Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Issues Excellent Wireless Microphone Order — Perhaps NAB Will Rely Less on Scare Tactics and Celebrity Letters Now.

Time to clear up a little piece of unfinished business for which I and this humble blog can claim some modest responsibility. The FCC finally issued it’s long awaited Order on wireless microphones stemming from this blog post and the subsequent complaint/Petition for Rulemaking by the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (to which a special shout out to the folks at New America Wireless Future is due, given the fantastic amount of work they did on assembling evidence and helping draft the document).

As one can tell from this FCC press release describing the details, we pretty much got what we wanted — although not entirely and not in the way we expected. But, as I noted in this press statement in my role as Legal Director of Public Knowledge, we’re very happy with how things turned out. Briefly:
(a) all wireless mic users are now granted legal status, this is done pursuant to the FCC’s Part 15 rules for unlicensed rather than the “license by rule” that we suggested, but my only regret about that is I didn’t think of it when we filed.
(b) Everyone using wireless microphones needs to clear out of the 700 MHz band by Jun 12, 2010 — one year after the DTV transition and 15 months after the original date proposed by the FCC. Given how the Broadway people have been telling the FCC for months how they are off the 700 MHz band, this should not be too much of a hardship — especially for those who had no right to be there in the first place.
(c) The FCC will invest a boatload of its own resources, and gin up the FCC 2.0 machinery, to get the word out to folks and help consumers, churches, etc. handle the transition.
(d) The FCC will require that wireless microphones have signs and labels going forward to make sure that people understand the difference between licensed users and unlicensed users.

In addition, the FCC is having a further notice of proposed rulemaking that will:
1) Set the rules for the new Part 15 unlicensed wireless microphones.
2) Will examine whether to expand the class of Part 74 Subpart H eligible licensees to see if they should expand the class to give interference protection to some set of users — which would include who gets to be in the database of licensed services protected from operation of TV white spaces devices.

Yeah, that kicks the can down the road rather than saying flat out “anyone who was using a wireless microphone illegally is not entitled to protection against the TV white spaces devices, which went through the legal process and got approved.” But I can most definitely live with that. For one thing, I am confident that in an evidence-driven FCC which places consumer interests first, as demonstrated by this Order with its unprecedented investment of FCC resources for outreach (which we had not even dreamed of requesting except in the most general way of offering to help), will focus on the real question of whether or not there is interference and if so how to strike the appropriate balance between allowing new technologies and protecting existing users. Hopefully, this will inspire white spaces opponents to focus on engineering rather than trying to use scare tactics and celebrity “star power”.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Big Low Power FM Win!

Back in 2007, the FCC issued an Order to try to address some of the problems impacting the low-power FM (LPFM) service. You can find out more about how amazing LPFM is, and why Congress needs to pass legislation to remove the artificial restrictions on how many LPFM stations we can have, here on the Prometheus Radio website.

Briefly, LPFMs are very small, very local non-commercial stations that operate at 100-watts or less. The FCC authorized the service in 2000, relaxing the “third adjacent channel” (A radio station must be 3 jumps away from the next radio station) rule to permit several thousand LPFM’s to operate without interfering with full power station. The NAB persuaded Congress to reverse this determination with the ironically named Radio Broadcaster Preservation Act of 2000. That act prohibited the FCC from relaxing or waiving the 3rd adjacent channel spacing requirement.

A few years ago, it became clear that the several hundred LPFMs permitted under the act were in danger of being crowded out by full power stations. Because of what appeared to be an unrelated decision to streamline the process by which full power FM stations can change their market designation. As a result, an LPFM could suddenly find itself impermissibly close to a full power station and need to shut down. Or it might start experiencing interference and get drowned out. The Commission therefore issued an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which provided some relief by making it easier for LPFMs to relocate on the 2nd adjacent channel, thus avoiding Congress’ mandate that the FCC not reduce or waive the separation distance required on the 3rd adjacent channel. This is not nearly as silly as it sounds, as the process involves a fact-based determination on whether there is actually any interference to any full power as a result of the move. Given how interference works, it is very possible to fit a LPFM into space on the 2nd adjacent without causing interference. Spacing is based on averages to make processing applications easier. Actual engineering can determine how to place a low-power tower to avoid interference. Mind, this would be easier to do if Congress hadn’t absolutely prohibited any waiver of 3rd adjacent spacing. But they did. Happily, however, Congress did not prohibit any waiver of 2nd channel adjacent.

