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.

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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More Signs of Low FCC Throughput on Spectrum Policy

Readers may recall the discussion here of your blogger's 2015 paper for the Telecommunication Policy Research Conference on "Does Today's FCC Have Sufficient Decision Making Throughput to Handle the 21st Century Spectrum Policy Workload?". It gave a selection of examples of noncontroversial topics that went at glacial pace and thus slowed own technological progress in radio technology . A real fear is that an unintended byproduct of "process reform" at FCC is that noncontroversial spectrum policy issues might even become slower!

The Commission has broad general power to delegate issues to its staff subject to oversight and review but the specific delegations listed in Part 0, Subpart B of the Commission's Rules probably haven't been updated in decades. Under the previous chairman there were accusations that existing delegations were abused to deprive the other commissioners, especially those of the minority party, of their "right to vote". Note that these accusation did not deal with any matters even vaguely related to the example in the TPRC paper above. We have urged a complete and thorough review of delegations along with better guidance from the Commission for the staff on general policies for handling technical spectrum policy issues that are uncontroversial.

In the previous blog post here we discussed 2 bad signs of slowness and resource limits in spectrum policy. Here are some more:

  • On the agenda for the May 2017 commission meeting is an item identified as "Part 95 Reform". This is a report and order in Docket 10-119. Didn't that begin in 2010 judging from the Docket number? A quick review of EDOCS gives the result below:

10-119

There has been no FCC activity in this docket since the NPRM was adopted almost 7 years ago! A review of the comment files show some recent ex parte meetings but not a lot of controversy. Where has this rulemaking been for the past 7 years? We suspect that the 8th Floor and the WTB top leadership are so focused in net neutrality and 5G issues that other issues just get ignored. This is consistent with a contact I had with a WTB middle manager on how they might proceed with a new spectrum issue related to drones that a potential client was interested in. The middle manager said that the WTB front office had little or no interest in ANY issue that was not cellular! So the drone spectrum policy issue would probably just linger without action as all drone spectrum issues have to date.

  • Another issue moving at glacial pace is Docket 13-39, an update of the FCC's RF safety rules. This is both more controversial and more significant. While traveling recently I had dinner with a fellow FCC retiree. He recently wrote me about this rulemaking saying "I started working on that project in 2003, 14 years ago!! It may outlive me!" While this rulemaking has some controversy, as indicated in our comments in the vital Wireless Infrastructure rulemaking, Docket 17-79, it is a key factor to facilitate the rapid implementation of new infrastructure. A recurring problem with local governments is whether new cell sites are safe. Pointing to rules adopted decades ago without much real updating is not very credible. So why can't FCC resolve it in time? The pending downsizing of EPA could have a real impact here since FCC and EPA share jurisdiction in this area and EPA has provided technical support on proper safety limits and how to measure them. After EPA is downsized, this rulemaking will become more difficult!

So we urge the FCC top leadership to review the overall throughput issue of FCC on spectrum policy issue and consider delegating more issues the commissioners are not personally interested in to the staff subject to policy guidelines and safeguards. This is what Ofcom does and while Ofcom's guidelines to its staff are not public, I suspect the FCC commissioners could ask Ofcom for a better understanding of how they manage their process and a few examples of guidelines for staff action.

The current FCC spectrum policy throughput problem was not created by the current chairman or his predecessor, but has built up over a decade or two. It is now time to start solving it, especially since Chmn. Pai is committed to Section 7 compliance for the first time.
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