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" pledge to readers:
no new mentions of net neutrality until at least 3/15/15!

Should FCC Clean Up Its Spectrum Policy Backlog Before Reviewing Another Cable Merger?




This weekend word broke on yet another cable merger. We have no view on the merits of this merger, or for that matter on the merits of most mergers. But such mergers compete for scarce attention at FCC as it presently operates and detracts from its other duties such as Title III technical policy issues other than more spectrum below 5 GHz for the cellular industry. Even though the merger has not even been formally filed, Chmn. Wheeler has already issued today a
public statement before 8:45 AM promising to review it. At least he did not promise quick action.

But what about the
statutory promise of 47 USC 157(b) for timely action on “new technology” deliberations? What about new technology deliberations at FCC that seem to be stalled? For example:

  • Petition of South Carolina Department of Corrections and 30 other state corrections agencies on jamming cell phones in prisons (7/13/2009) (This was finally included in Docket 13-111 after having been never placed on notice for public comment and that docket is also languishing!)



  • IEEE-USA petition for a declaratory ruling on whether 7 presumptively applies to technology above 95 GHz where there are presently no FCC rules (7/1/13)

  • Battelle petition for Fixed service rules at 102-109.5 GHz (2/6/14)

  • NOI on Mobile Service above 24 GHz (10/17/14) - Note that while not much time has elapsed, Ofcom, FCC’s UK counterpart has already issued two documents on this issue as well as a consultant’s findings since the issuance of this NOI! This is cutting edge technology moving quickly with government funding in many other countries, but uncertainties with FCC’s position are deterring private capital formation in USA in this technology.

  • (While we can’t attach a date to it, the FCC’s continuing silence on all matter associated with spectrum for UAV’s/drones just drones on as the general issue of civil drones attracts ever growing attention. While there appears to be a dialogue between FAA and FCC on the issue, there is no statement on where drones may or may not use spectrum or any proposals.


Perhaps FCC has a valid viewpoint with its secret interpretation of the Communications Act that Section 5(c) trumps the Section 7 requirement on timely action for new technology. But if this is so, perhaps the Commission should tell Congress and the public that Section 7’s promise is now moot and you should expect dilatory action on everything except corporate mergers and more spectrum for cellular carriers?

In preparing for a talk this week, I was reviewing a video placed on YouTube by MobileFuture, a lobbying group representing many cellular interests. I noticed this predicted outcome of not giving cellular interests all the spectrum they want:
Chill
The irony is that the Commission’s current paralysis on more spectrum for cellular carriers and corporate mergers, not to mention partisan feuding over net neutrality, has resulted in chilling innovation for other wireless technologies not of immediate interest to the cellular industry, even backhaul technologies such as in the FWCC and Battelle petitions! As our national competitors subsidize R&D for these technologies, the US risks losing technological leadership unless FCC gives some signals to the private sector. (See p. 8-14 of NYU WIRELESS Docket 14-177 Comments)

So a modest proposal: no action on the new merger request until FCC makes real progress on cleaning up its Title III backlog.

We could point out that while FCC has made a promise on timeliness on corporate mergers, the statutory promise of Section 7 would seem to take precedence unless FCC wants to put its cards on the table and publish its secret ruling about why Section 5(c) makes that moot.


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Amtrak, PTC, and the Need for a Credible IG at FCC

PTC_Logo

"According to Amtrak, PTC was installed in the section of track where the Philly accident occurred," a committee source writes in an email to U.S. News. "There have been delays in 'turning it on' associated with FCC dealings and getting the bandwidth to upgrade the radios from 900 MHz to something higher (for more reliability)." - US News, 5/14/15

“We continue to be actively involved in helping freight and commuter trains such as Amtrak acquire spectrum. In fact, the FCC approved Amtrak’s application for spectrum for the Washington D.C. to New York corridor after an expedited review and just two days after Amtrak submitted a final amendment to the agency in March 2015. Rail safety is a top FCC priority. Be assured that the FCC will continue to work closely with the nation’s railroads to enable the rapid deployment of Positive Train Control” - FCC/WTB Chief Roger Sherman


In the wake of this week’s fatal Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia there is a brewing controversy about FCC’s role as indicated by the above items. We have no inside information on this topic and have no opinion about whether FCC has been perfectly correct in this area or whether it may have contributed to the problem by inattention.

