In searching through some old photos your blogger found the above picture of the “Comm Room”, the 24/7 command post of Enforcement Bureau’s predecessor, FOB. The photo is dated 1994 and is at the former 1919 M St., NW location of FCC. Your blogger is showing around some visitors from the FCC’s Japanese counterpart and was not responsible for the operation of this facility - rather at this time during his “exile” resulting from the 1985 Wi-Fi decision when he was responsible for new technology to support spectrum enforcement work.
What was interesting to note is the “BUSTED” sign showing 27 pirate radio operations that had been closed down in recent months as part of a friendly contest between the enforcement regions. Pirates often operate at night and on weekends and overtime is needed to chase them. Travels costs of also needed in many cases. Is FCC interested in chasing and closing, let alone prosecuting, private radio station these days? It does not appear that they are!
Briefing on FCC Consultant Report
on Spectrum Enforcement Downsizing
Chicago Fire? Who would think of a direct comparison of such costs to office-based employees.
Of course, slide 2 of the briefing shown above shows that EB had already made spectrum enforcement its 4th and lowest priority before they even considered downsizing:
Slide 2 from briefing on consultant report
The report finds that “only 40% of Field time address RF spectrum enforcement” - Slide 11. Did they ever ask firemen how much time they spent actually putting out fires?
The report envisions “Equipment that meets the needs of the Field to resolve matters timely and efficiently” - Slide 18. Do the authors and the Commission realize that technical equipment - for both enforcement and the OET Lab - historically has been an afterthought in FCC budgeting? The pending FY 2016 budget request, before Congress no doubt cuts it, calls for $121,920 for OET and $167,132 for EB in equipment purchases. While some extra money is usually added just before the end of each fiscal year, such last minute spending is severely restricted due to procurement issues and certainly does not allow for equipment customized for FCC enforcement. Look at the current Keysight (formerly Agilent/H-P) website prices and you will see that this type of money doesn’t go very far. (If FCC buys equipment that DoD is buying in large quantities, then the price might be 30% less by “riding the contract”. But this then limits equipment selection choices.)
How much money has EB been spending to develop new spectrum enforcement techniques? How much does it plan to spend if the downsizing is approved? It is ironic that when I worked in the old FOB it received funding from other agencies for special shortwave monitoring such as surveillance of Soviet jamming of Voice of America. This funding was then used to develop new technical enforcement methods of value to both FCC enforcement and the sponsoring agency. However, with the creation of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, the short wave mission was split from EB and hence that source of money for technique development dried up.
With such a tiny budget how practical are “beneficial partnerships”? Should the real focus be “mobility solutions”? In the real world there are a lot of interference complains to public safety that are very intermittent but very troubling. The circa 1991 case at Roanoke VA airport comes to mind as a individual used a VHF aeronautical radio to give orders to aircraft while they approached the airport late at night every few days. The key to solving such cases is to collect data verify the presence of the illegal emissions and to start narrowing down the location of the source. Many of these initial reports of interference turn out to be false due to equipment malfunctions, unusual radio propagation, or operator confusion. So the ability to get equipment to an area quickly and leave it there under remote control is important for both confirmation and data collection on approximate location area and technical characteristics of the interference source that can be used for evidence uncivil or criminal enforcement. (We note that its has been more than a decade since EB has been involved in any criminal prosecutions related to spectrum enforcement - perhaps consistent with the low priority above.) Sending multiple people to do the final tracking is not cost-effective unless you are certain the problem is real, know the modus operandi and typical times of occurrence, and have evidence that can be used in enforcement actions to document illegal transmissions.
The study correctly noted that broadcaster public files are now online - meaning that onsite inspections of such files are not needed. Actually over the years, many field functions have been eliminated or moved to other parties including amateur license exams and most ship inspections. This generally has been done with legislation. Oddly, the study feels tower lighting and marking inspections are no longer important. While it unclear why Congress ever tasked FCC with enforcing tower marking and lighting on FCC licensed antennas - in most other countries the FAA-equivalent has this jurisdiction - compliance
Consider the Coinjock NC helicopter crash into a new unlit tower that killed 2 people. This results in a $1M payment to the federal government that was the largest FCC penalty ever at the time!
