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Your Consumer Advisory Committee

Posted March 16th, 2011 by Scott Marshall - Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

The Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC) is yet another means by which the consumers’ voice is heard at the FCC.

Originally established in November 2000, CAC advises the commission on consumer issues within its jurisdiction and facilitates the participation of consumers -- including people with disabilities and underserved populations such as American Indians and persons living in rural areas -- in proceedings before the FCC.



On December 30, 2008, the commission announced the rechartering of the Committee for a fifth two-year term thru November 2010. As a federal advisory committee, CAC membership is required by law to represent a balanced point of view.  Accordingly, of the committee’s 28 volunteer members, 12 represented interests of consumers, minorities and low-income communities, five represented the interests of people with disabilities, six represented the interests of Tribal, state and local governments and five represented the telecom industries.  Debra Berlyn, formerly of the Digital Television Transition Coalition and presently the National Consumers League, chaired the committee.  

Last November, the committee was rechartered for another two year term (PDF) through 2012. Applications for committee membership were solicited and are currently being reviewed.  It is expected that Chairman Genachowski will make appointments to the CAC in April.

A highlight of the CAC’s fifth term was two recommendations concerning the Consumer Information Disclosure Notice of Inquiry, CG 09-158 (PDF), which sought comment on whether there are opportunities to protect and empower consumers by ensuring sufficient access to relevant information about communications services.  These two recommendations , adopted by the committee in March and August of 2010, relate to the kinds of pre-sale disclosures consumers need when they are trying to make wise purchases of wireless, broadband, and other communication services.

For further information about the Consumer Advisory Committee, along with the recommendations referred to in this post, visit the Consumer Advisory Committee section of our website.  If you have any questions about the Committee please contact me, Scott Marshall, CAC's Designated Federal Officer, at scott.marshall [at] fcc [dot] gov.

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Advisory Committee Consumers
1 Comment

App Accessibility: Are We at a Tipping Point?

Posted March 11th, 2011 by Pam Gregory

Everyone is always talking about some new app, and I simply can’t keep up!

Recently, I ran across something called the “iPhone App Directory.” The British magazine, now in its sixth issue, reviews, rates and lists download costs for apps.  I was curious to see how many of the 947 reviewed apps had potential for assisting with most disabilities, and I ended up very pleased and surprised.

Dare I say we might have reached the tipping point in technological universal design?  It seemed there were many apps that could be beneficial to people with cognitive disabilities, although interestingly, some of those were not user friendly and therefore not recommended.

It was refreshing to see the number of new educational apps that may help persons with learning disabilities.  Knowing that this magazine couldn’t cover all the new apps, I launched a search for similar magazines and found a good site that listed endless publications that also rate and compare new apps.

Here are some apps that I thought were particularly interesting.

