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that welcomes your input on the key policy issues of the day.

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

OTA DTV Drubbing Continues in SAG Awards

Two weeks ago we reported the dismal showing of over-the-air DTV programming in the Golden Globe Awards - only one award went to OTA DTV and that was to PBS, not a commercial broadcaster. In this week’s Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, at last a commercial network actually won an award! And OTA DTV broadcasters actually won 2 out of 8 award. Clearly a justification for keeping lots of spectrum for TV broadcasting.

Here are the Television winners:

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
"Downton Abbey" - (PBS)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
"Orange is the New Black" - (Netflix)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Kevin Spacey - "House of Cards" - (Netflix)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Viola Davis - "How to Get Away with Murder" - (ABC)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
William H. Macy - "Shameless" - (Showtime)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Uzo Aduba - "Orange is the New Black" - (Netflix)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries

Mark Ruffalo - "The Normal Heart" - (HBO)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Frances McDormand - "Olive Kitteridge" - (HBO)


Mobile Future Filing Highlights FCC's Real Throughput Limit & Its Impact

A filing by Mobile Future in Docket 14-177, dealing with new mobile spectrum above 24 GHz, highlights an issue rarely acknowledged in DC policy circles: FCC, as presently structured and operated, does not have the decision throughput capacity consistent with its roles in the telecom industry, our society, and our economy. Readers may recall that we have previously criticized some statements of Mobile Future as being overly simplistic. While we agree with their conclusion that FCC doesn’t have the capacity to deal well with both new lower bands spectrum for the cellular establishment and new technology, we strongly disagree with their conclusion that new technology should be put on hold which also violates the FCC statute: Sections 7 and 303(g). A much better solution would be for FCC to finally recognize its throughput shortfall, seek to resolve it, and not focus so much on “rearranging deck chairs” to maintain the appearance that it is keeping up

Who is Mobile Future? Here is their own description:

Mobile Future is an association of cutting-edge technology and communications companies and a diverse group of non-profit organizations, working to support an environment which encourages investment and innovation in the dynamic wireless sector. Our mission is to help inform and educate the public and key decision makers in business and government on the broad range of wireless innovations that are transforming our society and the nation’s economy.

The list of members includes big players such as AT&T, Verizon, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Samsung, and Qualcomm as well as some obscure non-profits, e.g. Foundation for Advancing Alcohol responsibility and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Minnesota. Your blogger is actually a volunteer for one of the nonprofit that is an MF member and has absolutely no idea why this organization is interested in mobile spectrum and involved in this lobbying effort except if one of its board members is with the same PR firm MF uses.

MF describes their comments on their website as “Today, Mobile Future submitted comments to the FCC regarding the potential for providing mobile service using spectrum bands above 24 GHz. As consumer demand for wireless continues to skyrocket, the mobile community is exploring ways to unlock additional spectrum resources.”


Another Obnoxious Use for Cellphones: Smartphone Use in Movie Theatres

Several times in the past we have discussed the Don Norman essay entitled “Minimizing the annoyance of the mobile phone: The Annoyance, Irritation, and Frustration of The Mobile Phone -- A Design Challenge”. This is a summary of a longer report that is not in the public domain and was commissioned by Motorola in 2005. (At the time Motorola was a dominant player in both cell phones and cellular base station technology as well as a major CTIA member.) The report warns, “We are in real danger of a consumer backlash against annoying technologies.”

smartphone theatre
The cellular industry today has many positive features and benefits for both our society and economy. But they continue to be tone deaf to any negative results of their amazing successful and near ubiquitous services. In today’s Washington Post John Kelly writes about a new example of an unintended consequence of today’s CMRS technology:

Textual healing

Roger from Great Falls, Va., said that a new year is a good time to remind people not to look at their cellphones during movies. “Taped requests prior to the movie are useless since the offenders already have their faces buried in their screens at the time,” he wrote. “A crowded theater looks like a flock of fireflies just from the LED lights, as emails are checked throughout the movie.”

Sure, Roger, I’ll mention it, but I don’t think it will do much good.

I’ve written about this in the past. Back then, I didn’t think theaters were quick enough to add admonitions against cellphones before the movie started. To their credit, they finally did. Then there was a period when people seemed to sort of get that it was rude to text during a movie.

But now we’ve emerged out the other end, into a time when cellphones are so ubiquitous that half the people who look at them during movies probably aren’t even aware of it. People don’t stop texting when they’re hurtling down the interstate. Why would they stop when in a movie theater?

