Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Kevin Martin's FCC "Dysfunctional"

A Committee on Energy and Commerce Majority Staff report released today (12/09/2008) details the findings of the Committee’s bipartisan investigation relating to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“Our investigation confirmed a number of troubling allegations raised by individuals in and outside the FCC,” the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Bart Stupak (D-MI) said. “The Committee staff report details some of the most egregious abuses of power, suppression of information and manipulation of data under Chairman Martin’s leadership. It is my hope that this report will serve as a roadmap for a fair, open and efficient FCC under new leadership in the next administration.”

“Any of these findings, individually, are cause for concern,” said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. “Together, the findings suggest that, in recent years, the FCC has operated in a dysfunctional manner and Commission business has suffered as a result. It is my hope that the new FCC Chairman will find this report instructive and that it will prove useful in helping the Commission avoid making the same mistakes.”

The report, titled “Deception and Distrust: The Federal Communications Commission Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin,” is the culmination of a bipartisan investigation into the FCC’s regulatory processes and management practices that was formally launched on January 8, 2008.

Read the Report (4.2 Mb pdf) for the full "scoop" or, listen to todays conference call with Chairman Stupak regarding the report and the investigation (audio).

It's also rather interesting to learn that industry trade magazine RCR Wireless News today declared Chairman Martin this year's most influential wireless player.

And you are still wondering why wireless regulation (and other FCC-managed matters) in the U.S. are so......(insert your own descriptive word here).


Sunday, November 16, 2008

"White Spaces" Rules for TV Spectrum Released

On Friday (11/14/2008) the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released their long-awaited and highly-debated Rules for the development and operation of so-called television band "white spaces" devices to be authorized under CFR 47 Part 15 sub-part H.

The following is excerpted from the FCC's "White Spaces" Order (FCC 08-260) on ET Docket No. 04-186 and ET Docket No. 02-380):

Introduction - Item 10. All Devices. All unlicensed TV band fixed and personal/portable TV band devices will be permitted to operate on TV channels 21-51, excluding channel 37. In addition, fixed TVBDs that only communicate with other fixed TVBDs will be permitted to operate on channels 2 and 5-20, except that they must avoid operation on channels used by private land mobile radio service (PLMRS), i.e., public safety, and commercial mobile radio service operations on channels in certain markets and areas adjacent to them. Also, in individual markets where there are Private Land Mobile Radio Service or Commercial Mobile Radio Service (PLMRS/CMRS) operations on channels 14-20, two channels in the range 21-51 will be reserved for operation by wireless microphones such that TVBDs will not be permitted on those channels. This plan for channel use is consistent with the requests of the various white space proponents and would reserve channels for a "safe harbor" for operation of wireless microphones and ensure protection of the public safety and other land mobile services that use channels 14-20. At this time, we are only permitting fixed TVBDs to operate on channels not that are not immediately next to (first adjacent on either side of) the channel of a TV station; personal portable devices will be allowed to operate on first adjacent channels to a TV station subject to the power limitation indicated above. All unlicensed TV band devices will be required to limit their out-of-band emissions in the first adjacent channel to a level 55 dB below the power level in the channel they occupy, as measured in a 100 kHz bandwidth. In addition, all TVBDs will be required to comply with a more stringent out-of-band emissions band at the edges of channels 36 and 38 that are adjacent to channel 37 in order to protect medical telemetry devices on that channel 37. Fixed devices will also be required to periodically transmit a signal with their identification when they are operating. This will facilitate identification of sources of interference. The database system for fixed stations and personal/portable devices with geo-location and database access capability will be managed by a database manager or managers selected by our Office of Engineering and Technology.

Full text of Order:


It'll be at least a year or more until any products or services are available to utilize this spectrum (none have been certificated by the FCC as yet and, you can probably count on both proponents and opponents continuing their war of words and legal challenges), so, this might be a good time to suggest that all potential "white spaces" users familiarize themselves with Appendix B of the Order which contains the Final "White Spaces" Rules and the new Part 15 Sub-Part H on Television Band Devices.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Are You Ready for FCC Part 90 UHF/VHF Radio System "Narrowbanding"?

