All posts in “Federal Communications Commission”

FCC updates Emergency Alert System to prevent false alarms

Earlier this year, the people of Hawaii received an emergency alert on their phone. This alert read:

Emergency Alert

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL

As you can probably now tell, a missile did not hit Hawaii in January 2018. This message, which explicitly said was “not a drill,” indeed turned out to be just that: a drill. The test message was mistakenly sent out as an actual emergency alert. However, at the time, it took nearly 40 minutes for officials to issue a correction about the alert, sending pretty much everyone on the island in a confused state of panic.

In response to the false alarm in Hawaii, which occurred when a state emergency employee hit the wrong option on a drop-down menu, the FCC is taking steps to make the Emergency Alert System more reliable.

Local and state officials will now be able to carry out “live code” tests of the Emergency Alert System. This would allow tests to be conducted with all the alert protocols and sounds of an actual alert, but fully planned, labeled as a test, and with prior notifications of the test for the general public.

The FCC also unveiled that public service announcements about the Emergency Alert System will now present itself as an actual emergency alert. With these new procedures, it looks like the Commission is making moves to normalize these alerts so tests can be carried out without the worry of an error leading to a widespread panic.

In their announcement, the FCC also outlines the processes that need to be taken and requires the Commission to be contacted, in the event that another false emergency alert is sent out.

These changes to the Emergency Alert System look like they could be helpful in preventing the next false “there is a missile about to hit your state” alarm. However, these FCC updates don’t really seem to prevent what actually caused the Hawaii panic in the first place: human error thanks to bad user interface.

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FCC may soon charge you $225 to investigate your complaint

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai drinks out of his infamous giant coffee mug. Perhaps the proposed $225 fee to have the FCC read your complaints are going to buying Pai a new very large mug.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai drinks out of his infamous giant coffee mug. Perhaps the proposed $225 fee to have the FCC read your complaints are going to buying Pai a new very large mug.

Image: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Late last December, nearly 24 million comments poured into the FCC after the agency revealed its plans, spearheaded by its chairman Ajit Pai, to roll back net neutrality. 

The FCC’s rules, as they stand, require all comments from the public to be forwarded to the commissioners, and for the commissioners to take these comments into consideration when casting a vote on a new measure.

Well, it seems like the current FCC doesn’t want to bother having to read through all your comments anymore. At least, not without getting paid for it.

Coming up on the FCC’s docket for a vote on Thursday is a proposed measure titled “Streamlining the Rules Governing Formal Complaint Proceedings.” What does this streamlining include? Forwarding your complaints directly to the telecom company for them to deal with rather than the FCC.

And what if you really want the FCC to get involved? They’ll charge you.

The Verge reports that two high-ranking Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Senator Mike Doyle and Senator Frank Pallone, have sent a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai voicing how they are “deeply concerned” about the proposed rule change.

Under current FCC rules, the commission reviews and acts on consumer complaints. Under the new rules, these type of free-to-file informal customer complaints would be forwarded to the telecommunication companies. If consumers are not satisfied with the outcome in dealing directly with the telecom company in question, the customer can come back to the FCC with a formal complaint, an existing commission legal process – one which the FCC will review – that costs $225 to file.

If the new FCC rules are passed, consumers are left with the option of letting the very service provider they’re complaining about decide the outcome of their complaint, or ponying up the cash to start the legal process with the FCC. And, as Senator Doyle and Senator Pallone said in their letter, this rule change would come “at a time when consumers are highly dissatisfied with their communications companies.”

The FCC has commented on the Democrats’ letter, disputing the details describing the rule changes in the measure. In an email to CNET, a FCC spokesman writes:

“The item would not change the Commission’s handling of informal complaints. The Democrats’ letter is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the draft order.”

As the Washington Post points out in talking with senior Democratic committee aides, while the $225 fee for the formal complaint process isn’t new, the updated wording of the FCC rules in this measure does free the FCC of its current informal complaint responsibilities.

Mashable has reached out to the FCC and will update when we receive a response.

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More dead commenters appear to come out against net neutrality


Two more dead commenters have been spotted commenting on the FCC’s foregone net neutrality vote, a small but not insignificant discovery considering that, while public outcry for net neutrality was high, FCC representatives dismissed most of supportive net neutrality commentary as spam.

While searching a database created by the New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a designer named Morgan Knutson was outraged to find comments by his his liberal mother, Dana Barancik,, and grandfather, Frank Barancik. Dana died in 2014 and Frank died in 2015. Both were seemingly vehemently opposed to net neutrality last August.

“Before leaving office, the Obama Administration rammed through a massive scheme that gave the federal government broad regulatory control over the internet,” wrote the individual who used Mrs. Brancik’s name and address. “That misguided policy decision is threatening innovation and hurting broadband investment in one of the largest and most important sectors of the U.S. economy. I support the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to roll back Title II and allow for free market principles to guide our digital economy.”

This same quote appeared in countless fake and fraudulent comments.