  • D2u Transcriber provides dictation and transcription on a mobile phone.
  • SendStuffNow offers cloud-based storage.
  • Conf provides help for conference attendees by tracking each session, list speakers, lists panels/discussions, and even provides GPS to show how far away you are from each event (Note to self: Download for CSUN conference!).
  • ClearRecord Premium is an audio recording app that is able to suppress background noise.
  • Wallet Advanced manages your website logins, credit card info and other private information.  It has strong encryption so that this information is safe. 
  • Similarly, there is Password Keeper, which is a simple tool that stores your password and is also secure.
  • Flashcards App, teaches new vocabulary, then tests you, and even checks your daily progress.
  • Voice Cards are Not Flashcards!! allows you to create voice flash cards with an autoplay and shake option.
  • WordWarp (which I actually have) is a game where you create as many words as possible from a selection of letters.  If you’re stuck, just press the “warp” button and it will help you out. Also, a very useful game for persons with head injuries.
  • Pill Time reminds you to take your medications, and breaks up your medications by medication type, ailment concerned, dosage, frequency and the specific time of day.  It also provides a medication countdown, which counts what medicines you have taken, and what you have left to take in a day.
  • Living Well with Arthritis provides helpful tips to manage your arthritis.  This app was rated superior for usability.  It has many features, including routines, basic understanding of your type of arthritis and how it affects your body, and teaches how you can deal with your arthritis better.
  • iCanBass offers a guitar interface and allows you to pull strings.  This app made me think of Paul Schroeder of the American Foundation for the Blind, who is an avid guitar player.
  • Music For Users provides ambient music to affect your brainwaves.  This app has is programmed with certain tasks, which act as an “alarm” for project management.
  • LocateMeNow provides you with your location, and is user friendly and fast. If I had only had this when I first moved to DC!
  • MobileRSS gathers and manages your selected feeds and presents them in one place for easy monitoring.
  • Breaking News with Push delivers breaking news.  This reminds me of a story Al Sonnenstrahl, a life-long Deaf telecommunications advocate, told me of how, despite being in a car pool and working all morning  with colleagues, when RFK was shot after midnight in 1968, he had no idea. His deafness had pushed him out of the information loop..
  • PhotoDiary enables you to track your day with photographs, and allows you to add captions to the photos, and date and time-stamp the photo.  I would love to see user testing on how people with cognitive disabilities who need help with their daily routine could use this app!
  • PhotoMashup has great potential for people who are Deaf and to other visual learners by allowing you to arrange your photos, make montages, rotate, enlarge and move photos, and even provides the ability to include drop shadow and customize border colors.
  • iStuff is a highly visual method of managing tasks by providing 12 categories that are named based on time and function. It provides simple calendar views, an in-box for new tasks, tags to work on several tasks together, and overdue tasks, which require you to pay attention.  This task-management app is rich in features, and rated high on usability.  Another project management tool that is also highly rated is SideTacts, which integrates phone, e-mail and SMS into a single app.  It also provides audio, text and video notes, while continually synching with the basic apps on every off-the-shelf iPhone.
  • Easy Group Text allows you to group your contacts and text everyone in that group at the same time.  There is a similar app, GroupSMS!, which does the same for SMS.  Another app is FogHorn, which is a simple and user-friendly app that allows you to enter phone numbers for multiple people, and hold text chats where everyone sees all the messages.  FogHorn also allows you to store your chats, archive your chats online, and add extra information about the participants.
  • Today Screen can simplify your day by taking all of your appointments in the iPhone calendar, and putting them into a user-friendly view.  It even color codes past, present and future events;
  • 15,000 Useful Phrases is perfect for those whose English is a second language. It can provide assistance in the much needed gap between ESL and real English conversations--a great social skills app.
  • Lonely Planet San Francisco Guide is a one-stop resource for visiting a city. It is said to be even more helpful than a travel book and received rave reviews.  It includes detailed maps (online and offline). I personally love the Lonely Planet guides, and the San Francisco guide is just one of many cities offered.  Maptual allows you to view various points of interest on a map using the Open Street Map interface. Like Lonely Planet, Maptual provides information about cities all around the world.
  • Find A Pharmacy  will locate a pharmacy for you based on your geographic location, indicate how far the pharmacy is, and provides a Google Map to direct you to the pharmacy.
  • QuickPaste ranks very high on usability and allows you copy multiple records (the iPhone app limits you to one record at a time) for pasting into other apps. A good tool for everyone, especially for those with hand dexterity issues.
  • Pic-Z Tag is great for conference or meeting attendees, especially people with speech disabilities. It lets you design a name tag (templates provided).  When you meet someone new, you can just flash your iPhone to introduce yourself.
  • Ring Finger is a great speed dialing program that you can program time and automated calling.  For example, if you needed to call in to your job coach each day at 1:30 p.m., it will automatically connect you with your job coach at 1:30.


If you have used any of these apps and have found them to provide access, I would love to hear from you.  Also, I would love to hear from you about accessible apps that weren’t listed—it would be great to have one ongoing list of apps that have disability implications.

Are there any groups that are studying new apps for accessibility? If you’re an app developer, let me know if you are designing to include the 54 million Americans with disabilities.  My next step is to remember my password so I can download some new apps! Happy apping!

(Cross posted on Blogband. Please leave comments there.)

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers Developer Accessibility
2 Comments

Report from CES: Your Connected Car

Posted January 14th, 2011 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

For years, a major topic at the Consumer Electronics Show has been the increasing sophistication of in-car electronics. Six-speaker sound systems and GPS mapping were only the beginning.  New cars today are often available with options that provide news, entertainment, communication, route planning, and safety – all enabled by wireless broadband.  Many auto manufacturers are pushing the envelope of car connectivity.  For instance, General Motors has the prototype EN-V – a tiny concept car that can use broadband to navigate itself and that comes when you call it from your smartphone.

