Tales of the Sausage Factory

White Spaces Lurches Forward Again. OET Issues Good But Weird Proposal.

Over a year ago, the FCC took a major leap forward on deployment of broadband and rethinking our national spectrum policy by voting to open the unused broadcast channels for unlicensed use (aka the “broadcast white spaces”). The Order left a bunch of questions unanswered, such as who would run the proposed database of available frequencies for white space use. Petitions for Recon got filed, lots of requests for revision and modification of the rules got made, and then nothing happened.

In fairness to OET, it’s been a busy year. First there was a change in administration, then it was “all DTV all the time” until the magic June 12 deadline. Then it was bringing on a new FCC Chair and two additional new Commissioners. Then it was “National Broadband Plan all the time.” But still, it was with a tremendous sense of relief that the process had not utterly vanish off the FCC’s radar screen that I saw the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology release a Public Notice on the database. At last! We can get moving on this again, and hopefully move forward on the most promising ‘disruptive’ technology currently in the hopper.

And move we are, in a very peculiar fashion. Rather than resolve the outstanding questions about how the database provider will collect money, operate the database, or whether the database will be exclusive or non-exclusive, the Public Notice asks would-be database managers to submit proposals that would cover these issues. Further, parties have until January 4, 2010 to submit proposals. The FCC will take comment from members of the public on the proposals a month later.

I label this approach “good, but weird.” On the one hand, this seems to my non-engineering and well ordered mind to be totally backwards. How the heck can anyone tell if they want to manage the database when they don’t even know what the requirements are. On the other hand, this basically accomplishes the same thing by having would-be operators that have been pestering the FCC to resolve the matter and trying to get the FCC to adopt rules that favor their own technology/business model a chance to stop pretending that these rules are neutral and the opportunity to make their pitch directly to the FCC. It also cuts down on the number of steps until we actually have a functioning database and can start deploying the technology. Finally, having just gone back and looked at the 2008 Order, the FCC was fairly explicit (Par. 221) that this was always the plan.

And, as usual, I really wish the FCC would not sit around taking months to decide things and then want an immediate response out of us poor public interest folks with our limited resources.

But on the whole, I’m very happy indeed.

More below . . .

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Inventing the Future

When worlds collide

Interesting juxtaposition between these two from overnight:

Posted in history: external milestones and context, Inventing the Future | Also tagged , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz: Notes From The Spectrum New Hampshire Primary, C Block Not Dead Yet

Everyone remember how Clinton was dead after Iowa? Now who remembers two weeks ago, or even last week, when analysts wrote off the 700 MHz auction as doomed due to credit crunch? But, other than D Block’s utter failure to move (and regular readers will know my opinion of why that happened), the auction has proven a success by every measure we can obtain so far. Sadly, however, the key measures are not yet in, and won’t be until after the auction is over. Which is why, despite C Block exceeding it’s reserve price, I caution folks that we are still at the equivalent of just after the New Hampshire primaries and that any speculation about the important points of the outcome remain unresolved.

Here’s what we know for sure now:

1) The current take now stands at over $14 b. This not only exceeds the $10 b that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated, it will exceed the “wildly successful” 2006 AWS auction (which grossed about 13.9 b). A, B, and C blocks have all met their reserve prices, with the most contentious fighting in certain high value markets B block.

2) Because C Block has met its reserve price, it will not be reauctioned and the open device conditions will go into effect.

So the auction is clearly a success from Kevin Martin’s perspective (again, with the exception of D Block, which is a special case). While those like Commissioner McDowell can argue that C block might have fetched more without conditions, $4.7 billion is nothing to sneeze at. And it is clear that the aggressive build out conditions did not scare bidders away from A and B block, so (assuming the FCC is serious about enforcement) we should see increased deployment of services into rural regions.

What we still don’t know is whether the new auction rules gave new entrants a real chance to win spectrum, or (as the conventional wisdom had it) will incumbents Verizon and AT&T end up capturing the lion’s share of the spectrum (albeit at higher prices, owing to the introduction of anonymous bidding). That we cannot know until after the anonymity lifts when the auction ends (which, if the FCC chooses to reauction D Block under the rules proposed for reauctioning the other blocks, might not be for several months yet). Much depends on the identity of the current C Block holder. Is it Google? Verizon? Some other deep pockets like AT&T or Echostar, or perhaps the mysterious Vavasi NexGen Inc.? And is C Block settled? If the package bidder in round 17 knocked off the previous high bidder, then the previous high bidder will need to respond fairly soon or it will start losing its eligibility (bidding chips) and no longer be able to challenge.

If it turns out the incumbents capture most of the spectrum, I will need to eat a huge plate of crow and tip my hat to Commissioner Adelstein and Publius at Obsidian Wings, both of whom fretted that only Verizon could win a huge block like C Block and that we would get more new entrants by slitting the spectrum up. OTOH, if the Great Google Prophecy comes true, I will become insufferably pleased with myself for at least a month.

But, rather than pull a Tweety Bird and start treating my own speculation in the absence of data as fact, I will simply say —

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

How To Give America Wireless Broadband For Christmas 2009 — the Lesson from 3.65 GHz Deployment.

Granted for me it would be Chanukah not Christmas, but I think a real kick ass wireless network with oodles of competition and nifty new gadgets would make such a good present for America for Christmas 2009. And, as the reports from the field on the piece of wireless spectrum the FCC opened up last June show us, the FCC can bring it to us by opening the broadcast “white spaces”.

