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.




Some Spectrum Policy Issues Are Not Economic But Really Life or Death Ones

I recall that during the last few years of my tenure at the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology there was a major flap between OET and another major FCC bureau/office when a senior OET front office staffer said to the deputy chief of that organization during a discussion about a spectrum policy issue , "I don't see why you think this is so important, all we are doing here is economic regulation". (The person who said this no longer works at FCC, although this statement was not the direct cause.) The person from the other bureau/office was furious at this remark and it took a major management effort to deescalate the inter-organizational awkwardness after this exchange.

But the statement was a learning experience.
Much of what FCC does is really "economic regulation":
  • it affects how much income licensees and regulated entities such as carriers can earn,
  • it affects the division of spectrum among industries which indirectly affects their profitability,
  • it deals with who can own certain types of licenses and how many of those licenses they can own,
  • it affect inter service interference which also affect profitability, etc.
But without try to be overdramatic, there are also some spectrum policy decisions at FCC literally affect matters of life or death. The original purposes of the Commission are give in § 1 of the Communications Act:

For the purpose of regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio so as to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges, for the purpose of the national defense, for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications, and for the purpose of securing a more effective execution of this policy by centralizing authority heretofore granted by law to several agencies and by granting additional authority with respect to interstate and foreign commerce in wire and radio communication, there is created a commission to be known as the "Federal Communications Commission", which shall be constituted as hereinafter provided, and which shall execute and enforce the provisions of this chapter.


So safety issues should be deep in FCC's DNA. The creation of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau on 9/25/2006 was a positive attempt to get public safety issues away from the main industry focused bureaus of FCC that in many respects like most regulators were captured to some degree by the commercial entities they regulate. Hence WTB was really unable to resolve the long standing NEXTEL/public safety interference issue of the late 1990s and it was only resolved when Nextel came in with a "deal" that public safety entities were willing to agree with - whether or not it was really in the public interest.

(There is an oral tradition in the FCC staff that an engineer of WTB's predecessor was concerned about the possibility of such interference and pressed for protection of public safety as a condition of the original Nextel waiver that permitted their Part 90 licenses to be used for cellular-like technology. However, this was overruled by higher level managers who were focused on the issue of increasing competition in the cellular industry. Hopefully with the creation of PSHSB such decisions will not be so one-sided in favor of commercial interests.)

But there are a few ongoing spectrum policy issues that are really related to life or death issues and that the Commission is not resolving expeditiously. Here are some of them:

Texting & driving. CDC states "Each day in the United States, over 8 people are killed and 1,161 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver." While FCC has a webpage entitled "The Dangers of Texting While Driving" and another entitled "Distracted Driving", what is it really doing to decrease the number of deaths associated with this use of FCC licensed technology? Is FCC really paying more attention to CTIA's desires on this issue than on the overall public safety issue? How often are senior FCC officials talking about the death toll resulting from this misuse of radio technology? FCC held a "Distracted Driving Technology Showcase" in April 2013. What has been the progress of implementation of such technology on either a voluntary or mandatory basis? NYTimes recently had a discussion on this issue, but is FCC actually doing anything?




Capt. Robert Johnson (Ret.) SCDC, shot 6 times
as a result of an order given over a contraband
cellphone, with Gov. Haley & Comm. Pai.

Pai-Johnson SC

Use of contraband cellphones in prisons. This is the subject of Docket 13-111. Note the first 2 digits are "13" indicating that this NPRM was issued in 2013, actually 3 years ago this week. But this NPRM was in turn based in part on a petition filed by the South Carolina Department of Corrections in July 2009 which was never even put out for public comment. (This explains why the NPRM cryptically refers to the SCDC petition by the mysterious code "PRM09WT" rather than the usual RM number.) But the CTIA-favored approach of "managed access" and continuing the absolute prohibition of any jamming by nonfederal users is basing all progress on a quixotic technology. Meanwhile real people die as a result of crimes ordered by incarcerated criminals. Can't FCC give the cellular industry a date certain to show whether managed access under their preferred approach and conditions is an adequate solution for this life or death issue?

