Tales of the Sausage Factory

The FCC Starts Its Wireless Microphone Investigation. Will Broadcasters Throw Broadway Under A Bus?

The FCC has just released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing the problem of wireless microphone operations in the 700 MHz Band and how it may screw up the introduction of new public safety and commercial wireless services. It basically proposes to adopt the recommendations we made to prohibit any future manufacture, sale or importation of wireless microphones that operate on the relevant 700 MHz frequencies, and prohibit operation on those bands after the DTV transition in February.

Along the way, the Commission asks for comment on our informal complaint and Petition for Rulemaking. Oh yes, and the NPRM also announced that the Enforcement Bureau has commenced an investigation into the wireless microphone manufacturers and their sales tactics.

I wish I could take all the credit for this one, but I really gotta hand it to Shure. I’m not saying that Shure’s insistence on dragging FCC engineers out to field testing so they could see first hand the blatant way in which Shure and others violate FCC rules, getting all their illegal customers to right into the FCC by the thousands and regale the FCC with tales of unauthorized use all over the country, and generally rubbing the FCC’s nose in the fact that Shure and the rest of the industry were engaged in widescale violation of the rules over and over and OVER again necessarily had anything to do with this. I will merely note that it is a happy coincidence of timing that the FCC commenced its investigation the Friday following the field testing, and immediately thereafter put our Petition out for comment attached to an item already in the works. No, it is no doubt my good looks and charm once again bending the FCC to my will.

To the extent the industry press has picked up on this, it has (surprise!) assigned credit for this to the great Google Overlords. Mind you, the same article also thinks that wireless microphones “produced little or no complaints because their signals have traditionally been programmed to avoid TV channels,” so this will tell you something about the accuracy of their analysis. (For those wondering, wireless microphones are dumb devices and the user selects the channel. It has no sensing equipment or database or any of the interference avoidance tech proposed for white space devices.)

I would also say that much as I would love to see this as a sign that the FCC supports opening up the white spaces for unlicensed use, I don’t. The NPRM is very carefully neutral on the subject, without any statements from Commissioners one way or another, and voted on circulation (meaning it is non-controversial). No, I think the Register pretty much got it right when they described this as “having sold off 700MHz to the highest bidders last year, the FCC now has a responsibility to clear the area before the new tenants move in.” The ball on white spaces, whether licensed, unlicensed, or not used at all is still very much up in the air.

Mind you, this certainly impacts the debate over the white spaces, and potentially removes a stumbling block by providing a road map on how to address the wireless microphone issue in a way that punishes spectrum scofflaws like Shure while protecting users like churches deceived by Shure’s sales tactics (and give parties an incentive to come to the table and do a deal over real interference concerns before the FCC bites their patooties off). And I think it is fair to say that we did help move the debate forward by providing the FCC with the pathway to making this possible. But I would say that all the Commissioners are still waiting for the field testing results to come in before making a final decision on the merits.

What is really critical here for the white spaces proceeding is that the broadcasters now have to make a very unpleasant choice. Do they embrace the radio pirates and forgive Shure for unleashing a million illegal transmitters all over “their” spectrum? Or do they stick to their usual guns and condemn any unauthorized use of the broadcast bands as unmitigated evil and warn that sanctioning a million new authorized users — with new General Wireless Microphone Users added every day — could utterly destroy broadcast television as we know it? Either way presents problems for broadcasters — with the added bonus of highlighting their blatant hypocrisy. Embracing the likes of Shure and unauthorized users undercuts all the hysteria broadcasters have so carefully cultivated, especially when they have always maintained that opening this spectrum to anyone new would destroy free over the air television. OTOH, siding with the FCC on enforcement against Shure and warning the FCC not to allow millions of transmitters operating at higher power and with fewer protections in the white spaces destroys their ability to use Broadway, the Grand Ole Opry, and all those megachurches as human shields.

Needless to say, the broadcasters have desperately sought to avoid saying anything on the subject and have tried to spin this to their advantage: “Gosh, moving wireless microphones off Channels 52-69 will sure make it harder to fit in all them white spaces devices,” claims David Donovan of the Association for Maximum Service Television, a trade association for TV broadcasters that has fought against any sharing of the white spaces.

The problem with this statement is that, according to the FCC, there are only 156 licensed wireless microphones authorized to operate on Channels 52-69. That’s not a heck of a lot of crowding. Unless, of course, MSTV plans to support our Petition for Rulemaking and support creation of a General Wireless Microphone Service licensed by rule and open to the general public.