Sascha Meinrath, a serious partner in crime in spectrum reform, has some data from the field on deployment of equipment in the 3.65 GHz band the FCC finally opened for real in June 2007. Now, a mere 6 month later, Sascha reports on wireless ISPs (WISPs) using this band in the field to deliver broadband. As Sascha writes:

WISPs have been leading the charge and people are reporting 15km non-line-of-sight (NLOS) connectivity with 3650-3700 MHz (operating at 10W) — which is a huge boost over 802.11. Meanwhile, capacity seems to be hovering around 15 MB per 7.5 MHz (or 20MB per 10MHz) — so 100MB connections over 15km without line of sight are quite feasible using this band. All in all, that’s pretty impressive for first-generation equipment. The equipment vendor Aperto is claiming that their new equipment will get 20MB per 7MHz (so you can see the development curve is already fairly steep).

To give you a feel for the real-world implications, folks testing things out reported, “6mb/s indoor at 2 miles NLOS. The base station was a 1 sector install using diversity at approximately 50ft up on tower using 120 degree sectors” — try to get that with an 802.11 access point.

Allow me to draw a few policy implications from this. The lead time from settling the rules to actual deployment of services took six months. By contrast, we have not yet seen any significant deployment in the AWS spectrum auctioned 18 months ago. Yes, some of that was due to the delay of some government licensees in migration. But much also has to do with the nature of licensed v. unlicensed networks. Licensed networks require huge investment of time, resources, standardization of equipment, etc., etc. By contrast, unlicensed networking equipment can be built, certified and deployed effectively relatively quickly.

Policy makers should take note of this in the debate over the broadcast white spaces, aka the vacant channels on the broadcast dial. Broadcasters and some large carriers (like Sprint and T-Mobile) want to see the white spaces licensed rather than opened to unlicensed use. The current broadcast spectrum auction will not begin to bear broadband fruit until 2010 or 2011 at the earliest. And if the FCC were to decide to license the white spaces, we could expect similar lengthy delays while the FCC devised auction rules, held an auction, then waited for the winners to (hopefully) deploy something useful.

Given the continued laggard pace of our national broadband, shouldn’t the FCC learn from its success in the 3.65 GHz band? Licensed and unlicensed networks complement each other, each offering different capabilities. We have taken the first steps toward building the licensed wireless networks in the broadcast spectrum. Why not unleash unlicensed in the white spaces? If the FCC approved rules now, it would practically guarantee that devices could be certified and deployed as soon as we completed the digital transition. Indeed, given the backing of the broadcast white spaces by so many different developers, as compared to the relatively modest backing for 3.65 GHz, the probability of seeing a plethora of wireless networking devices and consumer products available to Americans by Christmas season 2009 rises to almost a certainty. By contrast, we will be lucky if the winners of the 700 MHz licenses will have broken ground on their first towers by then.

Doesn’t America deserve a kick ass wireless network for Christmas 2009? I think so. And if the FCC applies the lesson of its 3.65 GHz success to the broadcast white spaces, we can have one.

Stay tuned . . . .

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

How is the OECD Different From the FCC? OECD Takes Its Number Seriously.

I must laugh at the recent back and forth on the recent national broadband rankings by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Back in December, OECD released its latest set of statistics for broadband penetration for its 30 member states. While the U.S. had the greatest number of broadband subscribers (defined as speed in excess of 256 KBPS one way), we still ranked 14th overall on number of subscribers as a percentage of population (the traditional way of measuring phone penetration).

What these figures do or do not mean I leave to others to debate. OTOH, if we had this kind of crappy penetration in plain old telephone (POTS) or power, we’d be a developing country. OTOH, broadband deployment is still relatively new and the other countries that have pulled ahead of us all have different circumstances that arguably distinguish it from us. No, my point here is merely to highlight the amusing battle of words between the OECD and a consulting firm called Market Clarity. Market Clarity recently issued a report challenging the validity OECD stats.

So far pretty ho hum. Then the fun begins with this OECD Response. It appears that, unlike our FCC, which can run silent for years about possible funny business in its numbers (until prodded by a change in Congress, it decides to ask for advice on how to suck less), the OECD takes its reporting rather seriously. As a consequence, they wasted no time in explaining to Market Clarity, with all the snark that serious researchers reserve for telling hired guns they are ignorant wankers, that Market Clarity didn’t know what the heck it was talking about.

Not to be outdone, Market Clarity quickly issued its own delightfully snarky response to the OECD response.

I have no idea where this ends up, as it rapidly devolves into a series of exchanges like: “While we welcome serious interest and robust public debate, you couldn’t regress your way out of a paper bag!” “Oh yeah, well for an organization with the 30 most powerfull economies as members, you’d think they’d hire some folks who can do basic math!” All I can say is that the Aussies seem to be having more fun with their public policy. And at that I wish our FCC took as much professional pride in their work product as the OECD.

Of course, the FCC would have to do work to be proud of rather than outcome-driven “research” first. But maybe someday . . .

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The GAO Makes the Case for Community Broadband

Not that you would know it either from the headline or the general coverage, but the the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, issued its own report that makes a strong case in favor of community-based broadband and against more regulatory goodies for the incumbent telcos and cable cos. Not that the GOA intended to make that case, and they word their conclusions carefully. But dig down into the actual report and you find a lot of good stuff beyond discrediting the FCC’s rosy numbers on broadband penetration and competition.

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