FCC seeks to remake its .gov self

By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

Along with trying to reshape the way much of the nation’s telecommunication infrastructure is regulated, Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski says he is also trying to change the way his agency uses technology to better serve citizens.

He came to the recent Gov 2.0 summit to recap a busy year in which his agency brought its “A” game to the table in improving how it uses the tools of new media and social media to better communicate about its work and its mission.

Last year, we launched Broadband.gov, in connection with the broadband plan, to provide an online and interactive experience for citizens to get engaged in the development of the National Broadband Plan. The site included the first FCC blog making it easy for anyone to be involved in the creation of the plan. Our agency is up and running on more than a dozen social networking sites creating a rather large online community. So far, over 650,000 people have connected with the FCC online, that’s up from a little over zero at this time last year.


Genachowski says in the past year his agency has held over 60 public workshops on a variety of topics germane to the FCC’s mission, involving either the direct participation or the input of over 50,000 people. In some cases, people attend the workshops in person, but because the FCC now provides streaming audio and video of those workshops, it’s possible for those not in attendance to offer feedback over the Internet.

In addition, Genachowski says that blog comments related to any of his agency’s open proceedings are now a part of the public record of the FCC.

“This is something I thank our legal team for working hard to make happen. As many of you know, the Administrative Procedures Act and other rules are not the most internet-friendly statutes, but we found a way to do it. We said we have to do it. Right now at the FCC you don’t have to hire a lawyer if you want to submit comments to the agency, and have them formally and legally considered a part of the record.”

Genachowski also says the FCC is committed to another provision of President Obama’s Open Government Directive, and that is more open and transparent availability of his agency’s data and information.

We launched an agency-wide data inventory. We created a new Chief Data Officer at the FCC, and put data officers at each bureau and office at the agency. We’re committed to unlocking our agency’s data, or, I should say, the public’s data, that we collect at the FCC. We’re committed to unlocking that in machine-readable, open formats, providing very broad access to raw FCC data.”

Genachowski then introduced Steven Van Roekel, a former top exec at Microsoft, who he convinced last year to join the commission as a managing director. Van Roekel had the task of lifting the curtain on the next generation of web and data enhancements to the FCC website, with hints of change you can now see at reboot.fcc.gov.

“Before the end of the year,” he told the Gov 2.0 summit attendees, “you will see a new FCC.gov that greatly changes from the ground up how we approach web, data, platforms and communications.”

Among the innovations hinted at on reboot.fcc.gov: an app that gives users a window into the often complicated and arcane process of getting an FCC license.

“It’s something we call FCC License View. This is a web services API (application program interface) mashup site, that will give you access to licenses at the agency. This will give the community the first ever view into that data in a much deeper and richer way than they’ve ever had before. ”

Another application now in beta is a combination of the FCC’s license database and data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The application will enable a user to obtain a read-out of the agency’s activities within a given census block.

Van Roekel says this is the first API that will allow a user to “give us a GPS coordinate, and you’ll get back a census block, or you can give us a census block, and we will give you a geographic descriptor of where this stuff is.”

He also says that members of the web development community who want to take advantage of some of these, and other FCC APIs that are currently available or are on the drawing boards, need only go to “FCC.gov/developer” to download code snippets, web schema, and web services. Van Roekel also says the site will be the place where developers can offer comments and feedback on his agency’s work to improve FCC.gov.

For more about Reboot.FCC.gov on the DorobekInsider with Steven VanRoekel, the managing director at FCC, click here.

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