Mind you I expect that MSTV, like the McCain campaign, will continue to get a free ride on this from an obsequious broadcast trade press and a tech press that cannot get past the Great Google Overlords. But they are going to have to file comments on this at some point. And I imagine that, as they come in to lobby against white spaces, the good folks at the Commission will want their opinion on this separate but related matter. I’ll certainly be interested in rading those Ex Partes.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

I Suggest Giving Comcast What It Asks For . . . . Heh, Heh, Heh . . . .

As the FCC’s examination into our complaint against Comcast winds down, with what looks like a win for us (although with an opponent like Comcast, I am not going to celebrate a win until after the order is voted), Comcast has increased its efforts to woo McDowell and Tate with a show that “the market” will magically cure all ills by cutting a non-aggression pact with Vonage and a new ex parte filing listing all the wonderful things it has done since the Commission put our complaint out on public notice, which is an obvious sign that no regulatory action is necessary since it is merely coincidence that Comcast (and other broadband providers) have been scrambling with ever more serious urgency as the resolution of the complaint moves closer. Ah Comcast “Change we can believe in until all you stupid regulators go away and we can get back to crushing folks like insects beneath our fiber-coax heel.”

More of interest to us legal (and less credulous) types, Comcast filed a lengthy rebuttal to Marvin Amori’s magnum opus on Commission jursidiction. Marvin’s piece was, of course, a response to the Comcast filing after the Boston Hearing, that asserted the FCC had no authority to sanction Comcast or regulate Comcast’s broadband in the first place. Mind you, Comcast told the a California district court otherwise, and got a stay of the pending class action for blocking bittorrent as a consequence. But the first lesson of law school is that consistency is only a virtue if it serves your client. In any event, this most recent filing (which has not yet shown up online for me to link to) is therefore either the rebuttal to FP’s reply or merely the Nth go round in a “permit but disclose” proceeding.

This is reflected by Comcast’s argument, which largely rehashes previous arguments about the limits of Commission authority and whether Comcast had proper notice it could be subject to a civil complaint and civil sanction. Fair enough. Time now for the FCC to decide and then on to the D.C. Circuit. That’s what process is for, to get the arguments out so we can get a judgment and get on with our lives.

But Comcast does raise one new argument, and an intriguing one at that. And ya know, I think the Commission ought to give it to them. Heh, heh, heh . . .

Why am I chuckling? See below . . . .

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Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The FCC's New Broadband Data Gathering: Even the Deregulators Are Losing Patience.

It is a delightful bit of timing that this piece on European broadband comes the same day the FCC voted to amend its broadband data collection for the annual “State of the Broadband” Report. I’d say it was a happy coincidence, except that there are so many articles about how Europe is kicking our broadband bottom these days that the odds were good someone would publish something contrasting the growing penetration (and associated economic benefits) in Europe with the anemic growth in the U.S.

Which highlights the key take away from the FCC’s decision to ramp up data gathering and propose looking at pricing. Even the Republicans in Washington are starting to lose patience. I will provide analysis of the substance (as far as we can tell before an order is published) in a later post, but this point is sufficient important it bears posting on its own.

You will find no shortage of telco/cable shills or hardcore deregulators willing to sing the happy happy joy joy song over our current “wildly competitive” broadband market, or explain why these international rankings are misleading, irrelevant, or just plain wrong, the song no longer gets applause and the excuses are wearing thin. All five FCC Commissioners went to the Consumer Electronics Show this year. They’ve gone on tours of Silicon Valley, talked with venture capitalists and start ups, traveled around Europe and Asia, and — most importantly — are not stupid. In 2005, the industry promised big things if the FCC would only deregulate them and set them free. It’s now 2008. In that time, we have seen a parade of other countries streak by us while we plod along and fall increasingly far behind.

Do not let the last minute squabbling between the Commissioners about the details of the Report and upgraded standards fool you. While the Democrats would definitely like to see more done to get at real data, and while McDowell still frets that the cost of collecting data outweighs the benefits and that using labels for speed tiers is too subjective, everyone wants to find out what the real state of broadband deployment is and how we are going to make it available and affordable for everyone. We’re done with happy songs, the FCC is signaling. If industry wants to avoid the kind of massive reregulation the FCC and Congress would bring to bear under a Democratic administration, you need to start getting it in gear and providing real data. Whether industry will take the hint, or whether it will still find it preferable to remain in a state of denial, still remains to be seen.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

St. Louis Pre-Game Show

Just finished the pre-game show here in St. Louis. It’s already shaping up nto be a huge conference here. It made attending the fourth iteration of “the academic and the activist should be friends” worthwhile. Why do self-organizing iterative processes need to repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat? More below . . .

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Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
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