Entries in FCC (7)


FCC Urges FAA to Allow Gadgets During Takeoff and Landing

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- You and Alec Baldwin aren't the only ones who get annoyed on a plane when you have to turn off your phone, or tablet, or laptop during takeoff or landing. Turns out the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would like flight attendants to stop saying "please turn off your electronics" before takeoff as well.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration's Michael Huerta, urging the agency to adjust its rules and allow for electronics usage during all phases of airline flight.

In the letter, a copy of which was sent to ABC News, Genachowski writes, "I write to urge the FAA to enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable electronics devices during flight, consistent with public safety."

In August, the FAA announced that it would be reviewing or taking a "fresh look" at the policy. It came after reports that electronics didn't cause interference with a plane's electronics.

Genachoswki writes that he supports the review. "The review comes at a time of tremendous innovation as mobile devices are increasingly interwoven in our daily lives. They empower people to say informed and connected with friends and family, and they enable both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient, helping drive economic growth and boost U.S. competitiveness."

When reached by ABC News, the FAA would not comment specifically on the FCC letter. It did point out its announcement of plans to conduct a six-month review with an Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which includes the FCC and other representatives, including pilot and flight attendant groups, airlines, and passenger associations.

"We're looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today's aircraft," Huerta said in a statement in August. "We also want solid safety data to make sure tomorrow's aircraft designs are protected from interference."

Ironically, it is the FCC that bans the use of the cellular signals on planes. According to the FCC's website, "Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules prohibit the use of cellular phones using the 800 MHz frequency and other wireless devices on airborne aircraft. This ban was put in place because of potential interference to wireless networks on the ground." The FCC considered lifting the ban in 2007, but it ultimately didn't. The FCC and FAA allow the use of phones in "airplane mode" on flights, which turns off the cellular radio, but not during the takeoff, taxiing, and landing periods of the flight.

While in-fight Wi-Fi services have been in use on planes over the last several years, making calls using those services are also restricted by the airlines. The reason is not technical; airlines say they don't want callers bothering other passengers.

Virgin Atlantic began to allow very limited cellphone use on select airplanes in May. Other international airlines have experimented with picocell units, which bring cellular connectivity to the skies.

In June, the FAA did a study on the use of cellphones on planes by interviewing non-U.S. aviation authorities that had experience with cellphone usage on planes.

"No non-US civil aviation authority reported any cases of air rage or flight attendant interference related to passengers using cellphones on aircraft equipped with on-board cellular telephone base stations," the report says.

"The non-US civil aviation authorities who have approved the installation of onboard cellular telephone base stations on aircraft reported that the aircraft with these installations undergo extensive analysis, functional tests, ground tests, and flight tests to demonstrate that the cellphones and base stations do not interfere with aircraft systems," it adds. The report was not done as part of the current FAA review of the use of electronics during takeoff and landing.

The FCC declined to comment to ABC News on the use of cellular signals on planes.

The FCC's restriction of cellular capabilities aside, support for the use of non-cellular connected electronic devices during takeoff and landing seems to be growing, but it still appears passengers will be waiting for a while before they can keep their gadgets powered on.

While many pilots are using iPads during all phases of flight, and many experts say there is no evidence that electronics are interfering with planes' systems, significant testing would have to be done to make sure every device is safe. Each device and each of its different models (iPad 2, iPad Mini, 4th generation iPad, etc.) would have to be tested on each different plane model. That can take quite a long time -- up to two years, some experts say -- which means the FCC and the rest of us will be waiting for some time before we don't have to hear those announcements.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


FCC and Wireless Companies Create Stolen Smartphone Database

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The burgeoning market for stolen smart phones and tablet devices is the target of a new partnership between the FCC, law enforcement and wireless carriers, who announced Tuesday a plan to create a national database that would render the stolen devices worthless.

During the next six months, the nation's top wireless carriers will work to create databases of stolen devices. The unique identifying number on each stolen device will be entered into a database that will prevent thieves from being able to reactivate the smartphones and tablets on other carriers. The FCC expects the databases will be integrated within the next 18 months, and ultimately hopes to create an international database to quash the secondary market.

"If the industry can help dry up the demand, we will take the profit motive away from the criminals," said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, a vice president at CTIA, a wireless trade group.

A decade ago, cellular devices accounted for eight percent of thefts in large cities. They now account for more than 40 percent of thefts, according to the FCC.

During those 10 years, what was first petty theft has since become a much larger issue, jeopardizing the personal information of users who bank, pay bills and store other sensitive data on their devices.

"We're sending a message to consumers we've got your back and a message to criminals we're cracking down on the resale market," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said Tuesday.

The chairman said he will hold wireless carriers accountable for meeting certain benchmarks. Aside from the database, the goals will include notifying and prompting consumers of how they can lock their phones with passwords, educating consumers on how they can locate and wipe their phones using applications and measures that can be taken to deter theft.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he hopes those measures, coupled with legislation he is introducing, "will make a stolen cellphone as worthless as an empty wallet."

