Communication Leadership Blog

Adam Powell

Americans can now listen to FM radio on their cell phone - for free

By Adam Powell | January 29, 2015 0

WASHINGTON - New software now allows millions of Americans to unlock the free FM radio receivers built into almost every smartphone sold in the US.

Called NextRadio, the free app unlocks the FM receiver, enabling the phone to receive all local FM radio stations for free without using the cell phone network, so there are no data charges or other costs. Just remember to recharge your battery.

NextRadio only works on Android cell phones, and not yet on all Android phones. Originally developed with Sprint, NextRadio now runs on all major US cell phone networks.


The new app does more than just unlock the FM receiver chip: it also launches TagStation, an interactive display showing all of the programming on local stations it can receive, including information on performing artists' upcoming appearances in that local area. Oh, and you buy the music you are hearing with a tap on the screen.

The new free download was demonstrated and discussed at a CCLP and Sunnylands forum here this week on improving cell phones as platforms for public safety and emergency preparedness, by Jeff Smulyan, chairman of Emmis Communications, a major US broadcast group. Smulyan said there would be a massive advertising campaign starting in February to publicize the new download.

Emmis, along with NPR and other public broadcasters have long favored unlocking the FM receivers, but Apple and most US mobile phone carriers have refused - and have declined to explain why. (For example, see this Boston Globe article).

By shifting use of mobile phones to a combination of cell network plus free over-the-air radio, mobile phone carriers may lose revenue as customers reduce use of their data plans. But one company, Sprint, decided to break with other US carriers and partner with Emmis to develop the new download; in return Sprint gets a share of revenues broadcasters receive from mobile customers.

In tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and other emergencies, the ability to receive over-the-air radio can save lives, which is why it was a topic for the CCLP and Sunnylands forum on public safety and emergency preparedness.

"If your radio is now in your cell phone, that is just one less device that you have to have extra," said W. Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in a video ] last year. "It's important to make certain you can get broadcast in an emergency."

Fugate noted that in many emergencies, the cell phone system stops functioning because it is overloaded, and broadcast radio may be the only way people can receive life-saving information.

All of this of course is good news for commercial and public broadcasters in the US, who expect increased listening to their stations. Seventeen percent of all Americans over the age of 12 said they would listen "a lot more" to local radio stations after they download the NextRadio app, according to a recent survey.

In much of the world, especially in underdeveloped countries, people listen to radio on their cell phones for free using the same receiver chips that until now have been turned off in US phones.

In Cambodian cities, more people now listen to radio on their phones than on a radio, according to Gallup (slide 16 of this report). In Afghanistan, again according to Gallup, 17% of the population listens to radio on a cell phone (slide 28).

In much of the world, people can also watch television on their mobile phones; for example, see this Broadcasting Board of Governors article.

Indeed, when I discussed this subject at forums in Asia earlier this month, experts were surprised to learn that Americans could not use cell phones to receive broadcast radio - or to receive broadcast emergency information.

Policymakers and industry leaders take steps to improve cell phone capabilities during emergencies

By CCLP Staff | January 28, 2015 0

By Justin Chapman

Mobile phones today offer enormous potential in regards to public safety and emergency preparedness, but current infrastructure and systems present substantial challenges as well. The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands and the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy have launched an initiative to research these issues, explore solutions and define minimum capabilities of cell phones for health care, public safety and other public services.

On Sunday and Monday, 20 high-level government officials, top mobile technology industry professionals, public advocates and entrepreneurs attended an event hosted by CCLP in Washington, DC. The event, entitled "Mobile Phones for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness," was the second meeting on the subject as part of the Mobile Phones for Public Service initiative.

The meeting was organized by Sunnylands president and CCLP director Geoffrey Cowan and senior fellow Adam Clayton Powell III. Attendees included Google vice president and "father of the Internet" Vint Cerf, Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and representatives from T-Mobile, Emmis Communications, Mobile Commons, AMG Communications, Rand Corporation, National Institute of Justice, Food and Drug Administration and Sprint Nextel.

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Mignon Clyburn and Jeff Smulyan

"These CCLP meetings show how industry, government, entrepreneurs and researchers can come together to reach consensus on improving public services -- in this case, using cell phones as platforms for public safety and emergency preparedness," said Powell.

The group focused on four primary issues: the Wireless Emergency Alert system (WEA); Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911); FM radio chip activation; and the FCC's Lifeline program, and developed a series of next steps and action items.