Roger wrote: “I’d bet that a theater that can block signals would be a big draw. Heck I’d pay a premium for that. In the meantime it looks like Redbox is the only option.”

Theater owners hate to hear that. But they don’t seem willing to invest in the bodies that would stop texting, like an usher at the back of each auditorium looking for cellphone scofflaws.

My only suggestion is to patronize theaters unlikely to attract texters. I think I’ve seen a cellphone out at the AFI Silver only once. The Landmark cinemas on E Street and in Bethesda are great because their auditoriums are underground, unable to be penetrated by cellphone signals.

Of course, they tend to show small, independent films, so if you want to see a blockbuster you may have to sit in the front row, where you’re sure to have only one glowing screen in front of you.

Of course, this is not the first time this problem has been recognized in the blogosphere: National Review, Screen Rant, Today Show. There is even a post in the Houston Press blog advocating more cell phone use in theaters - another reason not to move to Ted Cruz ’s and Rick Perry’s Texas where the theatre patron next to you may well also be armed.

While the cellular industry demands the focused attention of the spectrum policy community on their ever growing spectrum needs, where do they stand on this issue? I can find nothing relevant on CTIA’s voluminous website. Indeed, the industry is silent on many unintended impacts of their technology except to occasionally deny them.

But why can’t the cell industry both ask for more spectrum and try to clean up some of the problems it has created? Maybe the solution is technical, maybe it is better user education, but why not at least try and heed the advice of the Don Norman report?

2015 Golden Globe Awards Illustrate the Continuing Decline of Over-the-Air TV

Notice something spectrum-related in last night’s Golden Globe awards? All the commercial over-the-air (OTA) TV broadcasters got skunked! The only OTA channel/network that got an award was PBS for Downton Abbey .


The Winner:
The Affair - Showtime

Actor, drama series
Winner: Kevin Spacey,
House of Cards - Netflix

Actress, drama series
Winner: Ruth Wilson,
The Affair - Showtime

Transparent - Amazon

Actor, comedy series
Winner: Jeffrey Tambor,
Transparent - Amazon

Actress, comedy series
Winner: Gina Rodriguez,
Jane the Virgin - The CW

Miniseries or TV movie
Fargo - FX

Actor, miniseries or TV movie
Winner: Billy Bob Thornton,
Fargo - FX

Supporting actor, series, miniseries or TV movie
Winner: Matt Bomer,
The Normal Heart - HBO

Actress, miniseries or TV movie
Winner: Maggie Gyllenhaal,
The Honorable Woman - SundanceTV

Supporting actress, series, miniseries or TV movie
Winner: Joanne Froggatt,
Downton Abbey - PBS

So as the TV broadcast establishment thinks the solution to their problems is giving away free TV antennas to wean people from nonspectrum alternatives, maybe when they gather in Las Vegas in April for the annual NAB Show, which all FCC commissioners must attend (just like for CTIA) and genuflect at, they should discuss if they really have a product that the public wants to view? Or perhaps in this day and age they should consider the Incentive Auction as a positive option? Maybe they should heed the advice of Justice Alito -- who has life tenure and doesn’t have to be as obsequious as FCC commissioners and members of Congress:



Delegation of Authority @FCC


Last week, the FCC home page had the surprising headline “Comms. Pai and O'Rielly Joint Stmt on Abuse of Delegated Authority” which was linked to a document entitled “Joint Statement of Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly on the Abandonment of Consensus-Based Decision-Making at the FCC” - note the tone of the linked document vs. the headline, although the headline might have had a Twitter-like character limit. For those who live way way outside the Beltway, Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly are the 2 Republican commissioners and both are former Senate staffers, so this might be related in part to the more generally partisan feuding/dysfunction here. The 3 other commissioners are Democrats and are also well connected with their party. Professors of telecommunications issues, either policy or technical, have not gotten get surprise phone calls from the White House in the past few decades to discuss possible FCC appointments. As in most regulatory agencies for the past 2 decades, good political connections are essential for such an appointment!