In December 2004, the FCC issued an Order mandating that all Part 90 business, educational, industrial, public safety, and state and local government VHF (150 – 174 MHz) and UHF (421 – 512 MHz) private land mobile radio (PLMR) licensees convert their radio system operations from legacy wideband (25 kilohertz) to narrowband (12.5 kilohertz or equivalent) operation by Jan. 1, 2013.

Contrary to what some may have heard or been led to believe, the Order does not require licensees to change to new radio frequencies or different frequency bands, nor does it require moving from analog to digital or from a conventional to a trunked radio system. (These are, though, alternative radio system options that some licensees may want to more fully explore with the guidance of a qualified radio communications system professional.) The Order also doesn’t mean that licensees need to replace all their current radio system equipment — only any soon-to-be-non-compliant equipment.

What the FCC’s mandate does require is that all wideband-only conventional or trunked VHF and UHF radios, including handheld portables, vehicle-mounted mobiles, dispatcher stations, wireless data, telemetry, or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) link radios (called subscriber radios) and any associated wideband-only conventional or trunked base or repeater stations (called infrastructure radios), be replaced with narrowband capable equipment prior to the 2013 date to continue legal use of Part 90 radio frequencies beyond that date. FCC radio system licenses must also be modified to reflect the change to narrowband emissions and operation.

Migration Steps

Over the last several years, in response to the mandate, many licensees have started the narrowband migration process by deploying dual-mode subscriber radios — those capable of both wideband and narrowband operation — as new radios have been added to their systems or as older wideband-only radios were lost, damaged beyond repair or otherwise removed from service. While this strategy is a practical, cost-effective approach, particularly by those with large numbers of subscriber radios in their fleets or those with multiple radio frequencies, base stations and repeaters in their systems, this method addresses only the first step of a multi-step process.

Unless a radio system is initially implemented as a narrowband system - as most new systems have been during the past six to nine years - many dual-mode replacement subscriber radios deployed into pre-mandate or older, conventional or trunked VHF or UHF radio systems have typically been programmed for wideband rather than narrowband operation. This best-practices method was necessary to retain compatibility with existing wideband subscriber and infrastructure radios in use in those systems. (NOTE: the mixing of wideband and narrowband radios on the same frequency of a system is generally not encouraged nor recommended. Doing so has the potential to render most voice - and especially data - transmissions between wideband and narrowband radios unintelligible, distorted or unreliable). The method also allowed the expense of replacing infrastructure radios at the same time to be deferred, as the year 2013 seemed a long way off.

In many instances, however, the need to address the deferred replacement of wideband-only infrastructure radios may have inadvertently been overlooked or even forgotten by some licensees or radio system managers. This is particularly true when it comes to the many smaller business, educational, and industrial users of two way radio who typically don't keep up with current FCC Rules or the responsibilities that go along with being a Part 90 licensee, and, who quite often simply take the use and benefit of their radio systems for granted. This blog post is a reminder to all licensees that until all subscriber and infrastructure radios are fully migrated to narrowband operation, many radio systems may still be operating in the wideband mode, which is legal only until Jan. 1, 2013.

Migration Planning

Has your company or organization developed a migration plan and budget to address the next steps necessary to complete the narrowband migration process and become fully FCC compliant? These steps include replacing any remaining wideband-only subscriber radios still being used; procuring and installing narrowband base stations, repeaters or other infrastructure radios as needed; preparing a well-planned, coordinated approach to re-programming all radios to narrowband operation; and modifying a radio station license to reflect any new emissions designators. Click here for more migration suggestions.

The 2013 date isn’t that far away, particularly if funding needs to be secured and budgets prepared or, when any operations dependent on uninterrupted radio communications may be jeopardized. Companies and organizations that recognize and appreciate the value of their Part 90 two-way voice and data radio communications systems are advised not to wait until the last minute to begin or complete the narrowbanding process. By waiting, they are risking not only the loss of use of their current radio frequencies, but the return on the investment (ROI) and associated benefits provided by their radio system equipment as well.