The issue of the need for a credible inspector general at FCC has been a recurring theme here since 2009. The FCC Inspector General Office has existed, as required by law, since 1989. But until the appointment of the current IG, all the previous IGs had been long term FCC employees who were known to be friendly to the Chairman’s Office and would not “shake the boat”. The current IG came to the IG office in 2006 after working elsewhere in FCC for 10 years before replacing his predecessor who left under a cloud.

While the FCC IG is not appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate like cabinet agency IGs, his legal responsibilities are exactly the same - particularly with respect to the duties of § 4(a). Yet the FCC IGs over the years have kept themselves busy avoiding comments on 8th Floor actions or the overall effectiveness of FCC programs or even their compliance with the law, e.g. the Commission’ 30 history of ignoring the requirements of § 7 of the Communications Act.

Now it has been reported that the FCC IG is investigating the net neutrality decision. Perhaps, he might investigate the Amtrak PTC matter. But given the FCC IG’s indifference over the past 25 years to the overall operation of FCC and focus on only Universal Service Fund fraud and petty malfeasance of junior FCC staffers, will any FCC IG finding of agency innocence on either net neutrality or the PTC case be credible?

Isn’t it time to demand that the FCC IG be credible on all matters under his jurisdiction and not focus entirely on Universal Service Fund issues and actions of junior FCC employees?

Meanwhile, we know NTSB is investigating the crash and there certainly is a possibility that its report may fault FCC if that is where the facts lead. NTSB is less political than FCC and the House and Senate committees that FCC deals with, so its views might be a breath of fresh air.
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FCC Spectrum Enforcement Cutback Discussion at NPSTC Meeting

NPSTC
Your blogger did not attend last week’s meeting of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council in DC, but a fellow alumnus of the FCC’s former Field Operations Bureau did and provided us with these notes of the discussion on the pending spectrum enforcement cutbacks and has graciously allowed us to use his notes. NPSTC is supported financially by US Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC),and the National Protection and Programs Directorate, Office of Emergency Communications (OEC). However, its views “do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security”.

We note that on June 1, the FirstNet Public Safety Advisory Committee will discuss the same issue at its meeting in San Diego.

The FCC presentation was from William Davenport, Deputy Chief, EB.

Our current structure is unsustainable.

Background:

The field is largest part of the EB. It was its own bureau once upon a time. In the 1990s it was about 300 people. Over time it shrunk. Current field structure is 108 employees in 23 field offices plus EDG. 63 Agents, 21 managers, 10 admin staff, 8 EDG engineers and others. $21M to operate field; 70% is salaries.

Current model of the field is broken. Adopted more than 20 years ago and has been in need of close examination for years. Based on regulatory model that simply doesn’t exist anymore. Modern enforcement is about responding to wireless IX complaints, not conducting random broadcast inspections.

Current situation has been to eliminate field offices through attrition. Several offices are nearly empty, with two layers of middle management and outdated equipment.

FCC budget has been flat for several years despite rising costs.

We realized we needed to establish a clear linkage between the FCC’s priorities and the field’s mission. We began by figuring out how to execute activities in the most efficient and cost effective manner. Field modernization strategy was developed to refocus the field around its core mission and create a model that would be viable for the next ten years.

Over a 5-month period, 160 interviews were conducted. Looked at field operations at other agencies. We learned that our field work isn’t being prioritized properly. Everyone agrees that #1 priority is resolution of RFI.

When we looked at EBATS data, we were surprised to learn that only 40% of time was spent on RFI. Of this work <10% was PS related. Many offices do not have much RFI work. Some offices receive <1 RFI complaint/agent/week. One office received 1 complaint/agent/5 weeks. Work is supplemented by tower inspections (1300) with only 1 in 10 turning into actual cases (lights actually out), 440 broadcast inspections.

Most field offices receive just 1 PS complaint per month or less. Have to ask whether it makes sense to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars keeping these offices open.

25% of time doing non-operational work, like drafting sanctions, online training and waiting for the plumber. Field agents have complained about this for years.

Productivity problems have also been worsened due to inefficient management structure – employees have also complained about this for years. We didn’t want to cut back management in case hiring authority was restored. Now, 3, 4, or 5 layers of review are required for sanctions.

Offices are too big and too expensive. 20% of field budget is spent on rent. Some office rents are above market rate. Average space is 900 sf per employee vs. 270 sf at HQ. One office has almost 4000 SF. As time passed, there has been no authority to backfill and so space per employee grew and grew.

