In his first major speech as a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai on Wednesday proposed the creation of an office for expediting the reviews of new technologies and services. In the speech at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Commissioner Pai, a Republican who joined the FCC in May, accused his agency of moving too slowly and stifling growth in the communications industry.
In the speech at CMU also talked at length about Section 7 of the Communications Act, a section so rarely mentioned at FCC that your blogger was seriously wondering whether it was redacted from all copies of the Act at FCC. While ignored consistently at FCC, Section 7 has been a recurring topic on this blog and there are indications that Comm. Pai’s interest might have been influenced by the discussion here.
Here is Comm. Pai’s discussion of Section 7 in case you are rusty on the details:
Now, you might be wondering: What is Section 7 of the Communications Act? You’re not alone; many communications lawyers don’t know what it is.
Let me quote the important part of Section 7, the neglected stepchild of communications law: “The Commission shall determine whether any new technology or service proposed in a petition or application is in the public interest within one year after such petition or application is filed.”
Looking at that provision, the message from Congress is clear: The Commission should make the deployment of new technologies and new services a . a priority, resolving any concerns about them within a year.
Comm. Pai proposes a new “Office of Entrepreneurial Innovation” for FCC although he suggests that this might be done by transforming the present the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.
(I)f we create an Office of Entrepreneurial Innovation, shepherding proposals for new technologies or services through the FCC will become an institutional priority and send the right signals to the marketplace. Entrepreneurs need an advocate at the FCC—one that will hold us accountable if we delay, rather than decide. And if OEI succeeds in its mission, we will see faster innovation, greater investment, and more job creation.
Finally on more general spectrum policy issues, Comm. Pai says
When it comes to spectrum policy, I believe in an “all of the above” approach. Does the FCC need to make available more spectrum bands for wireless broadband? Yes. Do we need to reform the federal government’s management of its spectrum so that more can be made available for private-sector use? Yes. Does the FCC need to expedite its review of secondary market transactions? Yes. Is there a place for geographic spectrum sharing? Yes. Is there a place for unlicensed use? Yes. Do we need to do more to promote the efficient use of spectrum? The answer, again, is yes.
A virtuoso performance! However, many incumbents with good access to 8th Floor decision making probably don’t agree that innovation, other than their own innovation, is a great idea. During its heyday as the dominant mobile radio manufacturer, the old Motorola maintained its market hegemony in Part 90 (private land mobile) market by manipulating FCC rules to keep out innovation that would disrupt their market share out of the marketplace. Indeed, this is the very reason Section 7 was passed in 1983 after Motorola and its allies in the Part 90 user community derailed a new land mobile radio technology (ACSB) from a new entrant!
The speech ended with these impressive words,
Finally, the agenda that I have described today is a work in progress. This speech should be the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one. If you have thoughts on how the FCC can help accelerate economic growth and job creation, tell me. If you have a new idea for how the FCC can become more nimble, promote investment, or allocate additional spectrum for mobile broadband, let me know. Please do not hesitate to contact my office. We have an open-door policy, and we encourage you to take advantage of it. You can even reach out to me on Twitter; my handle is @ajitpaifcc. It doesn’t matter whether you represent a Fortune 500 company, a start-up with three employees, a public interest group, or just yourself. A good idea is a good idea, and I want to hear as many of them as possible.
Although our nation has been going through tough times these last few years, I am confident that our economy will rebound strongly, and that the ICT sector can help lead the way. We see a glimpse of that future here in Pittsburgh. And if we pursue the right policies in Washington, DC, we can remove barriers to investment and innovation and unleash a wave of economic growth and job creation all across the country. Working together, I know we can make it happen. Thank you very much.