More Information

Follow these two links to official documents and complete background information on the FCC’s narrowbanding mandate:

http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-04-292A1.pdf (2004 Order)

http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-271692A1.pdf (2007 Update)

or, for on-line discussions regarding the mandate, licensees and other interested parties are invited to join the LMR Narrowbanding Yahoo! Group


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Sprint Nextel's latest setback a win for Public Safety

Sprint Nextel must cease operations in certain portions of its wireless airwaves by June 26, 2008 to stop the interference its Motorola made iDEN cellular network causes to public-safety two way radio communications networks.

The company must comply with
an order issued by the Federal Communications Commission in September of last year as part of the Commissions long-running efforts to resolve the interference issues by 'rebanding' the 800 MHz band, said the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on May 2.

In the Appeals Court opinion, a three-judge panel rejected Sprint's claim that the FCC's Order would "cripple the company's wireless network". Sprint, the third-biggest U.S. mobile-phone company, had also argued that the FCC order was "arbitrary and capricious" and would harm public safety.

Hurray! After almost 10 years of debate and political maneuvering,
it's about time.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Great "White Spaces" Challenge

Google (and its technology partners) are facing the great "white spaces" challenge - the next big spectrum allocation battle - from the politically powerful NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) and others.

On the one hand we have the over-the-air TV broadcasters (who rarely offer much worth the bandwidth it takes to beam it into our living rooms) insisting that the spectrum will "suffer" from the use of unlicensed wi-fi like devices operating near THEIR frequencies.

On the other hand, we have pretty much the rest of the country clamoring - no, make that screaming - for the opportunity to deploy "innovative" wireless communications devices and services, "stimulate" our economy, and make "better use" of nearly the very SAME spectrum - all on an unlicensed basis with little if any regulatory enforcement of that use. (Which, IMHO, is a somewhat worrisome scenario to begin with considering the historical track record over the years of the FCC's ability to "protect" the natural resource we call the RF spectrum, AND, the purported "better use" and "innovation" that the "white spaces" proponents claim they'll make with the resource.)

This spectrum battle should prove VERY interesting to say the least. Let's hope the regulators make the right decision - whatever "right" is deemed to be these days.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

FCC staffer: This place is hell; silent protest planned

Interesting blog post about life at the Federal Communications Commission....


A Federal Communications Commission employee called me on Friday and said that this Tuesday, the third anniversary of Kevin Martin's tenure as Chair of the FCC, at least some staff will arrive at work dressed in black. A "silent but expressive protest" is what they're calling the move. What for? I asked. "Because this place is hell," came the reply.

A super-politicized environment

It appears that a critical mass of FCC grunts are sick of what they experience as a super-politicized work life in which just about anything that they want to do has to get the go-ahead from the top, that being Kevin Martin. "Nothing happens in the Commission without the approval of the Chairman's office," my source told me. "It is incredible. We have become so political."

Do you have any sense of the logic of these directives from the Chair? I asked. "Nope," came the reply. "It seems as random as he got up this morning and ate his breakfast and just decided to do it."

Why are FCC employees upset about this? Not because they disagree with Kevin Martin's perspective on this or that FCC issue, but because, according to my source, he and his top subordinates demand that staff skip proper procedures and leapfrog various rules, even Congressional mandated rules, on a day-to-day level.

"In the past I may or may not have agreed with the outcome, but at least the proper procedures were followed. Now they tell us 'what are the media reform groups going to do: file a class action lawsuit? Just do it.' But ethically I have to sleep at night. It's not the decision, it's how the decision is reached. The situation has become arbitrary and capricious."

So....what else is new? This just points out how more and more obvious it is that some changes are needed in the way top brass at the FCC conduct themselves when attending to spectrum matters and other regulatory business that impacts us all.


Wireless "Property" Rights - The Next Frontier of Spectrum Policy Reform

Phil Weiser and Dale N. Hatfield, frequent contributors of papers on wireless spectrum policy, have recently released a new article titled Spectrum Policy Reform and the Next Frontier of Property Rights.

Here is an abstract of their paper for your review and contemplation.