The NAB promptly appealed, arguing that the FCC had no authority to alter first,second or third adjacent as a result of the 2000 Act. This, in turn, stalled the conclusion of the Rulemaking, since why finish a rulemaking if you don’t even know whether or not you have authority?

Today, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the FCC’s decision. It rejected the NAB’s argument based on the plain language of the statute and found that the FCC had rationally justified its decision.

This is extremely good news for LPFM, and for those communities lucky enough to have them. As acting Chairman Copps noted in a statement issued today after the ruling, the FCC is now free to move quickly to finish the pending rulemaking. And, of course, Congress should move just as quickly to pass the Local Community Radio Act of 2009, so that hundreds of new communities can enjoy the diverse voices of low-power FM.

My former colleagues at MAP — especially Parul Desai who did the lion’s share of work on this issue — deserve a huge shout out for this win. I should also mention that it was not a Democratic FCC, but Kevin Martin who brought the 2007 Order to a vote — and then voted with the Democrats against both his fellow Republicans to get the needed 3 votes to clear the Commission.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Farewell to Commissioner Deborah Tate

As I observed back awhile ago when describing possible scenarios for the FCC, Commissioner Deborah Tate would need to depart when the 110th Congress expired and the 111th Congress convened at Noon on January 3, 2009. So, at the FCC’s pro forma meeting on December 30, Commissioner Tate stepped down and made her farewell address. Despite the rather tense atmosphere that often prevails on the 8th Floor of the FCC these day, her fellow Commissioners used most of the meeting time to say many nice things in appreciation of her tenure.

Allow me to add my own appreciation for Commissioner Tate’s service. This may come as a surprise to some, given that I disagreed with Tate a fair amount on most matters of substance. As others have noted, Tate voted along fairly standard Republican lines — generally shying away from regulation of “the market” despite a sincere concern about consumer welfare. (I should add that despite her much publicized comments about the dangers of Worlds of Warcraft, her support for strong digital right management and urging ISPs do more to block content potentially harmful to minors, Tate still generally followed a deregulatory line in simply urging industry to voluntarily do more and raising this in the context of voting against the Comcast/Bittorrent Order).

But let me tell a little story below which illustrates why Commissioner Tate deserves a respectful farewell even from staunch progressives such as myself.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

White Spaces and the CTIA Game Changer

The idea of auctioning the broadcast white spaces, rather than opening them for unlicensed use, is not new. It started out as an NAB “poison pill” back in 2005, when we looked like we might be making progress on getting a pro-white spaces amendment in the DTV transition bill that ultimately became the Digital Tranisition Act of 2005. When the FCC reinvigorated the proceeding in 2006, the NAB managed to get the FCC to put the question of licensed v. unlicensed in the Further Notice. But the NAB doesn’t want any neighbors, either licensed or unlicensed, and has focused its efforts until now on trying to kill the whole idea rather than on trying to promote licensing and auctions rather than unlicensed.

But the idea of licensing the white spaces for cellular or backhaul has gained new life recently, particularly after the 700 MHz auction. Both Verizon’s Steven Zipperstein and analyst Coleman Bazelon recommended this in their testimony at the House Telecom Subcommitte hearing on the 700 MHz auction. That comes on top of a serious filing by CTIA on the benefits of auctioning some of the white space and leaving a smidge so that unlicensed technologies can continue to develop.

We’ve now gone from NAB poison pill to serious issue. The proposal has not yet gained traction, but it does not do to underestimate CTIA and its members because, particularly after the 700 MHz auction, a number of its members really need that spectrum. This has the potential to change the game radically, including shifting alliances as the threat becomes more credible.

Analysis below….