As we approach the New Year, here are some constructive suggestions for the cellular industry to think about as New Year’s resolutions. Long time readers will recognize that many have been discussed before in other contexts. Let me state first that I am a long time admirer of the cellular industry, its dynamic growth, and its general record of technical innovation. The cellular industry has also done much to improve public safety through its support for E-911, Amber Alerts, and programs to provide cell phones for domestic violence victims. But this industry has several blind spots as it has accumulated political power and FCC influence comparable to the power formerly held by entities such as the pre-divestiture AT&T, NAB, or the pre-1990 Motorola. sic transit gloria mundi
The purpose of this post is to point out constructively some of these blind spots that appear not to be in basic conflict with the fundamental goals of the industry in the hope that they may reconsider their positions in at least some of these areas. I note that while the main cellular players once were in strong opposition to the bidirectional amplifier/BDA issues now in Docket 10-4, they have moderated their position and appear to be working with responsible BDA manufacturers on technical standards for BDAs that control interference. I hope that similar reexamination is possible in the areas below:
1. Wireless technology innovation. The focus of the cellular industry is that innovation is good, but that the key to innovation is more licensed spectrum for their industry. They are happy with the current level of regulation so everyone should be also. This is clear from CTIA’s comments and reply comments in the Wireless Innovation NOI. They see no need to expedite deliberations of new technology, saying “Simply put, even for good ideas with broad appeal, resolution unfortunately can take a long time notwithstanding the desire of parties to speed the process along”. The fact that the endless drawn out FCC spectrum deliberations stifle capital formation for technical innovators is no concern for mainstream CMRS players with positive cash flow.
But Qualcomm was once a startup in an era when it got its key regulatory decision in 2 years after formation. The CDMA technology that this startup pioneered supplies a major fraction of the 2G market (VZW and Sprint) and is the core of all world’s 3G systems. But this type of disruptive wireless innovation os getting to be impossible due to regulatory stagnation but for the cellular industry and for other spectrum users that compete for cross elastic spectrum. Sadly, the cellular industry is firm with the status quo here.
Wa - harmony (Japanese)
What is the industry doing about this? Are they trying to increase sidetone levels so people don’t shout when using cell phones? Are they trying to make it easier to switch the ringer to a vibrate only/ “manners mode” as in Japan where all carriers have voluntarily agreed that a press of the “#” key toggles the unit to and from vibrate only mode? Are they researching ways for theaters and restaurants where people really want a semblance of quiet to use Bluetooth or a similar link to switch phones automatically to vibrate only? Kudos to Motorola for inviting Dr. Norman to talk on this issue. How much of this type of dialogue is going on now in the industry?
Suggested reading for cellular industry managers: “Wild Night at Philharmonic After Phone Interruption” describing a January 10 incident “in one of the quietest parts of the final movement of a gorgeous New York Philharmonic performance of Mahler's Ninth”.
3. Cell phones use in vehicles. Technology should improve life, not threaten it. In September 2011 NTSB recommended a ban on cell phone use in commercial vehicles (trucks and buses) after investigation of a Kentucky crash that killed 11 people. The industry was silent except for an e-mail message to your blogger saying “The wireless industry … does not oppose legislation that restricts the use of wireless communication by drivers." (This quote was never printed or posted anywhere else as far as can be determined.)
Then in December 2011 NTSB recommended to “ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers”. This time CTIA was no longer silent, saying “ As far as talking on wireless devices while driving, we defer to state and local lawmakers and their constituents as to what they believe are the most appropriate laws where they live.” This is not leadership, this is non opposition. If I was involved in a product or service that resulted in death on a regular basis as an unintended byproduct I would be a lot more concerned. Especially since talking in cars is not the main use of cell phones.
The NTSB recommendations are not perfect. For example they do not deal with new technology since all NTSB can do is investigate past accidents. Why doesn’t the industry do something more proactive like start a standards committee, or encourage DOT to start one, that can certify which technologies are safe enough for use in vehicles?
(But kudos to Sprint for breaking with the crowd and being a cosponsor of Oprah’s Oprah’s No Phone Zone website and its “No Phone Zone Pledge”.)