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Vint Cerf and George Pendleton

Expanding WEA
Dr. Daniel Gonzales, senior physical scientist at the Rand Corporation, presented on findings of the WEA Mobile Penetration Study, as well as ongoing research for the Department of Homeland Security. The group discussed cooperation between government and private industry on improving alerts-testing, geo-targeting, message length and other issues. They also discussed what it would take to get to universal WEA capability and how to get mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) on board with WEA.

Locating 9-1-1 calls from cell phones
Next Generation 9-1-1 is an initiative aimed at updating the 9-1-1 service infrastructure. At the event, the group examined the challenge of locating people after they've dialed 9-1-1, as most calls are now made on mobile phones rather than easily locatable landlines. In April, the Washington Post reported that "an alarming proportion of 9-1-1 calls go unfulfilled because wireless technology fails to help locate victims in time." Many industry and government researchers are already working to address this challenge, and their work was analyzed at the CCLP meeting.

Activating the FM radio in your phone
Almost all US smartphones have FM radio chips, but most carriers don't activate them. That is starting to change: Jeff Smulyan, CEO of Emmis Broadcasting, showed meeting participants a new, free app that his company has helped to develop that will unlock FM receivers on many Android cell phones, allowing them to receive limited radio listening for free. Backed by a "billion-dollar" ad campaign, the app will be rolled out publicly next month. Read more in Powell's article on NextRadio here.

Radio chips are particularly important in times of natural disaster, such as the recent blizzard and state of emergency on the East Coast, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and terrorist attacks. The group talked about a possible compromise: getting mobile service carriers to agree on activating the radio chips in emergency situations. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, recently identified how important this is.

Reforming Lifeline
Lifeline is a government benefit program that provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income subscribers to help ensure they can connect to basic services. Lifeline is supported by the federal Universal Service Fund (USF), which was created by Congress in 1934. Millions of Americans receive the subsidized mobile phone service, which is politically vulnerable because it's seen by some as a form of welfare.

CCLP is drafting a report on the Lifeline program for the FCC that may include recommendations for improving public safety.

The mobile carriers that participate in Lifeline vary widely by state, and some carriers (including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile) only provide voice service through Lifeline subsidies, while Sprint - through a program with Virgin Mobile and Assurance Wireless - provides more flexible Lifeline plans that do appear to provide a texting and data option. One question addressed at the event was whether text messages and/or data are essential for public safety and emergency preparedness, and whether Lifeline providers should be encouraged to provide such services with their plans.

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CCLP research fellows Skye Featherstone and Ev Boyle conducted interviews with participants at the event. These interviews will be the basis for a short video to highlight key issues discussed as relevant to the meeting. Check back soon to watch the video.

Justin Chapman is a CCLP project fellow.

Latonero speaks at AAAS conference on big data and human rights

By CCLP Staff | January 28, 2015 0

On January 15 and 16, research director Mark Latonero spoke at the Science and Human Rights Coalition's "Big Data and Human Rights" conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Sessions explored how human rights can be affected by the collection and analysis of big data, the rapidly growing collections of information that can now be processed thanks to recent technological advances.

"The application of big data in the human rights domain is still really in its infancy," said Latonero. "The positives and negatives are not always clear and often exist in tension with one another, particularly when involving vulnerable populations."

Watch Mark Latonero's presentation:

The event was divided into three plenaries. The first session began with a discussion of the latest trends in big data, led by Toni Carbo of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) and Kavita Berger and Theresa Harris of AAAS. Carbo said that "last year there were 4 zettabytes of data." (One zettabyte is equivalent to one billion terabytes, with the number of bytes being written as a 4 followed by 21 zeroes.)

The second plenary examined how big data can be a threat to human rights. Jessica Wyndham of AAAS talked about the connections between science and human rights. In the final plenary, titled "Big Data in the Service of Human Rights: Opportunities and Responsibilities," Latonero discussed how human rights principles can guide responsible data-mediated interventions in preventing human trafficking.

According to a post by Kathy Wren of AAAS, "Latonero showed how analyzing classified ads can reveal patterns suggesting organized child sex trafficking and even investigate particular individuals. Corporations such as Western Union, Google, and J.P. Morgan Chase are also analyzing data that can reveal financial transactions or other evidence of human trafficking. When this data is shared with human rights groups and researchers, it brings up yet-unanswered questions about who has a responsibility to act if a human rights abuse is uncovered, and who has the responsibility to report and monitor that situation, Latonero said."

