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Monday, January 04, 2016

Florida workshops on new phone network

Residents, community organization staff and volunteers in South Florida's West Delray Beach area learned how phone technology is evolving and how to stay safe on the Internet during a series of presentations and trainings Consumer Action held in October and December. The trainings are part of the campaign to educate consumers about the transition from traditional to wireless and Internet protocol-based phone networks (known as the IP transition) through Consumer Action and AT&T’s New Phone Network Project.

The workshops educated participants on the advantages of IP service and offered answers to the questions that consumers are most likely to ask in order to ensure a smooth transition before switching to the new phone network. The Internet safety portion of the trainings focused on the prevention of identity theft by securing home networks and by taking precautions on public Wi-Fi networks. The trainings also offered ways to protect mobile devices, as well as consumer safety tips for online and mobile banking, social networking and avoiding Internet scams.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requested that communications companies submit proposals to conduct trials in which IP and wireless services will be rolled out to replace traditional landline service in selected communities across the U.S. One of AT&T’s two trial areas is West Delray Beach. Information from the trials will be used as a model for achieving a smooth migration to IP-based service in other regions.

Consumer Action trainers Linda Williams and Nelson Santiago reached a diverse group of consumers in West Delray Beach and nearby communities, including seniors; recent immigrants from Cuba, Haiti and other countries; low-income housing residents; people with developmental disabilities or who are blind or have low vision; and staff and volunteers working in faith-based community education programs.

Consumer Action's workshops were provided in English, Spanish and, with the assistance of workshop hosts, Haitian Creole. The need for materials in Haitian Creole was identified during an earlier outreach trip and, by the time of the December trainings, the Haitian Creole brochure was made available.

During his IP transition session, Santiago addressed questions about whether consumers would be required to own a computer in order to have phone service and about whether they would be able to keep their landlines. He explained that a computer is not and will not be a requirement for people to switch to IP-based phone services. He also explained that most consumers have already decided to make that transition on their own. However, at some point in the future telephone companies will transition the remaining people with traditional phone service to either Internet-based or wireless phones. To protect consumers, this process is controlled by state and federal regulations.

Santiago also discussed with participants the importance of asking IP phone service providers about battery back-up options to help ensure phone service during power outages.

Williams also taught a group of Haitian children, five rules for online safety during an engaging after-school session. The students talked about their use of the Internet for games, social networking and communicating with friends. By the end of the training, the children were reciting the rules, which include basic guidelines like never giving out passwords or personal information without a parent’s permission.

The trainers commended Consumer Action's administrative team for its hard work assembling folders for the workshops. With the team's assistance, Williams and Santiago were able to provide close to 8,000 educational publications to the more than 400 consumers they reached.

Consumer Action's workshops were well received, and Williams and Santiago will return to Florida in March to conduct additional workshops.

 

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