There are significant overhead expenses of $77k per FTE (double HQ).

Response to problem:

Field agents will spend more time in field working on RFI matters. Outside of Columbia, offices will be focused on RFI issues exclusively. The “Tiger Team” is not a substitute for other field offices; it is a support team for other offices but will also handle mid-Atlantic region response duties and headquarters initiatives.

Our performance will not decline. We will continue to meet speed of disposal goals, for example providing an initial response to PS complaints within 24 hours. Not all PS matters require an immediate on-scene response. We will reduce # of managers from 21 to 5. Ratio will be 1 manager per 10 agents.

Pre-positioning vehicles in SJ, Honolulu, Anchorage, Phoenix, Denver, SLC, KC, Billings, and Seattle to enable agents to fly in. Expect to respond within 4-6 hours for 85% of all Part 90 matters, 90% of all PS matters, 97% of all RF complaints.

FAA has 7 agents to respond to RF issues who handled 2700 cases. FAA has fixed DF equipment at NY, CG, and LA. CBP has similar equipment.

Planning on improving qualifications of employees by making all agents EEs.

Savings from this plan will be reinvested into other high-priority enforcement initiatives. Focusing equipment development on more mobile solutions and increased training.

Implementation:

We understand that there are worries about loss of local knowledge and “cop on the beat” to expand new speed of disposal targets for non-PS cases. We will improve case tracking and establish targets beyond initial contacts. We will establish escalation procedures. We will improve our visibility by traveling throughout entire AOR, speaking at events, and meeting with stakeholders.

Commissioners are reviewing our recommendations. If approved, we will commence the reorganization immediately. This is the first phase of a larger project that will include improved training and databases. We want to set up an automated system for part 15 complaints so that OET can become aware of issues.

People don’t know how to contact the FCC. Even Federal agencies are filing complaints using the consumer web system. We plan to make office phone numbers available. A field director will be established in Washington whose entire purpose is to manage and promote the field.

It’s not physically possible for us to roll out a car for every single PS issue.

This is the first time I’m hearing these kind of stories. They help me make the case for more resources. I am going to push for EB to come back to NPSTC next year.

I’m hoping to make the field more central to the operation of the agency as a whole. Senior people at the FCC don’t know what the field does.

We hope to make the field as relevant as it can possibly be.

When we implement this plan, I’m sure there will be lots of issues and challenges. We have commitment from the chairman to fund this plan and use the savings towards training and better offices.

Procedurally, the Commission adopts the plan through an Order, which amends the FCC’s rules. Then, there is a two-track process: consult with the Appropriations Committees to reappropriate funds for buy-outs, etc. and negotiate with NTEU (30 days notice and 120 days negotiation). Then, there could be mediation and potentially arbitration. Hoping to get this all done sometime in the Fall.

While some promises may be written in water, Commissioners and very senior people in the agency have been promised that “a chunk of” the savings will go back into the field with new equipment, databases, training. There’s no way that we can back off from the resource commitments that we’ve made.

I’m counting on groups like this to keep up the pressure. That way, we’ll be better able to support more staff and other enhancements to field enforcement.

NPSTC Audience Comments and Questions:

FCC should have come to PS first with this proposal. We should not have heard about this through outside sources.

We quit calling the FCC because it took too long for them to respond. Can we now start calling FCC again?

Response means you are headed out of the office, not making a phone call.

Over the past few years, there has been a disconnect between the FCC field offices and PS. Field offices used to be engaged with PS. Current office staff is less engaged. We try and work out problems with wireless companies, but two weeks later the problem recurs. When we call wireless companies, we get a voicemail box that is full. Having PS fend for itself is a problem.

We’ve lived through many reorganizations. They are always designed to improve service to the public, but they eventually come face to face with the agency’s financial reality. Things have gotten so bad in the past that there was no money to purchase fuel for the DF cars.

The CSMAC and the TAC have prepared reports on spectrum sharing. Critical to the success of spectrum sharing is the ability to resolve interference in real time; not weeks or months. On the one hand there is an FCC initiative to encourage sharing, but red flags were raised all along (including by DoD) that interference and enforcement are critical to the success of spectrum sharing.

Prioritizing interference resolution needs to be done up front or you are not going to attract investment in spectrum sharing technology or you will chill government agencies.