The senator's legislation would make altering the unique identification numbers on cell phones a federal crime, punishable with up to five years in prison, similar to the law that was passed criminalizing the tampering of vehicle identification numbers.

"It worked for the VIN numbers and it will work for the cell phone ID numbers," Schumer said.

The wireless industry's representative, Guttman-McCabe, declined to discuss the cost to the industry. Instead, he called the move a "good corporate citizen effort" and stressed it was about "safety and security".

The CTIA will submit its first quarterly report to the FCC on June 30 and will publish updates on its website.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Hearing on Indecency Leaves One Justice Blushing

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In an hour-long argument punctuated by lively exchanges and even one blushing justice, the Supreme Court grappled on Tuesday with the government’s policy on indecency on the airwaves.

The case stems from celebrities -- such as Cher and Nicole Richie -- uttering swear words during live television in primetime, as well as an episode of ABC’s show NYPD Blue that depicted partial nudity.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -- charged with regulating the public airwaves -- found that the incidents violated its prohibitions against the broadcast of indecent material before 10 p.m.

But lawyers for broadcasters such as Fox Television and ABC, Inc., argue that the FCC’s policy is unconstitutionally vague and chills free speech. Facing daunting fines, the broadcasters argue that the government should no longer treat broadcast speech more restrictively than other media when it comes to the regulation of indecency over the airwaves.

The eight justices hearing the case (Justice Sonia Sotomayor was recused because she dealt with the issue as a lower court judge) showcased several aspects of the dilemma.

Justice Antonin Scalia most vocally defended the government’s position that the policy serves an important interest in protecting children from indecency.

Chief Justice John Roberts, the only justice with small children, suggested that the broadcast networks are a safe harbor for parents hoping to shield their children from indecency.

Justice Anthony Kennedy brought up a core issue, and a key part of the broadcasters' argument, regarding the pervasiveness of cable and the Internet.

Kennedy asked Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., “But you’re saying that there’s still a value, an importance, in having a higher standard...for broadcast media. Why is that, when there are so many other options?”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the FCC’s policy problem seemed to be “an appearance of arbitrariness about how the FCC is defining indecency in concrete situations."

She pointed out that the government allowed the use of expletives in the broadcast of Steven Spielberg’s war movie Saving Private Ryan.

Justice Elena Kagan said, “The way this policy seems to work, it’s like nobody can use dirty words or nudity except for Steven Spielberg.”

The broadcasters urge the court to overturn 34-year-old precedent in a case called FCC v. Pacifica Foundation. At issue in that case was a broadcast of comedian George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” monologue which was aired on a radio broadcast in the middle of the afternoon. After complaints from the public, the FCC ruled that the broadcast was indecent and could be subject to sanctions. The Supreme Court rejected a First Amendment challenge to the FCC’s determination, finding “of all forms of communication, broadcasting has the most limited First Amendment protection.”

Carter G. Phillips, arguing on behalf of Fox Television, said that the FCC’s policies, which have been expanded since the Pacifica decision, have caused “thousands and thousands” of complaints so that “the whole system has come to a screeching halt because of the difficulty of trying to resolve these issues.”

One of the most humorous exchanges during the argument came when Seth Waxman, representing ABC, noted that the FCC has a pending complaint about an opening episode of the last Olympics, which included a naked statue similar to those actually depicted in the courtroom walls.

The justices began to look at the marble friezes in the courtroom depicting statues of historical figures.
“Right over here, Justice Scalia,” Waxman said pointing to the wall, “there’s a bare buttock there, and there’s a bare buttock here....Frankly, I had never focused on it before.”

“Me neither,” said a laughing, blushing Scalia.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court to Take Up Cher’s Use of the 'F Word'

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When the entertainer Cher launched an expletive on live broadcast television in 2002, she probably had little idea she was triggering a major test of the government’s ability to regulate content over the public airwaves.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case stemming from celebrities’ use of isolated expletives as well as images of partial nudity during primetime broadcast programming. The case involves Cher’s use of the F word on a Fox broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards and a similar outburst the following year on the same awards show by actress Nicole Richie.

The Court will also review an episode of ABC’s NYPD Blue that featured a seven-second shot of an adult woman’s nude buttocks. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), charged with regulating public airwaves, found that the incidents violated its prohibitions against the broadcast of indecent material before 10 p.m.

At issue before the Court is whether the FCC’s current indecency-enforcement policy violates the Constitution.  A lower court struck it down, ruling it was “impermissibly vague.”  Fox Television, ABC, Inc. and other broadcasters argue that the current policy is arbitrary and puts a chill on broadcast speech.

“The FCC's current enforcement policy, which subjects even isolated expletives or brief, scripted images to multi-million-dollar fines, cannot survive First Amendment scrutiny,” argues Carter G. Philipps in court papers on behalf of Fox Television Stations INC.