4. RF safety. Most of the cellular industry thinks that the public should be happy with their statements that cellphones meet FCC standards and are therefore safe. A decade ago, the industry fought FCC over the proposal to stop hiding SAR ratings for cell phone models in an obscure unmanageable database. As a previous blog post here has as a headline, “CTIA: Maybe Your RF Safety PR Strategy Isn't Working?” The past year has seen CTIA boycott San Francisco and got to court (with an initial partial victory) over a local ordinance requiring point of sale disclosure of SAR data. (The same data that Verizon Wireless openly discloses on their website for models they sell.)
Perhaps the industry does not want you to know about the secret of OETB65C. Stalin once said, “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” So the SAR standards for cellphones in Sections 2.1091 and 2.1093 were subject to a notice and comment rulemaking that made 1.6 W/kg the SAR limit. But how is that really determined? In practice through the procedures of OETB65C which gives the manufacturers a lot of leeway as to what spacing from the simulated body they can use for measurements in the body, even if they do not provide a holder that would implement that distance and even if they don’t warn users not to put the device in their pocket. Both Time magazine and your blogger have written about this issue, but there seems denial at both FCC and industry on the issue.
There is no proof that cell phone radiation is dangerous. Indeed, some of the brain cancer claims made as clearly outrageous. (Considering there is no proof that cell phone radiation causes any pathology, why the focus on brain cancer - except that it is a very scary diagnosis.) But the web site of CTIA’s French counterpart is a lot more pragmatic than US industry sites on the risks and unknowns as well as the fact that some users may want to take extra precautions. The Swiss counterpart of EPA also has a site with pragmatic and practical information lacking in industry and government sites in the US.
Tip O’Neill said famously, “All politics is local”. As long as base station designs “look like they are designed by engineers” with no regards for their surroundings in most cases, the neighbors will object.
This month’s IEEE Spectrum reports on a UK design contest for power pylons sponsored by a major electric utility, a national government agency, and the architect’s professional society, which resulted in several novel designs including the one above. Why can’t the US cellular industry help sponsor a similar contest for bold new ideas in base station design? The cost would be small compared to what they are spending on they lobbying war with the broadcasters as present.
6. “Spectrum scoring” or “How to count to 500”. The cellular industry originally demanded 800 MHz of new spectrum for CMRS although they are now accepting of the 500MHz NBP goal. But what spectrum counts towards the 500 MHz goal? Does every single Hertz have to be only in spectrum that meets standards developed in Europe to be manufactured in China? There are many types of wireless innovation other than making iPhone and iPad clones. Some of them involve using spectrum more efficiently. The focus on meeting international standards means that only innovators who want to plow through the complex international standards process can get market access in the US. Actions like PacTel’s decision to go with CDMA in the 1980s apparently is beyond consideration now.
While your blogger has no views against giving more spectrum to CMRS, many of us think the 500 MHz goal is impossible under the conditions for “counting” that the cellular industry has implicitly set with factors like nationwide 24/7 1000 ms/s access and in 3GPP specified bands. Although LTE systems can use unpaired spectrum, most of the spectrum on their wish list appears to be paired and symmetric. If FCC and NTIA come up with spectrum that doesn’t that meets all these criteria, does it “count”?
But here is another viewpoint: Some niche markets compete for spectrum at FCC that is the same or comparable spectrum to what the cellular industry seeks. For example the medical community is clearly seeking more spectrum for short range applications. It is clear to many of us, even some in FCC, that the existing use of wireless microphones in UHF TV band “white space” is not sustainable in the long term except perhaps for uses involving only a few microphones like small churches and conference rooms - not theaters and major concerts. This is because of cellular industry pressure for UHF incentives auctions that will eventually tie up the same spectrum.
In the past, there was no alternative for the CMRS industry to serve these and other wireless niches. However, with the spectrum leasing provisions of Subpart X of Part 1 and today’s femtocell technology it is possible for cellular carriers to lease short range spectrum to users with other than standards cellular modulations/physical layers and without connection to the public network. A good example is the Qualcomm FlashLinq™ technology that will allow users to connect directly to each other with non standards modulations on spectrum leased from and under the control of a CMRS carrier. Maybe the specifics of FlashLinq™ are not perfect for the CMRS community, but it clearly shows the feasibility of new types of spectrum use in CMRS spectrum. Even if it is not a billion dollar market, its ability to “soak up” other spectrum uses that would otherwise compete for spectrum might make it attractive to openminded CMRS firms.