The scarcity of wireless spectrum reflects a costly failure of regulation. In practice, large swaths of spectrum are vastly underused or used for low value activities, but the regulatory system prevents innovative users from gaining access to such spectrum through marketplace transactions.

In calling for the propertyzing of swaths of spectrum as a replacement for the current command-and-control system, many scholars have wrongfully assumed the simplicity of how such a regime would work in practice. In short, many scholars suggest that spectrum property rights can easily borrow key principles from trespass law, reasoning that since property rights work well for land, they can work well for spectrum rights as well. But as we explain, spectrum is not the same as land, and a poorly designed property rights regime for spectrum might even be worse than the legacy model of spectrum regulation.

This Article addresses three central questions that confront the design and implementation of property rights in spectrum. First, it suggests how policymakers must develop a set of rights and remedies around spectrum property rights that reflect the fact that radio signals defy boundaries and can propagate in unpredictable ways. In particular, if policymakers simply created rights in spectrum and enforced them like rights in land (i.e., with injunctions for trespass), they would invite strategic behavior: spectrum speculators would buy licenses for the sole purpose of suing other licensees when their transmission systems created interference outside the permissible boundary (i.e., act as spectrum trolls).

Second, it rejects the suggestion that policymakers establish a unitary property right for spectrum, arguing that policymakers should zone the spectrum by establishing different levels of protection against interference (i.e., an ability to transmit signals with more latitude) in different frequency bands.

Finally, this Article discusses what institutional strategy will best facilitate the development of the property right and its enforcement, concluding that an administrative agency - be it a new one or a reformed FCC - is better positioned than a court to develop and enforce the rules governing the use of spectrum so as to facilitate technological progress and prevent parties with antiquated equipment from objecting to more efficient uses of spectrum. (End abstract)

There is absolutely no doubt that U.S. spectrum policy (and stronger enforcement of new or legacy regulations concerning use of this important resource) needs urgent reform. Hopefully, this paper will help shed some much needed light on the challenges involved as well as generate meaningful discussion on the subject.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

FCC Mulls Value vs Efficiency of Licensed vs Unlicensed Wireless Spectrum

After being silent on spectrum matters for almost 5 years, the FCC's OSP (Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis) has issued 3 new working papers on potential spectrum management policy now being evaluated.

Working Paper #41, “Enhancing Spectrum’s Value Via Market-informed Congestion Etiquettes”

Working Paper #42, “Modeling the Efficiency of Spectrum Designated to License Use and Unlicensed Operations,” examine ways in which spectrum designated to licensed and unlicensed use can be more efficiently used.

Working Paper #43, “A Market-based Approach to Establishing Licensing Rules: Licensed Versus Unlicensed Use of Spectrum,” examines the feasibility of employing a market mechanism to determine whether spectrum should be designated to either licensed or unlicensed use.

According to the Commission's press release:

Working Paper #41, “Enhancing Spectrum’s Value Via Market-informed Congestion Etiquettes” and Working Paper #42, “Modeling the Efficiency of Spectrum Designated to License Use and Unlicensed Operations,” examine ways in which spectrum designated to licensed and unlicensed use can be more efficiently used.

Combining economic theory and experimental analysis, Working Paper #41 (and its more theoretical companion Working Paper #42) evaluates the ability of different wireless spectrum congestion etiquettes to promote the efficient use of wireless spectrum in the presence of licensed and unlicensed operations. Under the examined environment, theory predicts that society leaves half of the value it can receive from spectrum “on the table.”

One new approach utilizes various types of user information to address the inefficient use
problem. Assuming a close similarity between the naturally occurring environment and the experimental one, analysis reveals that the average efficiency of the existing etiquette employed in most unlicensed equipment is 42%. In comparison, experimental analysis reveals that the average efficiency of one market-informed etiquette - the Informed Greedy Algorithm - is 70%.

This and other results form the factual basis for generating an entirely new type of spectrum allocation wherein a given band of spectrum is treated as a common pool resource in the absence of excessive spectrum congestion, but is treated as an excludable private good in the presence of such congestion.

Working Paper #43, “A Market-based Approach to Establishing Licensing Rules: Licensed
Versus Unlicensed Use of Spectrum,” examines the feasibility of employing a market mechanism to determine whether spectrum should be designated to either licensed or unlicensed use.