At a standing-room-only session at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, attendees heard from a roster of companies that are now providing apps for cars. OnStar, a pioneer in the field, is growing its paid-subscription service to provide vehicle security and safety. Pandora, which millions of people already use for a personalized radio experience, is seeking to become as easy to use in your car as it is on your laptop or smartphone. Other companies are specializing in speech recognition, in-car systems integration, and other approaches to make a range of automotive conveniences seamless and safe.

As impressive and enjoyable as this technology can be, there’s a clear potential downside: Driver distraction. We’re still trying to figure out how to deal with the problem of texting and driving, a deadly trend that both government and industry are fighting together.  The Department of Transportation is leading the Federal effort, CTIA launched a teen safe driving initiative, and the FCC hosted a workshop and developed an information clearinghouse on distracted driving. Now these mitigation efforts are further complicated by the increasing range of electronic options that tempt drivers to take their eyes minds off the road.

The good news is that the auto industry is recognizing the risk, more openly than when these innovations were presented at CES a year ago. One auto executive on the apps-for-cars panel put it bluntly: “If we don’t do our job well in our space, we can introduce things that can kill people.” In a session on driver distraction and safety, CES brought together David Strickland, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, with experts who have monitored the behavior of drivers and the behavior of cars (a field called telematics) to analyze the problem and find solutions.

While this is still a controversial area, the speakers at CES generally agreed on a few key points that suggest the challenges that still lay in front of us. First, many believe that straightforward bans on texting while driving will not have the hoped-for effect. We have now become so used to living wired lives that it’s hard to give up connectivity in the car; as one speaker said, tongue in cheek, “driving is starting to get in the way of our social networking.” Second, it’s clear that broadband connectivity, with all the apps that it brings, is coming to most cars, and that consumers will increasingly demand it. And third, all this innovation must be managed safely for the good of consumers and of the industry itself. A wake-up call came last week when Consumer Reports denied its Recommended designation to two Ford vehicles because of their distracting voice-and-touchscreen systems.

Several major auto companies are putting their engineers to work to make their cars safe, as well as connected and entertaining. Ford is continually improving its Sync system, a popular option now available in all its vehicles, which uses voice commands to provide music, podcasts, and directions with hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. The high-end Mercedes M-Brace system uses voice commands and telematics to provide phone connectivity, entertainment, and safety and security protections. Other automakers are taking similar approaches to the new world of car electronics.

All these advances will provide new options for car buyers – and new challenges for policymakers concerned about auto safety.  What do you look for in a car, and what are your views on safety and driver distraction? Please add a comment to let us know.

Posted in Events Wireless Consumers
7 Comments

Report from CES: How Will You Watch TV?

Posted January 11th, 2011 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

I’m back from the Consumer Electronics Show, the once-a-year showcase for the latest, most innovative consumer technology. With over 130,000 attendees, a show floor the size of six New York City blocks, and IMAX-sized arrays of flat-screen TVs everywhere, the CES can be hard to get your head around. But each year some strong themes emerge.

This year, a major development is what you could call the Emerging Entertainment Ecosystem. We’re moving rapidly into a world where movies, live TV, music, and more will be available on all devices, anywhere and at any time.

The idea of “TV everywhere” has been around for a while. For instance, Slingbox began six years ago by marketing devices that send your TV signal to your smartphone or laptop, wherever you are.  At the Slingbox booth, a rep told me how he’d recently used their product to watch his local TV station via Wi Fi on a plane over the Middle East.  What’s different now is that major manufacturers, software companies, and carriers are partnering to develop fully integrated systems to provide entertainment across devices.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on CES, chose several keynoters to talk about their visions for integrated entertainment. Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg described how his company is developing strategies, infrastructure, and devices that will allow you to view TV or movies in HD with higher download and streaming speeds on your smartphone or tablet. The new XOOM tablet, designed in a partnership between Motorola, Google, and Verizon, is made for this use, and was a popular stop on the CES show floor. The XOOM, expected out early this year on Verizon’s 3G network, will use a new version of Google’s Android platform, called Honeycomb, that’s developed specifically for tablet use and will be upgradeable to Verizon’s new high-speed LTE network by mid-year.

