FCC's technology-lending library to be open to invited public

A "technology-lending library" meant to help FCC staff become better acquainted with new smartphones and other devices will also be open to the public, perhaps as early as this summer, an FCC official told The Hill on Tuesday.

According to Steve VanRoekel, who's overseeing the library's creation, interested consumers will soon have the ability to "request to come in [to the agency], and take a look at devices," like the iPhone, BlackBerry or iPad, among other tools.

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The FCC will also encourage viewers to check out various "themes" incorporated into its technology library, VanRoekel said, noting one early exhibit would focus on parental control technology and televisions. And for those interested patrons living far from the FCC's Washington D.C. office, VanRoekel said his agency plans to "put a lot of what we learn and experience with the library online for the general public."

Ultimately, the technology-lending library owes its recent push to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who initially pitched the idea as an attempt to modernize his agency.

"At the beginning of my tenure, I went around the FCC asking people how familiar they were with modern communications devices. It turned out that they were less familiar with them than one might think," Genachowski told The Hill in an interview published Tuesday.

Launching that venture has required a bit of work, as the telecommunications law library in which the tech-lending library will be housed has long been occupied by various IT contractors.

But VanRoekel said those contractors are now in the process of relocating elsewhere, meaning the long-closed library can begin construction in May, hopefully in time for a summer launch. In the meantime, the FCC has worked with other federal regulators to draft rules that would allow private companies to give the devices to the agency as gifts.

VanRoekel later joked he did not want the FCC to "become the next Engadget." But he said he wanted to provide supplementary materials to help consumers make good tech decisions.

"I want to give people both online and in person as much access as possible," he said.