Working Paper #43 addresses the issue of how best to identify the most desirable allocation rules for spectrum. This OSP paper focuses on issues associated with licensed use and unlicensed operations. Spectrum designated to unlicensed use is made freely available for uses that comply with appropriate technical standards. Spectrum allocated to licensed use is typically assigned to license owners through an auction. Moreover, winners of the auction are granted the right to exclude non-payers from using their spectrum. The allocation between licensed and unlicensed use, however, is based on the FCC’s judgment, which in turn relies on information provided by interested parties seeking to use the spectrum.

One method of reducing the incentive that parties have to exaggerate the value they place on a
given licensing regime involves creating a market for such rules. The study examines the feasibility of using a “clock auction” to determine, based on bids submitted by market participants for the corresponding licensing rules, the efficient allocation of a given amount of spectrum between licensed and unlicensed spectrum use. This study finds that market forces, in the form of a clock auction, can be used to determine the efficient assignment of license rules (i.e., those associated with licensed use and unlicensed operations) to spectrum.

If you are at all interested in or concerned about the FCC's future spectrum allocation and management agendas, these papers deserve your attention - and your input.
Catherine Bohigian is Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis. Elizabeth Andrion is Deputy Chief. The Commission's Chief Economist, Greg Crawford, also makes his home in OSP and he reports to the Chairman on economic issues. Ms. Bohigian, Ms. Andrion, and Dr. Crawford can be contacted by phone at (202) 418-2030.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sprint/Nextel Facing Rough Waters, Tough Times

For those wondering just what is and has been happening with Sprint/Nextel the last several years, here's a good review of the mess they've managed to get themselves into.


"It was supposed to be a formidable competitor in the mobile wireless industry, leading the industry in key financial metrics and in innovative services. But less than three years after Sprint and Nextel merged their operations in a $36 billion deal, the company is now trying to stop the bleeding."

The bleeding has resulted in an extraordinary loss of several hundred thousand subscribers in the last quarter, whose care has been badly neglected primarily due to internal culture conflicts associated with the failed integration of both company's business processes and their incompatible networks.

New CEO Dan Hesse certainly has some challenges ahead of him.

Worth a read....


Monday, February 4, 2008

U.S. Spectrum Management according to Wikipedia.....

The folks at the Portals (FCC) and the NTIA might be interested in this....

Current Spectrum Management in the United States

Wireless (RF or radio) spectrum management in the United States should
be a cooperative exercise in balancing disparate stakeholder interests through effective user education and the enforcement of regulatory policies and rules that reflect practical reality, political responsibility, economic common sense, and, an understanding of the laws of physics. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

There is no concise, up-to-date, national radio/RF/wireless spectrum
management policy practiced by the FCC and/or the NTIA in the U.S today. In addition, either very out-dated, convoluted, complex or very lax or non-existent regulation (often determined by the agendas of political and special interest groups more than by anything else) is the norm, with little effective enforcement of spectrum use rules.


It looks like the word is beginning to get out to the general public if one takes Wikipedia's definition at face value....although, when one thinks about it, the definition really isn't that far off the mark - is it?


Thursday, January 31, 2008

FCC's Strategic I.T. Plan - FY 2008-2012 - Ver 1.0

The Federal Communications Commission's 2008-2012 IT Strategic Plan (ITSP) sets forth the current and future foundation and guidelines that direct Commission-wide IT (information technology) activities for building an information systems architecture that is increasingly interoperable and migrates toward a single vision of IT at the FCC.

The ITSP is a five-year look at managing IT at the FCC. To prevent obsolescence of the information contained within the ITSP, periodic verification and validation activities will occur.

An annual validation of the information contained in the ITSP will be performed and updates will be made accordingly
. A shift in Commission goals will trigger a review and update to the ITSP to reflect evolving FCC IT objectives

This ITSP is used in conjunction with the
FCC's IT Tactical Management Plan which is an evolutionary document that maps out and schedules all IT initiatives and guides IT projects and activities. The Office of the Managing Director maintains and performs frequent updates to the IT Tactical Management Plan.