In a similar vein, keynoter Boo-Keun (“BK”) Yoon, President and General Manager of Samsung’s Visual Display Business, presented a vision for integrated entertainment from a product manufacturer’s point of view. The world’s leading manufacturer of 3D televisions, Samsung produces everything from smart TVs, which are large Internet-enabled home units, to smartphones and Galaxy tablets. In partnership with Comcast, Hulu, and others, Samsung is “breaking down the wall between devices.” As Yoon demonstrated, you’ll be able to start watching a movie on your tablet, pause, and resume from the same place on your TV; watch the same live TV on your tablet as in your living room; and use your Galaxy to run your DVR, search for programming, and control your home TV set without using a conventional remote.

Many other major exhibitors on the show floor had demos of their own versions of integrated entertainment. The technology relies on broadband, with programming stored and managed through the Internet cloud and accessible by all kinds of devices. As this new entertainment ecosystem becomes the industry standard, we’ll need to develop faster speeds and greater capacity for both fixed and wireless networks. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that 70 percent of all consumer electronic devices will be connected to the Internet by 2014. With half of all Internet traffic now used for video, and more video use to come, the demands on our infrastructure will ratchet up by the year. The National Broadband Plan makes several recommendations for managing the new demand, and the FCC’s spectrum policy has made the expansion of wireless broadband a priority.

The ultimate goal of all this new technology is a better experience and more opportunities for consumers. Please add a comment to share your thoughts and experiences on TV, the Web, and the entertainment experience you’d like to have in the future.

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers
11 Comments

Chairman Genachowski and FCC Staff Take In CES 2011

Posted January 10th, 2011 by George Krebs

Tablets and TVs; gadgets and tech-integrated vehicles; tech-enhanced musical instruments and heavily promoted headphones; innovative toys, energy efficient designs and wireless enabled products of all sorts. Sunday concluded a busy span of stunning technology pageantry in Las Vegas. Thousands of booths were set up and over 100,00 interested device enthusiasts arrived from all over the world for the Consumer Electronics Show , known more commonly as CES (or in this ever expanding, 140-character world, #CES).

Chairman Genachowski, all four Commissioners, and a retinue of FCC staff converged on the convention floor. They got a look at technology – from a wide range of companies – on the horizon and a sense of what’s upcoming in the innovation space. Many of the exhibits in sight shouted wireless and they shouted mobile.

On Friday, day two, the Chairman gave a speech on the need for expanded spectrum offerings and then sat down to chat with the host of the event, CEA CEO Gary Shapiro. This is what the Chairman said:

"As evidenced by the trade show floor, the consumer electronics industry is going wireless, and the future success of this industry and our innovation future depends on whether our government acts quickly to unleash more spectrum -- the oxygen that sustains our mobile devices. 

We’re in the early stages of a mobile revolution that is sparking an explosion in wireless traffic.  Without action, demand for spectrum will soon outstrip supply. 

To seize the opportunities of our mobile future, we need to tackle the threats to our invisible infrastructure.  We need to free up more spectrum."


Read the Chairman’s full speech.

As our team makes their way back to Washington, we’ll bring you their takes and some collected insights. For now, enjoy this video from the Washington Post, showing the Chairman touring the CES floor, speaking to the unbounded potential for job growth on display, and managing to get in a quick game of ping-pong using Microsoft’s Kinect.

(Cross posted on Blogband. Please leave comments there.)

Posted in Events FCC Staff Wireless National Broadband Plan Consumers Mobile
1 Comment

Announcing Generation Mobile, Featuring Jane Lynch

Posted December 9th, 2010 by George Krebs


(Photo credit: LG Text Ed)

You can find them in the most innocent settings. The dinner table, the classroom, during evening homework hour or an otherwise quiet family walk. Clicking, clacking, beeping, buzzing and whirring. This maneuvering marauder? Mobile phones equipped with text messaging. These devices are exploding in use among the current generation and teens seem programmed to use them constantly.

A happy medium exists. Commonsense and responsible use of technology is within reach. To many parents the mobile culture is unfamiliar. We’re hosting a Generation Mobile forum next Tuesday bringing together teens, parents, educators and experts. During this event we’ll do our best to help parents navigate these challenging issues.

We’ll discuss cyberbullying, sexting, over use, privacy, and texting-while-driving. The Pew Internet and American Life project will present their findings from a landmark study, “Kids and Mobile Phones.”

