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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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