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FCC Launches Consumer Help Center

Broadband speed tests, help with high cell phone bills, and complaint filing are some of the services offered.

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Mired for years in the details and minutia of overseeing the nation's telecommunications and broadcast networks, the Federal Communications Commission has launched a consumer help center to bring information directly to Americans most affected by the country's networks. The site appears to be primarily directed at consumers with mobile phones.

The site went live on Tuesday around the time that FCC chairman Julius Genachowski addressed a meeting of the U.S. Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. "This website," said Genachowski, "will allow consumers to easily access the many resources that the FCC has developed to help consumers, including a consumer-friendly system for filing complaints; news about major consumer initiatives; and tips and advisories."

The help center covers consumer-oriented areas ranging from bill shock over unexpectedly high charges from carriers, to broadband speed tests in which consumers can test the actual speed of their networks against carriers' claims. It also offers advice on ways consumers can guard against high roaming costs when traveling. The site, directed by Joel Gurin, chief of the FCC's consumer and governmental affairs bureau, also enables consumers to file complaints.

At the Senate meeting, Genachowski said the FCC has partnered with the Federal Trade Commission to form a "joint task force to develop innovative, effective, and coordinated approaches to protecting online privacy."

Genachowski continued: "We are currently working together on education and transparency initiatives to help inform and empower consumers in connection with online privacy. We are also working on strategies to help educate consumers with wireless home networks about the need to adopt encryption or other security protections to safeguard their information."

Pointing to suggestions in the National Broadband Plan, which is pending before Congress, Genachowski said telecom and cable companies increasingly have access to sensitive consumer information over the Internet. The FCC chairman added that the existing framework is sometimes "confusing and would benefit from increased clarity."

Carriers maintain that their efforts to protect consumer information are generally effective.

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