For the Gleeks in the audience we’re pleased that actress and comedienne Jane Lynch, of LG’s Text Ed campaign, will be joining us remotely. Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes the book upon which the movie Mean Girls was based, will join FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in hosting the first panel “Generation Mobile Speaks” featuring teens, parents and educators. The second panel, “Ask the Experts About Generation Mobile” will feature experts from SafetyWeb, Facebook, Sprint and other major mobile and technology players. A full list of panelists and speakers is below.

This event is about you. We’ve lined up an impressive slate of experts for our sessions on kids, teens and mobile phones. What do you want to know when they take the stage Tuesday? We’ve filled in a couple of starter questions to stimulate ideas. Far more importantly we want to hear from you. Type in your question, wait for User Voice to generate and then click “Create New Idea” below the box. Ask your questions now.

We’re honored to be hosted by DC’s own, cutting edge McKinley Technology High School (151 T Street Northeast). The event will take place on Tuesday December 14th from 10am to 1pm ET. If you’re able to join us – free of charge – please RVSP to generationmobile [at] fcc [dot] gov. Since most of you are outside of the DC area we’ll be live streaming this exciting event online at fcc.gov/live. Participate through Twitter using #genmobile.

Stay tuned. We’ll post updates to the agenda and the speaker list as they become available.

Speakers and Panelists Include:

  • Julius Genachowski, FCC Chairman
  • Jane Lynch, Emmy Winning Actress and Spokesperson for the LG Text Ed Council
  • Rosalind Wiseman, Author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, basis for Mean Girls the movie
  • Tim Sparapani, Director of Public Policy, Facebook
  • Parry Aftab, Kids Technology Expert and Creator of Stopcyberbullying.org
  • Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist, Pew Research Center
  • Marsali Hancock, President, Internet Keep Safe Coalition
  • Michael Clark, Co-Founder, SafetyWeb
  • Dr. Michael Levine, Executive Director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center
  • Maureen Cooney, Privacy Officer, Sprint
  • Stephen Balkam, CEO, Family Online Safety Institute
  • K. Dane Snowden, Vice President, CTIA
  • Alan Simpson, Vice President, Common Sense Media
  • Lanita Preston, Author and mother of Frank Preston
  • Stacey A. Kopnitsky, Assistant Principal, Cabin John Middle School
  • Dwan Jordon, Principal, Sousa Middle School, Washington, DC
  • And we’ll hear from a panel of teens about how they use mobile technology

Update 12/13 1:26pm ET: Final Agenda for Generation Mobile Program

10:00 a.m.       Welcome, Opening Remarks, Live Chat with Jane Lynch
Speakers:

  • Welcome by David Pinder, Principal, McKinley Technology High School
  • Remarks by Julius Genachowski, Chairman, FCC
  • Live Video Chat with Actress Jane Lynch, LG Text Ed Council 
  • Presentation by Amanda Lenhart, Senior Researcher, Pew Internet Project

10:40 a.m.       Panel I:  Generation Mobile Speaks
Moderators:

  • Rosalind Wiseman, Author and Teen Expert, Member LG Text Ed Council
  • Julius Genachowski, Chairman, FCC

Panelists:

  • Tori Dugger, Senior, McKinley Technology High School
  • Jonathan Harris II, Senior, Dr. Henry A. Wise High School, Upper Marlboro, Md.
  • Erin Maines, Sophomore, Falls Church High School, Falls Church, Va.
  • Frank Preston, Junior, Howard High School, Ellicott City, Md.
  • Lanita Preston, Author and Mother of Frank Preston
  • Stacey A. Kopnitsky, Assistant Principal, Cabin John Middle School, Rockville, Md.
  • Parry Aftab, Executive Director, WiredSafety.org
  • Dwan Jordon, Principal, Sousa Middle School, Washington, D.C.

11:40 a.m.       Panel II: Ask the Experts About Generation Mobile
Moderator:

  • Josh Gottheimer, Senior Counselor to the Chairman, FCC

Panelists:

  • Marsali Hancock, President, Internet Keep Safe Coalition
  • Dr. Michael Levine, Executive Director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center 
  • Maureen Cooney, Privacy Officer, Sprint 
  • Michael Clark, Co-Founder, SafetyWeb
  • Dane Snowden, Vice President, External & State Affairs, CTIA
  • Tim Sparapani, Director of Public Policy, Facebook
  • Alan Simpson, Vice President for Policy, Common Sense Media
  • Stephen Balkam, CEO, Family Online Safety Institute

1:00 p.m.         Program Concludes

(Cross posted on Blogband.)