In this case the field has a key, vital role in ensuring that investment is, in fact, a wise investment. On the one hand, we’re encouraging sharing; on the other we’re trying to make enforcement more efficient. Any paper plan often times doesn’t quite match reality.

We all deal with flat budgets; you’ve mentioned lots of improvements, which will cost money. Will there be a provision to allocation some of the savings toward these improvements? Otherwise, I’m hearing you say that “the check’s in the mail.”
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NTIA Improves Federal Spectrum Use Website
But Real Problems Remain


With the above tweet NTIA announced a major improvement to its publicly available information on federal spectrum use. The information below from the new page describes the type of information now available:

NTIA-225--5G

For the bands between 225 MHz and 5 GHz the new site gives details on US allocations, number of NTIA assignments for federal users, and future federal plans for the bands.

328-335
The table at left shows the type of data available and its limitations. For the first time we can remember NTIA has revealed large amounts of data on federal assignments (equivalent to licenses in FCC jargon). As the table notes:

“The number of actual systems, or number of equipments, may exceed and sometimes far exceed, the number of frequency assignments in a band. Also, a frequency assignment may represent, a local, state, regional, or nationwide authorization. Therefore, care must be taken in evaluating bands strictly on the basis of assignment counts or percentages of assignments.”


The reason for this is that NTIA’s record keeping has evolved over decades and in ancient history agencies could get nationwide assignments for an unlimited amount of transmitters in an unlimited number of locations. I recall that the spectrum enforcement site of FCC, the part now slated for a huge staffing cut, has 3 UHF land mobile channels on such a nationwide basis even though I doubt it ever had 300 mobile radios. But in the early days assignments were “free” and even now agencies pay NTIA only for the number of assignments, not the number of transmitters or locations. Clearly many IRAC members do not want this to change so NTIA probably doesn’t have better information on the number of federal transmitters and it many cases does not know where that are.

It is also unclear if these numbers include classified assignments.

What is missing? Those of us who are fans of Benn Kobb’s now out of print, but available on Kindle, Wireless Spectrum Finder, will miss common names for many federal systems, although the section that includes GPS calls it “GPS”.


More importantly, there is no indication on where each assignment is used or how heavily it is used. Much federal spectrum use is outside of urbanized area where there is the greatest demand for new spectrum. Thus having some knowledge, even any knowledge of which bands are used in urban areas and which are more often used in rural areas would be very helpful.

We have criticized NTIA in the past for not publishing spectrum occupancy data in certain bands and we have also printed an apology and correction when NTIA pointed out we missed some data they had published. But the new pages do not contain any links to previously published NTIA data on band occupancy or data from any other sources like the IIT Spectrum Observatory. While it is unlikely NTIA will cite such private sector data, it is puzzling why published NTIA data is not cross-referenced.

Is “sharing is the new normal” more information on intensity of use and general geographic nature of use would be very helpful in improving national spectrum management policy.

While spectrum below 5 GHz is of prime interest in the cellular industry’s endless appetite for more spectrum, spectrum above 95 GHz that presently lacks any FCC rules for commercial use is all shared with federal users and there is no real public data on what is going on there. In order to facilitate commercial evolution in that spectrum we urge NTIA to make some information available on present and planned spectrum uses for federal users and sharing potentials.

But we congratulate NTIA on a positive step forward with the new information.
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FCC Transparency & Spectrum Policy Productivity:
How Many Spectrum Issues are Resolved by Letting Them Become "Dormant"?

On 4/30/15 Chmn. Wheeler testified at the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives at a hearing on “FCC Reauthorization: Improving Commission Transparency”





The Chairman’s testimony is here. Here are some observations:

  • The Chairman starts off with “The American people expect the Commission - and all federal agencies - to carefully consider and decide matters in a fast, fair, and effective manner.” (emphasis added) A basic problem is that spectrum policy at FCC is not “fast, fair, and effective manner” unless you are the cellular industry and even they can only get attention for megaissues like more spectrum for themselves. Even the cellular industry had to wait 10 years for FCC to act on the cellular booster interference issues in Docket 10-4 and is still waiting for more than 2 years on the FM/LTE interference issue that FCC has not publicly acknowledged. (Perhaps we should mention the police radar detector/VSAT interference issue/Docket 01-278 that also took more than a decade to address and for which FCC covered up the delay in official documents?)