Aviation Tower Marking and Lighting Enforcement: One of the more bizarre statements in the nearly $1M study FCC ordered to justify downsizing field enforcement that has never been formally released (but a leaked version was first made available on this blog) is shown below:
EB-Consultant-on-towers
Since tower inspection compliance is good, it can be cut back significantly the consultants reason. But tower lighting and marking issues are different than most other FCC compliance issues like frequency and power regulation. As the Coinjock NC helicopter crash incident dramatically showed major screwup can result in multiple deaths. This different than interference which is typical of most Title III technical violations.

Instrument Landing System (ILS)

ILS

FM Pirate Interference to Aircraft Navigation: As we have written previously, the FAA's Instrument Landing System has its "localizer" (left/right determination) signal just above the FM broadcast band. ILS receivers have some sensitivity to interference resulting from overloads of two signals that have a certain relationship to the ILS channel used at a given airport and another local FM station. In normal FM licensing this is considered and the threatening frequency is not allowed near an airport. But illegal FM stations do not go through normal licensing! And if the mathematical relationship with another FM station and the ILS frequency is correct, not much power is needed to create interference if the other FM station has a strong signal near the airport. So downsizing enforcement without leaving an alternative mechanism to address this issue is an invitation to aviation safety issues.

Public Safety Interoperability: The January 13, 1982 Air Florida crash in the Potomac River was the beginning of a national dialogue on public safety interoperability. The 9/11 tragedy was another milestone.

There have been improvements since 1982, but has it really been adequate. Now there are a lot of agencies involved in this area and Congress has had a key role in starting FirstNet. But FirstNet is not going to make a big dent in the basic problem for this is what its website says:

FirstNet will enhance public safety communications by delivering mission-critical data and applications that augment the voice capabilities of today’s land mobile radio (LMR) networksWhen the FirstNet network is initially deployed, it will provide mission-critical, high-speed data services to supplement the voice capabilities of today’s LMR networks.


So while the broadband capabilities of FirstNet will be interoperable, today's land mobile radio networks in a myriad of bands will be around for the foreseeable future and will continue to serve as a Tower of Babel as in 1982. Does FCC even talk about this issue?

Basic Problem


Most FCC decision do not involve safety issues and they are basically "economic regulation" in the terms of my former colleague. Thus FCC is structured to deal with such issues.

The few issues that are really matters of life and death do not easily fit into this framework and theus don't get the attention they deserve. The FCC's inability to resolve the issues in Docket 13-111 is a classic ongoing example of this problem. Will FCC ever give the cellular establishment a firm time limit for implementing their preferred solution or will people just continue to die because of this ongoing problem? There are other solutions besides the quixotic "managed access". FCC has moved heaven and earth to meet cellular industry spectrum demands for 4G and 5G, when will the industry either act to decrease the prison contraband problem or stop blocking other solutions?

Comments

FCC's 1980's Flint-like Lead Issue

Flint
The frequent news stories on all media on the lead crisis of Flint MI and apparent indifference throughout many layers of government reminded me of an old issue at FCC in the 1980's under FCC's first Managing Director, Ed Minkel. Now I must admit that I have mixed feelings about Ed, especially since he signed the letter that was an attempt to finalize my dismissal from FCC. (The letter is dated 12/29/86, but I was told of this plan a few weeks before the 5/9/85 Commission meeting that adopted the unlicensed ISM band rules in Docket 81-413 that are the basis of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and a lot of other products.)

A reliable source in the Office of the Managing Director, knowing that I was the victim of their bosses' efforts, told me in the mid 1980 that FCC tested the lead levels in water coolers in its various buildings near the corner of 20th and M St., NW and found that the lead levels in the main FCC building at 1919 M St. exceeded a new EPA regulation that would be going into effect.