Examples of activities in the ITTMP include:

• Hardware Life Cycle Replacement Projects/Initiatives
• Application Software Projects/Initiatives
• Telecommunications (Data/Voice) Life Cycle Projects/Initiatives
• Infrastructure Consolidation Projects/Initiatives
• Federal Compliance Reporting Activities

You'll note that this plan is dated October, 2007 -- but is also labeled Version 1.0 -- something I'd think many would find rather interesting, considering that information technology (and the use and distribution of it) in the private sector is much further advanced.

Hmmm.....could this be part of why the Commission is struggling in so many ways when it comes to the allocation, management, and regulation of the radio spectrum?


Wireless Spectrum Links & Resources

Those concerned or interested in learning more about U.S. spectrum regulation and frequency allocation policies and their impact on radio and wireless communication devices may want to begin paying very close attention to the Notices, actions and decisions made by the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB), the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHS), and, their Office of Engineering and Technology (OET). More background information on spectrum policy, including the latest on the 700 MHz proceeding, can be found on the FCC's Spectrum Policy Task Force site. And, there's always the FCC's Daily Digest which provides a brief synopsis of Commission orders, news releases, speeches, public notices and all other FCC documents (with links to the full text of each) that are released each business day.

Finally, this 2006 paper Regulating Spectrum Management: Overview and Trends is intended to provide readers with a broad overview of wireless communications spectrum management concepts and issues, including a review of differences between traditional spectrum management methods and policy and recent innovations and practices due to technology advances. The approach taken is more descriptive than prescriptive, allowing readers to make up their own mind on various perspectives. It's interesting to note that the authors have found that there are no standard solutions that fit every situation.

Additional reading:

Spectrum Management Overview

Spectrum Policy and Planning

An introduction to spectrum management including best practices and considerations involved in the use and regulation of radio frequency spectrum. An outline of policy and planning considerations including technical standards and the allocation of spectrum.


An overview of the processes by which users gain access to the spectrum resource.

Spectrum Pricing

A review of the role of spectrum pricing and economics as it relates to the method of spectrum authorization being employed.

Spectrum Monitoring and Compliance

An overview of how spectrum monitoring and compliance can help users by avoiding incompatible frequency usage through identification of sources of harmful interference.

International Affairs

An overview of international harmonization of spectrum utilization.

Developing Spectrum Management Capacity

An overview of the strategies for organization, function, process development, staffing, staff retention and training for spectrum regulators.

Oh yes.....I almost forgot; here's how you can "express yourself" should some of the Commission's activities or policies stir you to speak up about spectrum matters.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

TV "White Space" Spectrum Debate Simmers

For those following the TV spectrum "white spaces" debate currently simmering on the FCC's back burner, here is a policy backgrounder worth a read from Sascha Meinrath and the New America Foundation:

According to Meinrath, "smart" wireless devices can use the unassigned frequencies between broadcast TV channels to offer wireless broadband and other innovative services. A rulemaking is pending at the FCC (Docket 04-186 - with over 11,000 comments from the public and industry to date) as to whether to permit unlicensed access to this currently wasted spectrum, subject to technical requirements that will protect television reception from interference. Access to the vacant TV channels in each market has been the subject of intense lobbying, yet far too many of the arguments against "white space" devices rely upon misinformation about the technologies and the FCC process that will prevent harmful interference to DTV reception and other incumbent services.

This policy backgrounder offers a summary analysis, and is an effort to help policymakers strike the appropriate balance between protecting existing services from interference while making the benefits of mobile broadband services available and affordable for all consumers. It provides policymakers with:

  1. a brief historical background to the current FCC proceedings;
  2. a description of White Space Device (WSD) technologies;
  3. a “Myths vs. Facts” section addressing the key concerns raised about WSDs;
  4. an overview of the public benefits of WSDs; and
  5. a concise summary of where we are in the multi-phase process of adopting WSD technologies for consumer use.

The complete document should be reviewed by anyone interested in or concerned about the development of "white space devices" (WSD's), FCC regulation, and technology -- because spectrum matters.