Until recently, the largest prepaid operator, TracFone, allowed users to activate a phone bought anonymously and “skip” the step to report name and address. However, the option of buying with cash bagfuls of prepaid phones at Walmart, activating them over the web with a false name and address, and selling them for criminal use is still quite real. Isn’t it odd that we more concerned about over-the-counter sales of Sudafed and Plan B than we are about bagfuls of anonymous cellphones?
Many countries require some identification before prepaid phones can be activated. This is a complex issue both because of the size of the market and the appeal of prepaid phones to market sectors who need them for legitimate economic and safety-related reasons but, as we know from the voter ID controversy, may lack or be unwilling to identify themselves in the standard ways. While I sincerely hope we never have a cellphone-related IED attack in this country, such an event would force a PATRIOT Act-like knee jerk reaction that could be more draconian that a deliberate process now to address the situation.
For those of you who wonder about the temerity of an industry outsider raising such questions about the cellular industry, let me point out the Verizon $2 “payment fee“/“convenience charge” kerfuffle that started just as this blog was first posted and ended a day later. Clearly, VZW, the largest cellular carrier in the US was out of touch with its customers on this issue and had to beat a hasty retreat. Perhaps the industry is also out of touch on the above issues?
On 1/7/12 CNN posted an article by bestselling author Bob Greene entitled “Is 2012 the year to hang up the phone?”
There is growing chorus of officials, employers urging less cell phone useHe says NTSB warns against use in cars; bosses pushing back on personal calls at workHe says cell-phone distractions even affect surgeons and nurses; cut productivityIt may be impossible to take people's freedom of cell use away from them
So your blogger is not the only one seeing cell phone use backlash. Perhaps if the industry was more sensitive to the concerns listed above it might be in their own interest?
“The current regulatory system has become a barrier to economic growth and job creation. Federal regulations cost our economy $1.75 trillion each year. Employers are rightly concerned about the costs these regulations will impose on their businesses. So they stop hiring, stop spending and start saving for a bill from Big Brother. But rather than burdening businesses with more regulations, we need to free up employers so they can create jobs for American workers. The Regulatory Accountability Act does just that. It places permanent restrictions on regulatory agencies and restores accountability by requiring openness and transparency in the regulatory process. This is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that both parties, both houses of Congress and the President should support.”
The CRS summary of RAA states,
“Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011 - Amends the Administrative Procedure Act to revise and expand the requirements for federal agency rulemaking by requiring agencies, in making a rule, to base all preliminary and final determinations on evidence and to consider the legal authority under which the rule may be proposed, the specific nature and significance of the problem the agency may address with the rule, any reasonable alternatives for the rule, and the potential costs and benefits associated with such alternatives.
Requires agencies to publish advance notice of proposed rulemaking for major rules and for high-impact rules (rules having an annual cost on the economy of $100 million or $1 billion or more, respectively), which shall include a written statement identifying the nature and significance of the problem the agency may address with a rule, the legal authority under which the rule may be proposed, and a solicitation for written data and comments from interested persons.
Sets forth criteria for issuing major guidance (agency guidance that is likely to lead to an annual cost on the economy of $100 million or more, a major increase in cost or prices, or significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or ability to compete).
Expands the scope of judicial review of agency rulemaking by allowing immediate review of rulemaking not in compliance with notice requirements and establishing a substantial evidence standard for affirming agency rulemaking decisions.
Thus the basic presumption of RAA is that ALL federal regulations add new burdens on industry and that Congress needs to make a major change to the 1946 Administrative Procedures Act to slow new regulations. While this is certainly true for many regulations from many agencies and also the reason why EPA is called by some the “employment prevention agency”, new FCC Title III technical regulations almost always have the impact of allowing for the first time new technologies and new products and contributing to economic growth and national competitiveness.