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Econoklastic

700 MHz: Oops

The last round of the day for Auction 73, Round 31, was postponed until tomorrow by the FCC late today. The announcement on the Integrated Spectrum Auction System read:

“2/4/2008 04:11:42 PM
Round 31 Postponed
Due to a delay in the availability of complete downloadable reports, Round 31 will be postponed until 9:30 a.m. ET tomorrow, February 5, 2008.

”We will continue with the previously announced five round bidding schedule until further notice. Bidders are reminded to monitor auction announcements for further changes in the bidding schedule.”

Sources at the FCC indicate that the system glitched on producing the end-of-round reports from Round 30 and there was insufficient time to locate and correct the bug before Round 31 was scheduled to commence at 4:30 p.m. EST. Round 30 still hasn’t been posted on the Integrated Spectrum Auction System as of 4:40 p.m. EST, and it was due at 3:40, which suggests that the bug hunt is a bit more complicated than the FCC initially anticipated, but there’s no reason to think the auction won’t recommence tomorrow as scheduled.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Appendix: A List of All My Posts on The 700 MHz Auction Proceeding

Well, it’s been a fun couple of months. I expect we will see more action on the actual implimentation of 700 MHz Auction, new developments, and so forth. But I’m rather hoping to ratchet 700 MHz back from overwhelming white-whale-type obsession to just one more spectrum item amidst the spectrum and non-spectrum stuf I cover. For example, the M2Z application has taken a serious turn for the interesting.

So, preserved for posterity, and because it makes my life easier than going through the archives, I list every TotSF 700 MHz Auction post to date.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

I, For One, Welcome Our New Google Overlords

In a news report worthy of KBBL-TV’s Kent Brockman, MSNBC’s Olga Kharif writes of Google wielding it’s awesome and terrible powers in preparation for bidding in the 700 MHz Auction (as if I think about anything else these days). According to Kharif, “Google is wielding a surprising amount of power in the nation’s capital,” as demonstrated by “the influence Google is having on a closely watched government auction of $10 billion in licenses to provide wireless service.”

As evidence of Google’s supposed “influence,” Kharif points to Google’s involvement in the 4G Coalition “widely considered Google-led” (by whom, Kharif’s cat Mittens?) and how Martin’s express support for 4G on the large licenses v. small licenses issue shows that the FCC is likely to “play ball” with Google.

I might just let this go as another example of the Google-mania that has takne root in the press, but the normally perceptive and attentive Paul Kapustka on GigaOm made the same mistake. Because Martin said nice things about 4G and the DBS Guys (which I still thinks sounds like a Rock Band that performs at the CES Show), everyone is all “oooohhh the 4G guys are doing real well.” And the Google worshippers are all “Ah, Google Overlords, is there nothing you can’t control?”

Two critical facts tend to drop out of this analysis.

1) Martin lost his first-round bid to get the larger license-size reag plan through. That was the original plan, as noted by the Commission when it initiated this proceeding last August. This large license proposal got enormous push-back from SpectrumCo LLC (Comcast/TW/Cox/Sprint-Nextel) and the independent wireless incumbents (T-Mobile, MetroPCS) and the little rural guys. The fact that Martin was unable to get his fellow Republicans to vote with him and get the large-license band plan ratified in this round (as opposed to considered as one option among several in the Further Notice) is a set back for the supporters of large licenses.

2) The other supporters of large licenses, the ones Martin couldn’t mention for political reasons, are Verizon and AT&T. You might remember these telcos from such Kevin Martin movies as “Local Governments Hate Competition” and “Cyren Call: Song of Satan.” Verizon went so far as to hire ace auction expert Peter Cramton to write this paper on “Why Large Licenses In The 700 MHz Band Make Jesus Happy.”

[WHY the telcos and the cable cos are battling over the sze of licenses is extremely interesting and important, and is the subject of this post here.]

So yeah, Martin gave the big shout out to the DBS and 4G guys, since he’s not exactly going to say to the Dems “I’m puzzled why Ds who claim to hate cable market power back SpectrumCo against Veizon and AT&T.” And I think Martin genuinely does believe large licenses are the best way to get another national broadband competitor on the scene. (I also believe it, which is why I prefer large licenses a la the telcos and our Great Google Overlords.) But the idea that Martin did this just because Google redid the words “Federal Communications Commission” in rainbow and promised that they wouldn’t do evil with the licenses doesn’t exactly cut it. (No offense to Rick Whitt, whom I like and I think is a great lobbyist, but lets stay focused on the actual docket and relevant history, shall we?)