What did FCC do?

  • Provide lead free water to all staff members?
  • At least provide it to all pregnant staff members?
  • Advise the staff of the issue so they could make their own decisions?

lead-health-effects1

The Office of the Managing Director management swore their staff to secrecy on this issue and proceeded to make repairs to get the lead level down to EPA standards before the new regulations went into effect. Did the Chairman know? Possibly. Did the commissioners know? Probably not.

So you may ask, isn't some level of lead exposure for a small time safe? Here's what EPA says:

Lead-EPA

This type of cynical attitude towards the FCC staff has been part of FCC's DNA going back decades. While I did not necessarily agree with all of Chmn. Powell's telecom policy positions, he was a welcome breath of fresh air. For example, he restored a reasonable training budget for the FCC staff as a whole, not just a few elite senior staffers and reinstated the master's degree program for Commission engineers that had been unfunded for over two decades.

I suspect because Powell had been a junior military officer and had grown up in a military family he understood the importance of motivating staffers and
earning their respect. Most other chairmen in memory came from small organizations and lacked management experience in a 2000 person organization. Typically the chair and commissioners are focused on getting as much done as possible during their terms with little concern about the infrastructure of the organization including its staff. But I must admit that the lead coverup of the 1980s was a new low in FCC mistreatment of its staff.

Comments

Foreign Research on Spectrum Frontiers That FCC and NTIA Block Access To

THz-Wireless-art

This week Wireless & RF magazine published the above article on terahertz (THz) technology R&D in Japan. While we do not necessarily believe it is now time to sell your Corning stock because fiber optic telecom is doomed, this clearly demonstrates continuing foreign interest in technology that FCC is at best apathetic about and which NTIA has allowed certain IRAC members to discourage.

While the major regulatees who routinely show up on the FCC's 8th Floor have little interest in these frequencies, these same corporations and trade association also showed little interest in Docket 81-413 that ultimately spawned Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and Docket 94-124 that stimulated the R&D that showed the surprising result that mmWave/"spectrum frontier" mobile systems were practical. Thus FCC's mainstream spectrum regulatees can sometimes be myopic and sometimes have "crystal ball" problems.

Lest you think that this article about 275+ GHz technology in Japan is isolated, here is a quote from an ETSI report last year:

“With respect to the aforementioned, the mission of ETSI ISG mWT is to promote the use of millimetre wave spectrum from 50 GHz up to 300 GHz for present and future critical transmission applications and use cases. Moreover, ETSI ISG mWT will focus on enhancing the confidence of all stakeholders and the general public in the use of millimetre wave technologies.”


Here are several other article on foreign R&D above FCC present 95 GHz service rule limit and 275 GHz allocation limit:

  • Japanese 120 GHz system used at Beijing Olympics
  • Japanese 72-100 GHz components
  • Japanese 300 GHz receiver — Note that this article indicates that "A portion of these research results were obtained through 'R&D Program on Multi-tens Gigabit Wireless Communication Technology at Subterahertz Frequencies,' a research program commissioned by Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications as part of its 'Research and Development Project for Expansion of Radio Spectrum Resources.' " This confirms direct involvement of the Japanese regulator as part of its "industrial policy" program.
  • German 237 GHz outdoor experiment - Note that the authors of this experiment have never revealed the exact upper and lower frequency limits of their transmissions and it is likely that it intruded into a passive allocation. Certain IRAC members routinely try to block such experiments regardless of whether they actually impact passive spectrum use and NTIA has not been assertive in overview of such actions.

FCC is moving ahead on Docket 14-177 on "spectrum frontier" mobile use in 28-71 GHz and that is not an issue here. The problem is that FCC has turned its "blind eye" to all other "spectrum frontier" issues while our foreign competitors are marching full speed ahead.