The broadcasters are urging the Court to overturn a 34-year-old precedent in a case called FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.  At issue in that case was a broadcast of comedian George Carlin’s “filthy words” monologue, aired on a radio broadcast in the middle of the afternoon.  After complaints from the public, the FCC ruled that the broadcast was indecent and could be subject to sanctions.

The Supreme Court rejected a First Amendment challenge to the FCC’s determination, finding, “of all forms of communication, broadcasting has the most limited First Amendment protection.”  The Court ruled narrowly, finding in part that the broadcast medium is unique because, “material presented over the airwaves confronts the citizen, not only in public but in the privacy of the home.”  The Court also found that,“broadcasting is uniquely accessible to children.”

But the broadcasters currently argue that much has changed since Pacifica was decided and that they should no longer be regulated more restrictively than other media such as cable and the Internet.

“Pacifica justified reduced First Amendment scrutiny of broadcast indecency regulation on the theory that broadcasting was uniquely pervasive and uniquely accessible to children,” writes Seth P. Waxman, an attorney representing ABC, Inc. “Neither predicate is true today.”

Waxman points out that today the vast majority of households receive television through cable or satellite and are exposed to the Internet.

“Over the past three decades,” Phillips writes, “the media marketplace has changed dramatically, thoroughly undermining Pacifica’s rational for its unequal treatment of broadcast speech under the First Amendment.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Could Being Able to Text 911 Save Lives?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When a gunman was prowling the halls of Virginia Tech University on April 16, 2007 on a shooting rampage that left 33 people dead, dozens of students and staff sent texts to 911 trying to get help.

But those texts were never received, because the local 911 center -- like most across the country, including ones in major cities -- could only handle basic phone calls.

An estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 in the United States each year.  According to the Federal Communications Commission, 70 percent of them are wireless calls made from devices that can also send valuable information in the form of texts, pictures and video.

"Funding has just simply not been able to keep 911 centers current with 21st century technology," said Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).  "Most of the 911 centers across the country today are stuck in the 1960s and 1970s technology."

More and more people are found to be in situations where they can't speak or are in danger if they make noise, like in the Virginia Tech massacre.

As a result, in November 2010 the FCC began a push to overhaul the 911 emergency system to allow users to text 911 during times when picking up a phone and dialing the police might not be a safe option.

You might be surprised at who's leading the way to the 21st century: rural Black Hawk County, Iowa where the population is 130,000, about 14 percent of the population of New York City.  It's the only place in the entire country where dispatchers have the technology to respond to emergency text messages.

Some officials are wary of texting's downside, however, and suggest trying to stick to the old fashion way first.

"You could just imagine someone who is nervous trying to text on a cell phone," said Jose Santiago, executive director of Chicago's Office of Emergency Management.  "You could make a lot of mistakes, you're not getting that vital information quickly and that's why a phone call is so important."

Chicago recently added technology that allows police to receive cell phone photos, but only after people first call 911.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Net Neutrality: FCC Adopts Rules for Open Internet 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A narrowly divided Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved bold new rules Tuesday aimed at preventing broadband service providers from censoring how individuals and organizations can surf the Internet's fastest pipes. 

The so-called "net neutrality" regulations prohibit the suppliers of Internet connections to millions of American homes and offices from blocking access to certain websites, applications or services so long as they are legal.

Companies will also be required to publicly disclose information on their practices, performance characteristics and commercial ties.

But the rules do allow Internet providers to engage in "reasonable network management," meaning they can take steps to regulate traffic and congestion over their connections.

Critics warn those steps could include implementation of usage-based pricing for accessing the Internet at home and preferential treatment for companies that pay extra for "fast-lanes." They say service providers could also begin to pick and choose which websites can run faster than others over their networks.

Opponents of the FCC's new authority also cite that back in April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington D.C. ruled that the agency lacked the authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic on their networks.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


FCC May Allow You to Send Text Messages to 911

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- Several U.S. government agencies have for some time been considering how to plan and implement the next generation of 911. The plan has been to incorporate SMS text messaging, images and even video into emergency requests to get "the right information to the right people at the right time."

Now, several outlets are reporting that the FCC is pushing for more technology for 911 -- technology that would lead to better, faster responses from emergency workers. In fact, the FCC even says 911 could be automatically notified of possible or likely emergencies by sensors, from OnStar to home alarms and many more.

The "Next Gen 911" project, which, according to, is actually under the auspices of the Department of Transportation, "draws on the expertise of public safety experts to identify and prioritize digital data, potentially available to first responders...which could best improve their safety and performance," according to the Transportation Safety Advancement Group, the organization that is tasked with carrying out these changes.

While texting 911 when an emergency arises seems like a grand idea (and the next logical step for 911), it may be a while before this marriage between emergency response and technology is a reality. Look for a white paper from the TSAG in February 2011 -- this paper will present the recommendations of first responders regarding the kind of information they would want and need from a more digitally oriented 911 service.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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