FCC spectrum enforcement has some major problems, but a preemptive slashing of resources is not the solution. More dialogue with the spectrum users is needed. Possibly more enforcement functions can be privatized, but this will require consensus building and new legislation.
Your blogger was active in investigating and prosecuting the satellite jamming incidents of the 1980s. At that time it became clear that there was a long term technical solution to locate satellite interference sources in real time but that the resources needed to implement it was beyond what FCC could ever afford. The former FOB sponsored a multi month dialogue between researchers in this technology and satellite owners and encouraged private funding of the appropriate technology’s development and private operation when it proved successful. This technology is now implemented in the private sector and intentional and unintentional satellite interference is handled routinely without FCC intervention. In some areas, similar privatization may decrease the need for FCC resources, but this $750,000 contractor study does not address this type of issue at all.
Wheeler Maintaining 'Field Presence' in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico http://t.co/fuNEHyVYBR— Communications Daily (@Comm_Daily) June 5, 2015
As this was being drafted, Communications Daily broke the above news that FCC will maintain a spectrum enforcement “presence” in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Whether that presence will be one person is not clear. This change indicates how poorly the original plan was thought out!
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A breaking news item today is an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector Generals on how well the Transportation Security Agency is doing its statutory mission with respect to passenger screening. The acting head of TSA has already been replaced.
The FCC IG has the exact same statutory mission as the DHS IG.
The law does not differentiate between IGs appointed by the President, mainly Executive Branch IGs, and IGs appointed by some independent agencies. The mission and responsibilities are exactly the same! Yet historically the FCC IG has been content to look at petty malfeasance by junior FCC staffers and USF fraud. Whether the FCC is doing its job seems to be “beyond his pay grade”. Perhaps this is because all FCC IGs have been FCC insiders - perhaps known to the 8th floor not to be “too inquisitive”.
We are now in the middle of a proposed major downsizing of the FCC’s spectrum enforcement operation. A $750,000 outside study apparently found that spectrum enforcement was “inefficient” and morale was terrible. Did any findings in this area come for the FCC IG? Of course not! Look at the most recent FCC IG semiannual report. Other than a series of USF-related fraud issues, the only investigation disclosed specifically is the following:
FCC Employee Time and Attendance Fraud: Substantial Overtime
An employee was alleged to have committed time and attendance fraud including improperly claiming overtime pay, working fewer hours than their tour of duty required, and spending considerable time while on official duty selling personal products. According to the data reviewed by OI Internal Affairs, the employee failed to complete a full tour of duty 72 out of the 78 days or 92% of the time. In addition, forensic review of digital evidence did not substantiate the other claims of inappropriate activity while on official government time. The matter was referred to Bureau management for disciplinary action as deemed appropriate.
Look at the reports the FCC IG has released. Most deal with USF-related issues although two deal with FCC security issues. In efficiency of spectrum enforcement operations? Excessive delays in dealing with petitions files at FCC? Compliance with § 7 of the Comm Act? No time for those issues.
A credible IG would make FCC more credible.
The FCC IG is reportedly investigating now the procedures involved in the Net Neutrality decision. Given his track record, will anyone believe his report?
Charter Communications expected to acquire Time Warner Cable in $55 billion deal http://t.co/jzM3wSG7NQ— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) May 25, 2015
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:
- Wireless Innovation NOI - Docket 09-157 (8/27/09)
- 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!)
- FWCC 42 GHz petition (5/9/12)
- Issue of interference from FM broadcast stations to 700 MHz LTE cellular base stations apparently resulting from a conflict between cellular rules and broadcasting rules (Since FCC has never acknowledged this issue, we will give it a date of 2 years ago)
- 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:
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.
"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.