RAA would subject FCC to the provisions of Clinton-era EO 12866 including OMB review of new rules. It would also expands the grounds for judicial review - another sure way to slow down innovation.
In the Wireless Innovation NOI, the speed of FCC deliberations was raised as an impediment to technical innovation and the capital formation that it needs. Mitchell Lazarus, a well known lawyer who often is involved in innovative wireless technologies stated in his personal comments,
“The Commission's Rules are based largely on the technologies in place when they were written. New radio-based technologies often fail to satisfy those rules. The more novel an innovation, the less likely it is to comply. In consequence, a new wireless technology may need a Commission rulemaking or a waiver before it can reach the market. Technical proceedings in general, including those to authorize new technologies, have been dismayingly slow”
Lazarus ends with the recommendation that to speed wireless innovation FCC should have an exemption from the Administrative Procedures Act burdens that have accumulation in 65 years of case law and only be bound by the original statutory provisions. The RAA is above in the opposite direction and may well worsen the existing gridlock on innovative technology. Perhaps the provisions of RAA would be helpful at most other agencies and maybe even in much of FCC’s jurisdiction. But their application to technical Title III rule makings at FCC could have a disastrous implication for technical innovation and national competitiveness.
Of course, broadcast and cellular incumbents are the “haves” today and might welcome a slowdown in technical innovation that might encroach on their spectrum. Readers who think this might be reasonable are encouraged to read the previous blog entry about Ofcom’s CEO’s views on innovation and its impact.
But to say something good about RAA, § 553(f)(2) has the following provision that could help consideration of technical issues at FCC:‘‘The agency shall adopt a rule only on the basis of the best reasonably obtainable scientific, technical, economic, and other evidence and information concerning the need for, consequences of, and alternatives to the rule.” Of course, NTIA is subject to similar terms under existing Executive Branch policy on scientific integrity and it is not clear if they have had much impact there.
On the question of why wealth is not creating new jobs, Ryan stated the causes were
(U)ncertainty on taxes, uncertainty on regulation, uncertainty on debt, and therefore borrowing costs, interest rates and things like that. there is so much government induced uncertainty that it is putting a massive chilling effect on growth. I think that is something we can fix. That is something we can be focusing on as public policy leaders to fix one of the sources of instability, of uncertainty, of one of the depressors of economic growth. (0:50 - 1:26)
Businesses need to have to have some degree of certainty if they are going to plan and take a risk. We want to encourage risk taking. We want to encourage people to take their capital and put it to work, not put it in a bank, not put it in a bond, put it in a factory, put it in a business plan that increases employment. (1:50 - 2:10)
Similarly, the FCC’s longstanding de facto policy of indecision and delay on deliberations on new spectrum policy or whether new technology would cause ”harmful interference” on incumbent licensees results in huge regulatory uncertainty for capital formation in innovative wireless technology. Coupled to this is the Commission’s continual denial that Section 7 is part of the “law of the land”, a repeated topic on this blog. (Section 7 is not a perfect piece of legislation. But if the Commission feels it is unworkable as written, the proper procedure is to request repeal or modification -- not ignore it.)
Wireless R&D is not the only thing a tech savvy investor can invest in. There are less regulated fields like semiconductors, display technology, energy technology, and even biotech - many investors would prefer FDA-regulated technology over FCC-regulated wireless technology because FDA despite its many problems is more transparent that FCC Title III technical regulation! FCC uncertainty and delay adds to other investment risks and may make wireless technology R&D too risky for any rational investor.
While this discussion focuses on technological innovators and incumbents are sitting “fat and happy” with their ability to delay and tilt FCC new technology deliberations in their favor, they also face a risk that capital markets might someday realize that the huge value of their Title III licenses depends on the “metes and bounds” of these assets and in the present nontransparent system this raises regulatory uncertainty for the incumbents and hence increase investment risk. Increased transparency may be more credible to investors than K Street law firms on retainer to defend against innovators.