"The event was an important opportunity to explore big data and human rights from a scientific perspective," said Latonero. "While there is existing research on big data and development, humanitarian and crises, this meeting was important for those of us focusing specifically on data and human rights."

In 2014, Latonero was named to the inaugural class of fellows at the Data & Society Research Institute in New York, where he is studying the intersections between data, development, and human rights. At CCLP, Latonero spearheaded the Technology and Trafficking Initiative with groundbreaking research on technology's dual role in facilitating and combating human trafficking.

This post was written by CCLP project fellow Justin Chapman and web & IT coordinator Liz Krane.

Senior fellow publishing new book on California as she wraps up CIR project on armed security guards

By CCLP Staff | January 22, 2015 0

By Justin Chapman


As project editor on a two-month long assignment with the Center for Investigative Reporting, CCLP senior fellow Narda Zacchino oversaw reporter Shoshana Walter's and others' six part series "Hired Guns." The team reported on armed security guards across the country who endanger public safety through a haphazard system of lax laws, minimal oversight and almost no accountability. The project includes a graphic novel and an interactive map.

Zacchino and Walter are hoping that the series will raise awareness about this issue and change policies across the country. CNN teamed up with CIR and featured two segments on the story, which will be sent to hundreds of key legislators in policy making positions.

"There is a bill in Congress now, by Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, that would make FBI background checks available to security companies that want them," said Zacchino. "Right now that's not the case. We hope our series will enlighten people about the extent of the problem in the security industry and will get that bill passed. Certainly more needs to be done."

Zacchino has also written a new book about California, which she has been working on for several years. The book will finally be published this year by Thomas Dunn Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press.

The untitled book, now in the final editing stages, demonstrates that "government" and "regulation" are not dirty words, and that "freedom from environmental and workplace regulation and from taxes to benefit the wealthy class is not conducive to progress as a nation, or democracy for that matter."

The book's thesis stems from the "debate over the neoliberal model of Texas and Kansas, which endorses privatization, deregulation, reductions in government spending, eschewing subsidies, having minimal government 'interference' in business and a tax system that favors the wealthy, versus the pragmatic liberal model of Jerry Brown's California: raising taxes on those with incomes over $250,000 to help fund education, shifting money toward the schools of poor children, making alliances with other states and countries to counter climate change, rejecting military solutions to the problems posed by illegal immigration, raising the minimum wage and strengthening workers' rights."

Zacchino served as a top editor at the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. She has co-authored three books and co-founded Time Capsule Press, whose inaugural book, The LA Lakers: 50 Amazing Years in the City of Angels, was published in October 2009. She is an editorial and business consultant at the daily news website Truthdig. As a senior fellow, Zacchino works on programs exploring the role of media in democracy with a focus on state government financial crises.

Hundreds gather in Annenberg Hall to watch President Obama's penultimate State of the Union address

By CCLP Staff | January 21, 2015 0

This post was written by CCLP project fellow Justin Chapman. Photos by CCLP web & IT coordinator Liz Krane.

On Tuesday night about 250 people packed the new Wallis Annenberg Hall to watch President Obama's sixth State of the Union address, the Republican response by Sen. Joni Ernst and a panel discussion that included two CCLP senior fellows. The event, which according to CCLP senior fellow Dan Schnur had the largest on-campus turnout for a political event since the 2012 election night viewing, was co-sponsored by USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and the Unruh Institute of Politics.

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See more event photos in our Flickr album

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President Obama's new plan for free community college furthers Winograd's initiative

By Elizabeth Krane | January 9, 2015 0

On Friday, January 9, President Obama announced a new initiative to make community colleges tuition-free for students across the country. Modeled after Tennessee's free community college initiative, the program would help an estimated 9 million students a year to save an average of $3,800 a year.


"Put simply, what I'd like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for everyone who's willing to work for it," said Obama in an online video. "It's something we can accomplish and something that will train our work force so we can compete with anyone in the world."

MorleyWinogradCCLP.jpgSenior fellow Morley Winograd, founder of the Campaign for Free College Tuition, helped push for President Obama's new initiative to make community college free for millions of students.

"The President's plan would transform the nation's higher education system, and help countless families make the American Dream a reality for their children," writes Winograd, who was quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education. "For many, it could cut the cost of a four-year college degree in half. The plan deserves, and should get, bipartisan support."