It gets worse! Google "terahertz spectroscopy" and you will see that there are US made products now being sold above 95 GHz for noncommunications use. A careful parsing of §302a and §2.803 of the FCC Rules reveals that the sale of such equipment is presently legal, however the use of such equipment appears to be a violation of §301 since there are no licensed or unlicensed service rules at these frequencies. The manufacturers of such equipment presently have little concern since EB is easily distracted by other mood swings and is laying off much of its field staff. But sooner or later that will need capital access and will discover what "due diligence" means! Denying such firms capital access will not help US competitiveness. FCC outreach to them will! Do you have to presently be a multibillion dollar industry to get FCC attention? We certainly can recall when Wi-Fi was a tiny industry.

Isn't it time for FCC to pay some attention to upper spectrum especially since 275+GHz allocations are on the WRC-19 agenda?
Comments

@FCC Makes Unforced Error on History of Unlicensed

FCC-tweet-41

At 12:06 PM on April 1, 2016 the official FCC Twitter account, @FCC, sent out the above tweet as part of "Spectrum101: Great Moments in Spectrum History". It has now been deleted, possibly because I responded to this tweet with the statement that while the unlicensed ISM band that is home to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (and many other devices) began in May 1985, unlicensed spectrum has been around since 1938 although it is not explicitly authorized in the Communications Act of 1934. Hopefully, some readers here are old enough to remember that cordless phones predate 1985. (If you can't remember this, ask your parents.)

The video below shows the FCC's May 1985 decision and may explain why I remember it so clearly:



Former FCC staffer Kenneth Carter explained the
actual history of unlicensed in a 2009 paper titled "Unlicensed to kill: a brief history of the Part 15 rules". Ken wrote:

In 1938, shortly after its founding, the FCC first permitted unlicensed devices to be sold and operated without a license. The Part 15 rules stem from what is possibly an oversight offundamental physical phenomenon by the Communications Act of 1934. Congress had intended to treat the regulation of spectrum in the way in which we traditionally think of it. Namely, the FCC was to award rights through licensing discrete individual entities, including such as radio broadcasters, the military, and the alike. This, however, failed to recognize two facts. First, that nearly all devices that employ electricity leak or reradiate electromagnetic energy, albeit at very low power levels. Second, also at this time, radio device manufacturers started introduce short range, low duty cycle communication devices which operated employing low levels of energy over very short distances[8]. As a result, the FCC set about to promulgate rules to manage such devices based on the jurisprudence that if RF emissions that were sufficiently weak and short ranged so as to not be considered measurable, they would, therefore, not rise to the level of harmful interference. This was explained by then-FCC Chief Engineer, Ewell Jett in 1938:

"What we are concerned with immediately is the problem of interference. If certain low power devices can be used without interfering with radio communications, there would appear to be no engineering reason for suppressing their use. (Footnotes omitted)


What is the difference between 1938 style unlicensed spectrum and post 1985 style? The original unlicensed rules allowed only specific functionality in a specific band requested by a petitioner. This band could be used by cordless phones, this for garage door openers. Always with very low power. Have a new possible use? File a petition and wait!

The Docket 81-413 regime adopted in 1985 set forth some technical requirements and allowed much higher power. It did not restrict the type of use. Thus while the rulemaking never mentioned radio LANs, when they became important in the late 1980s the RLAN proponents used the Docket 81-413 unlicensed regime to get access to the ISM bands quickly without nonroutine FCC action. True "permissionless innovation" before the term was invented!

Another garble in the this short length (and short lived tweet) is the use of "allocating" as the 5th word. All real spectrum wonks know that unlicensed is not an allocation, rather it is a permitted secondary use on an NIB (noninterference basis). Why there were so many garbles in such a short tweet is puzzling and raises questions of FCC as an "expert agency in spectrum".

Or maybe we should have read the date more carefully? However the other "#Spectrum101" tweets the same day seemed correct.

Our fellow bloggers at CommLawBlog on the same day as this tweet had an April Fools post entitled "Looking for Improved Public Image, FCC Reorganizes Office of Media Relations". After reading both the tweet and the CommLawBlog post, it is hard to tell which is real!

