SpectrumTalk

The independent blog on spectrum policy issues
that welcomes your input on the key policy issues of the day.

Our focus is the relationship between spectrum policy
and technical innnovation.

A net neutrality free zone: We pledge no mention of any net neutrality issues before 2018.


When they deserve it, we don't hesitate to criticize either NAB, CTIA or FCC.


An Open Letter to David Redl Upon His Confirmation as NTIA Administrator

Redl

Congratulations on your appointment and confirmation as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information/NTIA Administrator! NTIA has many responsibilities, but this post will focus on its spectrum management ones - a key issue in our increasingly spectrum-dependent world. On behalf of the President, NTIA administers his jurisdiction for use of the spectrum by federal agencies. But in reality the "elephant in the room" is the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee (IRAC) whose origin goes back to the 1920s.


While Title IX of the Communications Act which codifies NTIA's establishment barely mentions IRAC, the role of IRAC is as mysterious are the role of the Politburo in the former Soviet Union. Does IRAC "advise" NTIA or does IRAC actually make most of the decisions with occasional oversight from NTIA when either Congress gets interested or a private sector entity has enough political power?

I would urge you to read Nobelist Ronald Coase's report "Problems of Radio Frequency Allocation" which was written in the early 1960s but suppressed for about 30 years. In particular, I suggest you review the IRAC and FCC discussion on p. 44-72 (pdf p.52-80). While this material was written decades before the creation of NTIA and several years before even the creation of the former OTP, where the late Justice Scalia served, to many of us it is the best description of IRAC practices that exists in the public domain. The report has citations to hearing and reports on spectrum management going back to WWII. It reveals (p. 59, pdf. p. 66) that as early as 1950 legislation was introduced to create an independent agency in the federal government to "formulate plans and policies for the utilization of spectrum".

I was privileged to have a discussion with the late Justice Scalia about 5 years ago on how federal spectrum management worked in OTP days. (There are a few other OTP veterans still active in the field, so I urge you to reach out to them for insight.) While OTP Director Whitehead let IRAC handle many functions, he was willing to and actually did intervene much more than NTIA has in recent decades. In particular, he was willing to call cabinet members directly to get them to reverse positions their agencies had taken in IRAC - generally without knowledge of top agencies officials in a "deep state"-like arrangement.

Of course, Whitehead's White House phone number helped a lot! While the 2012 PCAST spectrum report may be falling out of favor in the current Administration, I urge you to review Section V which is not controversial and particular Recommendation 5.1 on increasing the White House role in spectrum policy:

PCAST 5.1


After the PCAST report there was a slightly increase spectrum policy presence in the White House with the detail of an NTIA middle manager to OSTP. Due to budget constraints, this OSTP specialist was actually paid by NTIA and was expected to return there. The White House needs more of a point person on spectrum policy and this is important enough that person should be independent of BOTH FCC and NTIA.

The NTIA spectrum staff seem to think that they can't really regulate other federal agencies and that no other agency can regulate such agencies in any matter. Let me point out some examples:

  • EPA regulates pollution from federal agency activities
  • OSHA regulates federal workplace safety
  • GSA regulates federal real property (e.g. buildings and land)
  • NRC regulates nonweapons related federal use of radioactive material
  • OPM regulates federal personnel policies
  • NSA regulates federal agency use of encryption

Early in my FCC career I used to periodically attend IRAC meetings and as well as meetings of an interagency committee at NSA that dealt with federal encryption equipment and its use. In both cases the groups were discussing policies that would apply to the agencies present. The key different was that IRAC thought they could make decisions based solely on the consensus of those present and that that broader "public interest" did not explicitly matter since the IRAC members were all public employees! In the NSA group it was clear that NSA was in charge and had a charter from POTUS but wanted to hear and consider the views of affected agencies. BIG DIFFERENCE!

Both NTIA and FCC really are understaffed with people who can do independent technical review of spectrum sharing issues, particularly novel ones. Thus you might want to consider this recommendation from IEEE-USA on creating a new advisory committee to both FCC and NTIA of technical experts without industry ties who can look independently at technical issues of spectrum sharing and interference and suggest possible solutions to difficult problems to both agencies. Since the physics is the same from both G and NG radio signals it makes sense to have on committee serve both and would save money since nonindustry advisory board members must get paid for their time..

IEEE-USA on adcom
(Note that since this was drafted last year the EPA SAB has changed significantly and has become controversial.
However, the
NRC group still has the same structure.)