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Adam Powell

U.S. Public Diplomacy Advisory Commission considers role beyond the State Department

By Adam Powell | January 8, 2015 0

WASHINGTON - Katherine Brown, Executive Director of the U.S. Public Diplomacy Advisory Commission, speaking at this week's CCLP Communications Leadership Forum here, said she was contemplating expand its review of public diplomacy to include agencies beyond the State Department - notably the Department of Defense.


Katherine Brown, Executive Director of the U. S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, and Chris Hensman, Senior Advisor at the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy

Brown's statement was in response to a question, the questioner noting that some agencies - especially the Pentagon - have far more resources than State. And the first sentence of the Commission's web site reads, "Since 1948, the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) has been charged with appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform and influence foreign publics and to increase the understanding of, and support for, these same activities." That would seem to indicate the Commission can review all public diplomacy government-wide.

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Adam Powell

US launches new initiatives to combat Russian information "weaponization"

By Adam Powell | December 2, 2014 0

WASHINGTON - New initiatives by U.S. international broadcasting to counter Russian propaganda were the focus of this month's CCLP Washington Communication Leadership forum here yesterday.

Jeffrey Trimble, Deputy Director of the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau, said the innovations are in response to what he called Russia's "weaponization" of international news and information.


Left to right: Jeffrey N. Trimble, Deputy Director of the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau; Alen Mlatisuma, Internet Managing Editor, Voice of America Eurasia Divisision; and William Harrison Courtney, former U.S. ambassador and Executive Director, RAND Business Leaders Forum.

One of the new ventures described by Trimble is "Current Time," a new 30-minute daily television newscast co-anchored in Washington and Prague. The first ever co-production of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Trimble said it was the suggestion of Richard Stengel, the new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

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CCLP's Geoffrey Baum elected president of California Community Colleges Board of Governors

By Elizabeth Krane | November 18, 2014 0

On Monday, November 17, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors elected CCLP's managing director Geoffrey Baum to serve as president in 2015. In addition to working at CCLP and the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, Baum has served on the California Community Colleges Board of Governors since 2008, most recently as vice president.

Geoffrey_Baum_88454-938-color.jpg"These are both challenging times and an era of unlimited possibility for the California Community Colleges and their vital mission to achieve success, increase access, and help prepare each student for the workforce in our global economy," said Baum.

"It is a tremendous honor to be elected president of the Board of Governors. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the board and the chancellor, in partnership with the governor and the Legislature, to keep this outstanding system at the forefront of public higher education in the country."

Cecilia V. Estolano, co-founder of a development consulting firm, was elected to serve as the next vice president of the Board of Governors.

"I am privileged to work alongside a group of individuals whose top concern is supporting the students, faculty, staff, and administrators," said Estolano. "The California Community
Colleges is working to improve California's economic fortunes and taking bold steps to provide more and more Californians with higher education."

As the largest system of higher education in the U.S., the California Community Colleges serve over two million students each year at 112 colleges across 72 districts. In his new role as president, Baum will work with the Board of Governors to continue to empower the community colleges through leadership, advocacy and support.

The complete press release is available through the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office.

New Report: Lessons Learned from the Get Mobile Forum on Mobile Technology for Community Engagement

By CCLP Staff | November 3, 2014 0

getmobileforum-7-150x150.jpegThis is a blog post by Beatriz Solis, Program Director at The California Endowment Healthy Communities (South Region), and Geoffrey Cowan, Director of the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.

At the 2014 Get Mobile Forum, we invited technology leaders and local community organizers to learn from each other, exploring how organizations can use mobile technology in their efforts to engage and empower the communities of Los Angeles. Today we're excited to announce the release of our report: Lessons Learned From the Get Mobile Forum on Mobile Technology for Community Engagement.


Download the report:

A lack of engagement is a serious issue in Los Angeles. The LA2050 project reports that compared to the rest of the US, "Angelenos are less likely to be involved in groups, less likely to engage in organizational activism, less likely to vote" and even less trusting of others. In order to improve the health and well-being of our communities, it's critical that community members' voices can be heard, regardless of their age, ethnicity, or which neighborhood they live in. Technology has the power to amplify their voices, but only if implemented strategically.

"The problem is not a lack of innovation. The problem is a lack of scaling something up when we find something that works." -- Dr. Robert Ross

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