Schneiderman said that the commentary “[had] been corrupted by the fraudulent use of Americans’ identities — and the FCC has been unwilling to assist my office in our efforts to investigate this unlawful activity.”

“Specifically, for six months my office has been investigating who perpetrated a massive scheme to corrupt the FCC’s notice and comment process through the misuse of enormous numbers of real New Yorkers’ and other Americans’ identities. Such conduct likely violates state law—yet the FCC has refused multiple requests for crucial evidence in its sole possession that is vital to permit that law enforcement investigation to proceed,” said Schneiderman.

What does this show us? First, that it is trivial to completely spam important databases with accurate-sounding information. A quick Google search brought up Mrs. Baranic’s name and address, and an intrepid list-maker could gather thousands or even millions of addresses for the living or the deceased in a few hours. That anyone with a keyboard and a little time could sway – and ruin – public commentary on a massively important political issue is frightening.

What are next steps? As the FCC has noted, unvetted commentary has lost all of its weight online. Therefore the only answer is cryptographically secure identities tied to our person. Until this happens, expect the dead to vote and the unsuspecting to come out in favor of unfavorable opinions, at least when it comes to basic web forms on the FCC.

“I encourage the FCC to reconsider its refusal to assist in my office’s law enforcement investigation to identify and hold accountable those who illegally misused so many New Yorkers’ identities to corrupt the public comment process,” said Schneiderman. “In an era where foreign governments have indisputably tried to use the internet and social media to influence our elections, federal and state governments should be working together to ensure that malevolent actors cannot subvert our administrative agencies’ decision-making processes.”

Featured Image: Alex Wong/Getty Images

This state senator wants to revive net neutrality in California

California State Senator Scott Wiener
California State Senator Scott Wiener

Image: flickr user One laptop per child

The Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, which prohibited powerful telecoms from charging more for faster internet access. 

But 3,000 miles away, in California, State Senator Scott Wiener announced plans to buck the FCC’s decision by introducing California’s own net neutrality rules. In a Medium post, Wiener said he will spend the next 60 days considering the best regulatory options and then introduce a law early next year. 

Like the FCC’s two dissenting commissioners, protesters in every corner of the nation, rock stars, Pornhub, and legendary internet pioneers, Wiener believes net neutrality is essential for maintaining an open internet where internet service providers “treat websites equally” and don’t “play favorites based on who pays more.”

With the repeal of these rules, corporations can effectively choose our content — or make internet users (i.e. everyone) pay more for access to certain sites, Wiener wrote:

By repealing net neutrality requirements, the Trump-controlled FCC is allowing internet service providers to decide which websites will be easily accessible and which won’t. Providers are now free to manipulate web traffic on their networks, which means they can speed or slow traffic to certain sites and even block access.

Wiener offered some broad ideas about how to establish net neutrality in California. He suggests, for instance, requiring cable companies to accept net neutrality laws as part of their agreement for doing business in California (which, as one of the biggest economies in the world, would likely force them to accept net neutrality laws).  

Wiener is not the only one who wants to reinstate net neutrality. Following the repeal, the New York attorney general announced that he will sue the FCC to stop the dismantling of net neutrality laws:

It seems Ajit Pai, the FCC Commissioner who led the charge to repeal net neutrality, will have quite a battle from a number of motivated opponents. As Wiener stated at the end of his post, “If the FCC won’t stand up for a free and open internet, California will.”

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Here’s how the FCC just challenged the scourge of robocallers

Image: flickr user Leonid Mamchenkov

Americans may get around 2.4 billion robocalls a month, so the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just endowed phone companies with a new weapon. 

On Thursday, the FCC announced that phone companies — like Sprint and AT&T — can now proactively block certain phone numbers before a robocall can even happen. 

According to the FCC, technological innovations allow robocallers to easily impersonate phone numbers that don’t actually dial out, such as from the IRS, while hiding the true caller’s identity. These intrusive efforts are an enormous frustration to Americans: The FCC says it receives 200,000 complaints about robocalls every month — making it the FCC’s top consumer complaint.

“These calls are very likely to be illegal or fraudulent; there’s no legitimate reason for anyone to spoof caller ID to make it seem as if he or she is calling from an unassigned or invalid phone number,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. 

Pai made it clear that this decision certainly won’t end all robocalls, but it’s the beginning of a legitimate effort to stymie robocallers.

“Make no mistake — this isn’t the end of our efforts.  We’ll need to do more, and we will,” said Pai.

Fraudulent robocallers made quite a ridiculous showing earlier this week when an attempt was made to smear The Washington Post‘s journalistic efforts: After the paper reported a woman’s claim that Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore initiated a sexual encounter while she was 14 and he was 32, Alabama voters began to get robocalls from a fake Washington Post reporter named “Bernie Bernstein.” The non-existent Bernstein offered between $5,000 and $7,000 to women who gave damaging remarks about Moore.

With robocallers now seeking to challenge the work of the free press, it’s certainly a prudent time for the FCC to start arming phone companies with simple tools to combat such fraud. 

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