So Mr. Redl, congratulations and let's hope that you can take an open minded approach to finding a new clarification on the relative roles of IRAC and NTIA in managing spectrum.

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FCC's IG Failure to Examine 2014 Complaint About Questionable Comments Leads to Recurring Problems


FCC IG BadgeWeb

On October 8, 2014 Media Freedom.org, a right of center "Market-based group" "supported in part by communications industry and foundation contribution" filed a request with the FCC Inspector General that it investigate suspicious filings in the Net Neutrality proceeding that appeared to be filed falsely. False comments are not a new issue as your blogger recalls a few dozen that were filed in pre-ECFS days in Docket 81-413-which later became the basis of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Of course, with today's electronic filing and bots the ECFS system is particularly vulnerable since it has been little improved since being first implemented in the Hundt chairmanship. All of the parallel rule makings in the Executive Branch and many of the independent agencies use the federal government-wide Regulations.gov website to handle the ministerial issue of accepting and archiving comments, but the Powell chairmanship thought it would "save money" by having a separate stand alone system. (Perhaps it is time to reexamine whether this was really a good idea?)

The subject of the FCC IG has been a recurring issue in this blog. While the statutory duties of this position are the same as the duties of all other IGs in the federal government, an odd tradition has developed in FCC in the past 2 decades that the IG is always an insider who can be trusted by the Chairman and that he spends almost all his resources, presently a staff of 60 and an annual budget of $11,751,000, on Universal Service Fund fraud issues and avoids looking at overall FCC performance and questionable activities of senior FCC officials. No FCC IG has ever been appointed from a parallel position in another agency - only FCC insiders.

So did FCC's IG ever investigate this issue after Media Freedom raised it in 2014?

Look at the Report section of the IG's website and see if you can find anything? The only possible reference to this request to the IG is this cryptic section of the IG's Semiannual Report to Congress October 1, 2014—March 31, 2015:


IG report

Not very informative is it? Media Freedom also filed FOIA requests, another recurring topic of discussion here and another recurring problem area at FCC. They got 3 batches of released documents (1 2 3) but none of them contain the slightest hint that the IG was even looking into what actually happened and whether FCC had handled it properly. (But to be nice to FCC, these FOIA releases all have a proper redaction marketing - something that has been wildly inconsistent at FCC in the past.)

As we have stated before, this blog focuses on spectrum policy and for most of the past few years had had a "net neutrality-free zone policy" of not addressing net neutrality issues and their merits in any way. But it is clear the issue of large number of questionable comments in the net neutrality proceeding has been a recurring issue and still is an issue.

Perhaps FCC senior leadership should ask the IG why he didn't address this issue in some way in 2014 when Media Freedom first brought it to their attention. If the answer is that the FCC chairman at the time did not want it investigated then that is confirmation that the IG doesn't understand his legal duties.

Perhaps FCC should invite an IG from another agency to examine independently whether the FCC IG handled this matter properly.

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FCC Official Acknowledges Pending 95+ GHz NPRM




Maybe FCC's
95 GHz Wall will finally fall?

95GHzWall

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Does Cellphone Industry REALLY Pay Attention to Its Unintended Consequences?

Atlantic-on-smartphones


This morning NBC's Today Show had a feature on the possible impact of smartphones on the rising teenage suicide rate. The piece was based on an Atlantic article entitled "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" which uses the above artwork. Coming the day after FCC adopted and released the Mid-Band NOI with glowing praise for all aspects of the cellular industry this reminds you blogger of a recurring theme here reflected in the title of this post.


john-fitzgerald-kennedy-quote-for-of-those-to-whom-much-is-given-much
While the cellular industry has had wonderful positive economic and social impact in many ways, it should not be surprising that a multihundred billion dollar industry has some negative impacts. The true test of such an industry and its regulator is how well it tries to actually limit such negative impacts and focus its actions more on positive impacts. (By this we mean actual actions not press coverage thereof.)