The commissioners are expressing outrage over the apparent release of 2 documents without an opportunity for them to comment and vote on them. The documents are:

Getting back to basics, Section 5(c) of the Communications Act provides:

Delegation of functions; exceptions to initial orders; force, effect and enforcement of orders; administrative and judicial review; qualifications and compensation of delegates; assignment of cases; separation of review and investigative or prosecuting functions; secretary; seal

(1) When necessary to the proper functioning of the Commission and the prompt and orderly conduct of its business, the Commission may, by published rule or by order, delegate any of its functions (except functions granted to the Commission by this paragraph and by paragraphs (4), (5), and (6) of this subsection and except any action referred to in sections 204 (a)(2), 208 (b), and 405 (b) of this title) to a panel of commissioners, an individual commissioner, an employee board, or an individual employee, including functions with respect to hearing, determining, ordering, certifying, reporting, or otherwise acting as to any work, business, or matter; except that in delegating review functions to employees in cases of adjudication (as defined in section 551 of title 5), the delegation in any such case may be made only to an employee board consisting of two or more employees referred to in paragraph (8) of this subsection. Any such rule or order may be adopted, amended, or rescinded only by a vote of a majority of the members of the Commission then holding office. Except for cases involving the authorization of service in the instructional television fixed service, or as otherwise provided in this chapter, nothing in this paragraph shall authorize the Commission to provide for the conduct, by any person or persons other than persons referred to in paragraph (2) or (3) of section 556 (b) of title 5, of any hearing to which such section applies.

(3) Any order, decision, report, or action made or taken pursuant to any such delegation, unless reviewed as provided in paragraph (4) of this subsection, shall have the same force and effect, and shall be made, evidenced, and enforced in the same manner, as orders, decisions, reports, or other actions of the Commission.
(4) Any person aggrieved by any such order, decision, report or action may file an application for review by the Commission within such time and in such manner as the Commission shall prescribe, and every such application shall be passed upon by the Commission. The Commission, on its own initiative, may review in whole or in part, at such time and in such manner as it shall determine, any order, decision, report, or action made or taken pursuant to any delegation under paragraph (1) of this subsection....

Was the release of the 2 documents by Chief WTB consistent with his delegated authority per Section 0.331 of the Commission’s Rules? We will leave that for others to judge.

However, the worst possible outcome of this kerfuffle would be a general tightening up of all delegated authority. Why? In the opinion of your blogger FCC spectrum policy productivity is grossly mismatched with the problems at hand and the gap is growing. While megaproblems like the incentive auction (and net neutrality and the 3 big pending corporate mergers) are getting reasonable attention, lesser problems that need 8th Floor attention and action under current arrangements are not. These deal with both innovative wireless technologies and interference to existing wireless systems, e.g. the police radar detector/VSAT issue - 15 years, the ongoing cellular booster/base station problem - 10 years and counting, and the FM/700 MHz LTE problem - not even acknowledged yet. All of these interference issues required rule changes to resolve and 8th Floor input was appropriate and needed. Many new technologies issues are also in the slow lane. The 24+ GHz mobile NOI mentions in passing an FWCC 5/9/12 petition that lingered and is now “stale”. Why is it stale? FCC indifference and inaction!

In the first of the controversial documents listed above, T-Mo applied for a declaratory ruling on 5/9/14 and received it on 12/18/14. Wow! What happened with the IEEE-USA similar request for a declaratory ruling filed on 7/1/13? It only deals with new technology in virgin bands and has never been opposed by anyone, when will it get resolved? While the Battelle petition for use of 102-109.5 GHz for fixed systems filed almost a year ago? They did not ask for Sec. 7 treatment and FCC has previously said you have to ask, but it should not take much analysis to show this is virgin spectrum and there is no threat to incumbents, so maybe int he spirit of the law timely action would be a good idea? How about the soon to retire Mitch Lazarus’ comments in the Wireless Innovation NOI - no FCC action in 4 years on the whole NOI - documenting the problems that innovators face in getting any action from FCC?

These backlogs in both new technology issues and emerging interference resolution show the real productivity shortfall at FCC as presently operating. I really doubt that FCC can increase its productivity to match the job at hand by “rearranging deck chairs”. In my comments to The House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year I proposed carefully increasing the delegations of authority under Part 0. This is not necessarily inconsistent with the concerns of Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly. I suggest that the 8th Floor try to sort pending classes of items into categories according to how much attention from presidential appointees and their staffs they need. Thus for nonpolitical items, the commissioners might function more like the Ofcom Board, setting policies for the staff to implement on a case by case basis on delegated authority subject to review. For more politically sensitive issues the commissioners could have primary jurisdiction.

The key issue is how to improve productivity for all the issues before FCC so that it matches the problems at hand. This issue is not a new one and it has been created over the past decade or 2. But it is very serious now and a simply restricting of delegated authority across the board will make things even worse.