Posted in Events Consumers Office Of Chairman Parents Mobile
9 Comments

Internet Service: Would You Switch – and Why?

Posted December 6th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

If you’re like many Americans, you may be wondering whether you should keep the Internet service you have in your home. If you have more than one broadband provider in your area, you may be getting a barrage of advertising encouraging you to switch from your current provider to another one. Should you switch – and if so, why?

At the FCC, we’ve done a representative national survey to find out how satisfied consumers are with their Internet service and what goes into the decision to switch or stick with an ISP. We’re releasing the results of that survey today. It shows that Americans are largely pleased with their Internet service, but have some cause for dissatisfaction – and face obstacles that make it hard for them to switch ISPs.

Our survey found that 38 percent of Internet users have changed service providers in the last three years, more than half of them for a reason other than changing residences. The majority of Internet users seem to be satisfied with their service; most people who haven’t switched say they haven’t even considered it seriously. Still, 38 percent is a significant number, and one that deserves further exploration.

What makes people want to change providers? Two things: Price and performance. Nearly a quarter of home Internet users are dissatisfied with the price they pay for service, and 47 percent of those who switched ISPs said price was a major reason. Even more – 49 percent – said that a major reason they switched was to get a faster or higher performance Internet connection.

Moreover, the survey showed that a sizeable number of people would consider switching ISPs if it was easier to do. They’re deterred not only by the hassle, but by financial considerations – the need to put down a new deposit, pay a set-up or installation fee, or pay an early termination fee. Early termination fees are currently less common for ISPs than for cell-phone service, but they’re still a factor.

This survey, together with earlier data we’ve reported, underscores how much consumers need clear information to help them make smart choices about Internet service. Speed is a major factor that leads people to switch ISPs – but how many of us really understand what speed we’re getting? We previously reported that 80 percent of Americans don’t know their broadband speed, and today’s survey found that most say their monthly bills aren’t clear about speed either. If ISPs are going to compete on speed – which will be good for consumers and good for the country’s broadband infrastructure – then consumers need better information on what speed they need and what speeds they’re getting.

The same is true of price and fees. We’ve found previously that many cell-phone customers don’t know the early termination fees that they’re subject to. As some ISPs start instituting these fees as well, they need to ensure that consumers are fully informed and can factor these fees into their decisions.

Competition among ISPs, like competition in other markets, is good for consumers and good for service providers. And clear information will help consumers make the smart choices that allow competition to work.

We’re interested in your own experience: Have you switched ISPs, or thought about doing so? Post a comment to let us know your views.

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

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers
21 Comments

Mystery solved: Consumers win in Verizon Wireless "mystery fees" settlement

Posted November 4th, 2010 by Michele Ellison - Chief of Enforcement Bureau

Late last week, the Enforcement Bureau resolved a ten-month investigation into allegations that Verizon Wireless incorrectly billed 15 million customers for unauthorized data charges.  The settlement -- the largest enforcement action in FCC history -- ensures that affected customers will get at least $52.8 million of their money back and requires Verizon Wireless to make a record $25 million payment to the U.S. Treasury.  It also obligates Verizon Wireless to cease billing for unauthorized data charges, give consumers more (and clearer) information about data plans and options, and provide robust training to its customer service employees -- so that consumers who have questions can get straight answers and prompt action.

Notably, Verizon Wireless customers themselves played a key role in bringing the “mystery fees” to light.  The settlement is a great example of what can happen when consumers speak up, and we’re proud to have played our part in making sure that the voices of many millions of individual consumers were heard. 

So, in addition to the money, what else do Verizon Wireless customers get out of the settlement? 

•    Improved customer service
•    Data blocks on request, if they want to avoid or limit data charges
•    Right to request a refund for unauthorized data charges, if they do not receive one
•    Close monitoring of data charges by a new Verizon Wireless Data Charge Task Force
•    Strong accountability and compliance monitoring by the FCC

This is just the latest in the Enforcement Bureau’s continuing effort on the consumer protection front.  We will monitor the company’s compliance going forward, and remain committed to standing with and for consumers.  So, consumers, if you need us, our lights are always on.