  • What about the continued inattention to the statutory requirements of 47 USC 157, admittedly not the most brilliantly written piece of legislation, but the “law of the land” for 30+ years. An FCC insider tells me that the view of the Chairman’s Office is that the provision of 47 USC 155(a) giving the Chairman the power “generally to coordinate and organize the work of the Commission in such manner as to promote prompt and efficient disposition of all matters within the jurisdiction of the Commission” overrides the specific language of §7 that gives deadlines for certain new technology actions. Your blogger did not go to law school and the FCBA directory has a large “N” next to his name to warn others not listen to his legal opinions, but this nonpublic interpretation of the primacy of §5 over specific statutory time limits seems a little strange! Perhaps other commissioners or the House committee could ask the Chairman to clarify how he interprets §7. (Although his interpretation is probably no different than he predecessors who have all tried hard to avoid compliance with this provision.)

  • What ever happened to Docket 09-157, introduced with great fanfare to stimulate “wireless innovation”? Is it being resolved in a “fast, fair, and effective manner”? Or will it just gather dust? The Chairman brags in his testimony (p.3) that “(l)ast year, we closed more than 1,500 dockets that were dormant”. Will this be the fate of 09-157? Keep ignoring it year after year and then dismiss it as “dormant”? What about the FWCC request for new E band antenna standards that has been pending since 2012? What about the Battelle petition for 102-109.5 GHz rulemaking, a band that presently lacks any FCC rules. Indeed, all spectrum above 95 GHz lack FCC licensed or unlicensed service rules, with the minor exception of a few amateur and ISM bands. What about the 2013 IEEE-USA petition to declares spectrum above 95 GHz that have no FCC rules as “new technology”?

  • These problems were not created by the current Chairman or the current commissioners, they have evolved over a long time. But it is time for the Commission to face up to that fact that its Title III productivity as presently structured and operating is not enough. It is troublesome that several commissioners think there is too much delegated authority to the staff. Some recent actions on delegated authority raise some real questions. Yet, the only way to increase productivity on Title II is to have more delegated authority that is accountable to the 8th Floor!

  • Let us compare Ofcom with FCC on spectrum policy. At Ofcom there is a Board of political appointees: “ Ofcom's main decision making body is the Board, which provides strategic direction for the organisation.” The Board does not make every decision, it sets “strategic direction” and oversees Executitve Committee which is “ Ofcom's senior executive team. It meets each month (except August) and is responsible for setting Ofcom's direction and overseeing the management of the organisation.” FCC has enough flexibility under §5(c) to change its spectrum policy deliberation procedures to approach those of Ofcom if the commissioners recognize there is a real productivity shortfall right now and it is affecting US competitiveness.


  • Spectrum requirements for drones have been a recurring topic in this blog, although we have advocated no specific position and have no clients in that area. Certainly the growing commercial interest in drones has been all over the place in the news in the past year. But drone proponents are not traditional players at FCC and FCC has been completely silent on drone spectrum issues, except for public safety drones. If FAA ever finishes its drone policy issues next FCC will be the roadblock! Is this a “fast, fair, and effective manner”?

If FCC had $745,603 for a contractor for a management review of spectrum enforcement, perhaps it could spend a comparable amount of money studying how it might improve its productivity in spectrum policy that in turn will stimulate the US economy and is already a major part of GDP?

If FCC acknowledges (at least internally) a Title III productivity shortfall, it might wish to consider the suggestions of IEEE-USA on “Improving U.S. Spectrum Policy Deliberations in the Period 2013-2017” that have attracted little interest in the Commission so far.

Maybe FCC is as “fast, fair, and effective” in spectrum policy as possible given the current FCC resource level appropriated by Congress. But if the endless delays that most non-CTIA related spectrum policy issues (and even many CTIA-related issues) at FCC face is adversely affecting both US spectrum technology competitiveness and the large part of the GDP impacted by mobile ICT, the Commission should tell Congress that it is now resource limited. Given the ongoing net neutrality controversy, Congress may be unwilling to give FCC a resource blank check, but maybe someway can be found to make additional resources available only for noncontroversial Title III issues.

Summarily closing thousands of dockets and enforcement cases after years of inaction is not good productivity, it is fudging the data - not unlike the actions of the Phoenix VA Hospital and their waiting list data. “Fast, fair, and effective” action would involve resolving these issues in a timely way not by letting them die a natural bureaucratic death!
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