Comments

Spectrum Frontiers Workshop:
Topics Covered and Avoided




On March 10, 2016 FCC held a workshop entitled "Workshop and Tech Demonstration on Spectrum Frontiers and Technological Developments in the Millimeter Wave Bands". The original announcement clarified this a little by saying "exploring the concepts raised in the Commission’s Spectrum Frontiers NPRM and the state of technological developments in the millimeter wave (mmW) bands". The video of the workshop is now available on the FCC's website.

But while the "state of technological developments in the millimeter wave (mmW) bands" was promised, it reality only mobile 5G mmW technology was discussed along with some other 5G issues.
Numerous times numerous speakers mentioned "500 MHz" - the goal for reallocation of spectrum to cellular at lower bands. There was't even any discussion of mmW-based backhaul for cellular with the implicit assumption that fiber would miraculously be available for high capacity mmW base stations. (While fiber is the cheapest medium for high bandwidth communications based on equipment costs and while FCC is pushing "dig once" policies, the reality is that fiber is not always everywhere. New fiber installation can be extremely expensive if the costs are not shared with other users or if needed quickly for base station installation. Indeed the term "self-backhaul" is used in Europe for the potential of doing some backhaul in the same band as mobile links was never even mentioned! (Self-backhaul would not be feasible in lower bands but is plausible due to the small wavelengths and high directionality of small antennas at mmW.)

But while "500 MHz" was an allowed diversion of the discussion,
any use of spectrum above 71 GHz was not. Contact with several speakers revealed that they were urged to stick to the 5G agenda and not even mention any other topics. So while the mention of "500 MHz" and lower 5G bands was acceptable and the presence of Starry, Inc and FirstNet with totally unrelated topics was acceptable, any mention of fixed use - even for cellular backhaul and any mention of the FCC 95 GHz wall appears to have been verboten! Indeed, nothing was even mentioned above the 71 GHz limit in the Docket 14-177 NPRM. The last panel of federal speakers seemed to focus on either general issues or issues that related mainly to cellular spectrum under 6 GHz.

FCC95GHzWall
Present FCC rules have no provisions for licensed or unlicensed above 95 GHz and petitions for such move at a glacial pace while other countries subsidize such R&D


But as we have mentioned previously FCC's barrier to innovation at 95 GHz is quite real. The FCC's inaction on Battelle's RM-11713 102-109.5 GHz petition as well as the IEEE-USA request for a declaratory ruling (Docket 13-259) above on whether technology above 95 GHz is "new technology". (Not to mention the 2.5 years it took for FCC to untangle its apparently unintended wording in the revised Part 5 rules that forbid all experiments in passive bands (which are numerous in the mmW region) regardless of whether the nature of the experiment posed an actual interference threat to passive users.)

While we do not begrudge CTIA members access to mobile spectrum up to 71 GHz or even higher, does CTIA and its wishes like Donald Trump "suck all the oxygen out of the room"? We acknowledge that FCC has a spectrum policy productivity problem, but if that is the issue shouldn't FCC also acknowledge it and show what impact it is having on US competitiveness?

The basic reason why 5G mmW technology is even here now is that FCC took visionary action in 1995 in Docket 94-124 creating the first 60 GHz unlicensed band in the world and in 2003 in Docket 02-148 establishing the world's first 70/80/90 GHz bands just as it took action in 1985 creating the unlicensed ISM bands that are now home to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and myriad other systems that have changed our world. When FCC took these three decisions they were not in response to major trade association like CTIA, indeed, some trade associations, including CEA/CTA's predecessor, actually opposed the 1985 decision.

It was because FCC stayed true to its original §303(g) mandate and had the confidence to prepare for the future — not spend all of its resources reacting to requests for instant gratification from powerful groups.

Status of IEEE-USA Petition at FCC

Comments