For more details, take a look at the press release, the Consumer Tip Sheet, or the settlement itself.

Posted in Consumers Enforcement Bureau
7 Comments

Securing Your Online Surfing and Transactions

Posted November 2nd, 2010 by Vernon Mosley

Leaves are falling, the summer seems like a blur, the kids are knee-deep in homework, and the boxes and bubble wrap from newly purchased computer laptops and their slim-downed cousins, netbooks, have finally made their way to the basement for storage.  If you haven’t already checked, now is the time to see what anti-virus and firewall software was provided with your computer, and to learn how to use these tools. 

Anti-virus and firewall programs protect computers from a host of potentially dangerous programs that can wreak havoc not only on their computer hosts, but can spread to any other computer connected to the same network.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is there are things you can do to protect yourself and your kids from malicious software that may be downloaded to your computer without your knowledge when you are surfing the Internet. 

1.  Make Sure Your Anti-Virus or Firewall Software is Up-to-Date.  Chances are that trial versions of anti-virus and firewall protection software were installed on your computer when it was purchased.  These trial versions typically last for 30 to 60 days after the computer is first turned on by the user.  After the trial period expires, the software is generally not as effective at keeping your computer safe from the latest germs.  You need to keep anti-virus protection current to maximize the protection against malicious attacks. 

2.  Check With Your Internet Service Provider to See if it Offers Anti-virus and Firewall Protection.  If you do not already have anti-virus or firewall software, your Internet service provider may offer it, perhaps even at little or no additional charge.

3.  Check Your Computer’s Built-in Defenses and Use Them.  Some types of spyware can send keystrokes entered by a user to a hacker.  The hacker can then use passwords entered by users to hack into online accounts.  Anti-virus software can quite often detect these types of programs and remove them.  I run my scanning software every week.  Make it a habit.

Recent versions of Windows support a spyware scanner called Windows Defender that is built into the computer’s operating system. It can check to see if software germs have been able to penetrate a computer’s defenses and are sitting quietly in the background recording information about websites visited.  Apple computers also come with software defenses, such as a built-in firewall.

4.  Use Strong Passwords and Change Them Frequently.  When was the last time you changed your login passwords to your online accounts?  How disciplined are the kids at changing their passwords?  You should use inventive, long passwords that are hard for hackers to guess, and not any passwords with personally identifiable information.  Passwords with a mix of letters, numbers, and punctuation are best.  And, if the password has already been compromised via a key-stroke logger discussed above, frequently changing online passwords may minimize the risk of a hacker using a password they have uncovered.

5.  Secure Your Wireless Environment.   Most computers are enabled for wireless (Wi-Fi) communication, which can introduce security vulnerabilities when information flows over open airwaves between the computer and the connection to the Internet.  Fortunately, data-scrambling techniques, known as encryption algorithms, make it difficult for hackers to understand information that they might intercept over the air.  Everyone with a Wi-Fi connection should encrypt their connection. We posted a video and tip sheet  on this last week. 

If you keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up-to-date, use strong passwords, and secure your wireless network, you will substantially increase the security of your online surfing and transactions.  These tips are summarized – pass them on!

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Consumers
1 Comment

Out of Sight, But All Around, Cyber Abounds

Posted October 29th, 2010 by Linda HallerSloan

(Part of the ongoing WISENET Series)

So you’re in another country, you stop for a cup of coffee at a café and plug in your laptop to an Internet connection.  Or you’re at the airport, and you get an email that says: “Free upgrade now.”   Or you’re in a hotel room and securing your passport in the safety deposit box and it asks you for a PIN number.  “Ah hah,” you think to yourself, “that’s easy, I’ll use the same passcode I use at home, that way, I’ll remember it!”  Or you live in a country like Haiti and one of the only ways to access currency is through a transaction on your cell phone.  Stop before you act.  BE AWARE.  Cyber may be out of sight, but it is all around.  Cyber abounds.  And so do tactics designed to harm your electronic devices and to take information from you.  In the United States, October has been National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.  At the FCC, we’ve developed safety tips for consumers about Internet usage.  And we’ve identified some precautions you can take when traveling internationally with electronic devices.  Protect yourself.  Take a look at these travel  tips we put together to learn how.

Posted in International Bureau Consumers Wisenet
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