( Based on Luke 12:48)




Today-on-Teens


Yesterday's open FCC meeting shows how well the industry has captured the commissioners' near total attention with their glowing praise for a new inquiry into possibly new "commercial" spectrum bands between 3.7 and 24 GHz. While there was some slight parenthetical mention of unlicensed spectrum needs, NO other spectrum issues were mentioned. Indeed, the FCC's silence on any drone spectrum issue drones on respect drone policy being a key topic in DC for at least 2 years. Chmn. Pai's 2 parenthetical mentions of drones in old tweets appear to be the only statement any commissioner has ever made on the topic! Cellular spectrum is an important issue, but with the industry's urging it seems to have become the almost only spectrum issue that gets any attention at FCC, NTIA, and in Congress. Indeed, the industry's endless appetite for spectrum has resulted in a backlash at NTIA and within IRAC and all requests for sharing of federal spectrum are on a slow track there. Pending legislation on increased sharing/reallocation for cellular use make help that industry's near term problems, but will complicate all otters spectrum sharing as hostility in NTIA and IRAC increase. (The new delay requested by Sen. Cruz on confirming the next NTIA head is not helping!)

The industry is not only demanding fast track access to new spectrum by dominating the spectrum policy agenda to the near exclusion of all other issues - except perhaps NAB's pet issues on incentive auction costs and ATSC 3.0, it is also demanding both FCC ordering of quick local government consideration of all local approvals of new infrastructure along with a parallel campaign in state legislature to preempt most local government review of most new construction. Below is an example of such a new law in Arizona , although there are signs that similar legislative action is underway in many states.

AZ-cell-infra-law

scenic small base
This fast track/preemption policy would not be so bad if the cellular industry had a near perfect record of attention the physical design of its base stations and reasonable compatibility in design to their neighborhoods. But as we have explained in a filing in the FCC infrastructure docket the industry has, at best, a mixed record! While it will build aesthetic bast stations when forced to by local governments or landlords, it also seems to have no consistent quality control on design and construction of small base stations. Indeed, if there is a sloppy construction small base station in your neighborhood or on a "scenic byway" as in the photo, who are you supposed to call? Ghost busters?


We have previously published posts that give several other areas of unintended consequences in which the industry has paid little attention to the impact of their technology and services. These include:

  • Obnoxious use of cellphones in theaters and restaurants
  • Contraband cellphones in prisons
  • Safety issues of texting & driving
  • Silence on drone spectrum issues
  • Purchase of prepaid cellphones by the dozen by criminals without any identification

So while we agree that the cellular industry need more spectrum and that infrastructure construction needs more streamlining, the industry should also back off on being the center of attention and being unwilling to compromise with others acting int he public interest to meet its goals. Spectrum policy resources at both FCC and NTIA have been underfunded and will be more so under the 2018 federal budget. The cellular industry, along with most FCC regulatees has been silent on this continued underfunding and even nearly silent on the downsizing and undersizing of FCC spectrum field enforcement. Maybe the cellular industry should pay more attention to issues other than its immediate needs?

So cellular industry if you want to make your industry the center of both FCC and Congressional spectrum policy deliberations and always be first at the well for new spectrum, why don't you pay more attention to the unintended consequences of your industry such as those discussed above to show that you are responsible corporate citizens?




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Tom Hazlett's The Political Spectrum Now Available

Hazlett



Former FCC Chief Economist Tom Hazlett's new book The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone has now been published. Here is the Amazon description of it:



Popular legend has it that before the Federal Radio Commission was established in 1927, the radio spectrum was in chaos, with broadcasting stations blasting powerful signals to drown out rivals. In this fascinating and entertaining history, Thomas Winslow Hazlett, a distinguished scholar in law and economics, debunks the idea that the U.S. government stepped in to impose necessary order. Instead, regulators blocked competition at the behest of incumbent interests and, for nearly a century, have suppressed innovation while quashing out-of-the-mainstream viewpoints.

Hazlett details how spectrum officials produced a “vast wasteland” that they publicly criticized but privately protected. The story twists and turns, as farsighted visionaries—and the march of science—rise to challenge the old regime. Over decades, reforms to liberate the radio spectrum have generated explosive progress, ushering in the “smartphone revolution,” ubiquitous social media, and the amazing wireless world now emerging. Still, the author argues, the battle is not even half won.


A review will be coming shortly on this blog. But those of us who know Tom can easily say he is an excellent writer with a rather humorous style especially considering the nature of the topic here. Your blogger is also mentioned several times in the book - all the more reason to buy it!

For your convenience, here is a link for ordering the book. Tom would be pleased if you use it since at this time the $25.06 price is less than the book store price and Amazon Prime members get free shipping as well as great marketplace alternatives to spectrum-based over-the-air TV.


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