I suppose I should just accept that Google exerts a fascination on the trade press these days and let it go (and figure that anyone who wants my view on reality rather than Googleview will come here). But after spending last summer of watching Google and the rest of the tech industry unable to find their lobbying ass on net neutrality with both hands and a compass and a big sign saying “telcos, please spank us here”, while constantly hearing from the press and the cable cos how all of it was really the amazing Google Overlords at work has made me just a shade irritated.

Besides, it’s Friday afternoon and I’m due for my shabbos rest.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Open Access Included in Spectrum Notice! Fish In Trees! Rivers Running Uphill!

Yesterday, I wrote, with regard to whether the FCC’s Further Notice on the 700 MHz Spectrum Auction would include questions on our open access proposal:

I think our chances of moving forward to the next round are pretty close to zero. OTOH, I live from day-to-day in the hope of pleasant surprises.

Apparently, I live another day. And so does the open access proposal. As explained by Gigi Sohn, we live to fight another day.

It was a wild meeting. Pushed back from 9:30 to 10:30, then pushed off again until 6:45 p.m. The contentious issue was, as predicted, license size. Apparently, McDowell teamed with the Ds to make sure the Further Notice requested comment on a mix of licenses and not just the large licenses that Martin wanted.

The Order is not yet out, so I can’t really assess yet what the results are. Heck, they don’t even have all the seperate statements up yet. Here are links to the news release, Chairman Martin’s statement (expressing disappointment over the license size issue), Commissioner Adestein’s statement (with a shout out to the public interest coalition!), and Commissioner McDowell’s statement (which basically says “I know I’m the swing vote, but I need to catch up on the comments because I’ve been out with my new kid”).

But whatever happens, I gotta give a shout out to Martin for being willing to put the open access question out there and have it debated. Yes, all credit to the Ds. But I don’t believe we would be positioned to have the discussion about wireless open access if Martin had been dead set against it.

Off to bed. It’s been a day.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Get Your Brackets Set for Tomorrow's Spectrum Sweet Sixteen!

In the FCC’s version of “April Madness,” the FCC will hold a meeting tomorrow (April 25). Among other items, the meeting will consider an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the upcoming 700 MHz Auction.

Readers who plowed through my impossibly long field guide to the 700 MHz auction may recall that I highlighted a large number of issues and players that have clustered around this extremely important auction. Many critical filings and proposals (including, I am embarassed to admit, those of the public interest spectrum coalition) came in after the official deadline. (Hey! We’re busy! If someone wants to give Media Access Project a million dollars or two so we can stay on top of everything, email me!)

The combination of far reaching proposals and lack of time has prompted incumbents to challenge the FCC’s ability to grant these proposals because they do not comply with the “notice” requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The APA requires that an agency give everyone notice of what it plans to do and give interested parties a chance to comment. So the FCC will solve this problem by making some basic decisions now, and rolling over the remaining decisions to a Further Notice. Since we have a statutory deadline ticking away, parties will get only a month for comments and replies, and the FCC will make its final decisions at the end of May or early June. That way, they can still get to the auction by January 2008.

In other words, Wed. represents the first cut on how the FCC will proceed and the general direction it will go for the auction. Will it favor the incumbent push for large license blocks and open bidding? Will it allow the Frontline proposal to go forward? What about network neutrality?

Below I give my “spectrum bracket” for who gets to go from the Sweet Spectrum Sixteen to the Final Four. What’s likely to get cancelled, get renewed, or remains on “the bubble” for next season? Which proposals get “voted off the Island?” For my guesses, and my further entries for the next Stephen Colbert Meta-Free-For-All, see below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Fighting Big Cable (and why it matters)

Most of my time the last few weeks has been taken up with cable ownership issues. If you want the short version and the immediate, easy action to take, click through to my friends at Free Press. For those interested in a little more detail and what else you can do, read on . . .

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