reform - Redesign Open Government Reform - Data Developer

Announcing FCC.gov/developer at the Gov 2.0 Summit

Posted September 10th, 2010 by George Krebs


The annual Gov 2.0 Summit wrapped up this week. Among the many roll outs, innovations, and talks from across government, Managing Director Steve VanRoekel and Chairman Julius Genachowski took the stage to announce the launch of fcc.gov/developer. At launch the page currently features an initial sweep of developer APIs including the Consumer Broadband Test, Census Block Conversions, and License View.

If you didn’t catch the speech on Tuesday, we’ve posted it below.


As a bonus, this compelling keynote by Carl Malamud, The Currents of Our Time, marked one of the high points of the week. He’s an open government evangelist who spoke forcefully about the need to use government as a highly functioning platform.


Posted in Reform - Redesign Events Open Government Reform - Data Developer
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What’s Changed?

Posted September 9th, 2010 by Learon Dalby

The twenty first century has been about downloading data. Cataloguing, accessing, and downloading data. This has resulted in a great deal of innovation. On September 7, 2010 the FCC added the next play to the playbook with the release of www.FCC.gov/developer. I believe this is significant for a couple of reasons. First, data is still available for download. The FCC did not change course and begin offering a new service to replace one they already provided (download). They simply added to the playbook. Second, the release of the developer API’s opened the door for more innovation to occur. The API’s were provided with a number of ways to make calls to them. This will allow innovators to access the API’s in a manner they are accustom too.

The challenge- finding the niche and sustaining the system. It is critical that FCC quickly determine what API’s developers are finding useful and which ones need additional work. In other words; the success of www.FCC.gov/developer will hinge on the FCC’s ability to work with the developer community not just provide another way to access information. After all, isn’t bi-directional communication what Gov 2.0 is all about?

Learon Dalby currently serves as the GIS Program Manager in the Arkansas Geographic Information Office. He is responsible for managing a number of statewide incentives focused at providing open access to GIS data.

Posted in Data Developer
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