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 . . .

Read More »

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

So Did Anything Actually Happen In Telecom In 2009? And What That Means for 2010.

Ah, the inevitable end of the year summation post. This year certainly started with massive change of the relevant players in Congress, at the FCC, and in the Administration generally. It also began with some massive changes for me personally. Within the first month, Congress passed an economic stimulus bill that focused on the broader broadband ecology and explicitly required we shift from praying to the Gods of the Marketplace to trying to grapple with the very difficult challenge of developing a 21st Century information infrastructure.

So then what happened? More, including the inevitable overused sports metaphor, below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Last Day of (Full Power) Analog TV And Our Post Transition To Do List.

Well, here it is at last. Finally, more than 13 years after the 1996 Act created a scheme to transfer us to digital television by giving all existing broadcasters $70 billion (at the time) in new spectrum rights, the great day of reckoning is here.

Give the FCC and NTIA, especially mid-season replacements Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps and Acting NTIA Administrator Anna Gomez, massive applause for seeing this through to the end. You guys rock! As one of your 300 Million taxpayer bosses, I’m telling you to sleep in tomorrow. Oh yeah, it’s Saturday.

Once you’re back on Monday, however, and assuming the world as we know it did not end, we have a few items left on the clean up list: Wireless Microphones, LPTV, the UHF Discount for Ownership, and Public Interest Obligations.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Libby Beaty, Executive Director of NATOA. A tireless advocate for the importance of local government and its power to protect consumer interests. Today, Libby tragically lost her battle with lung cancer. She will be sorely missed.

More below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Econoklastic

Same Old, Same Old: How T-Mobile and the Rural Telecommunications Group Propose to Wreck the AWS-3 Auction.

M2Z Networks recently filed a study I prepared for them in the AWS-3 service rules proceeding (07-195) before the FCC.

In this study I identified how a coordinated effort between T-Mobile and the Rural Telecommunications Group threatened to wreck the AWS-3 auction by writing rules excluding technology proposed by key potential new entrants, including M2Z Networks, and adopting disastrous combinatorial bidding rules like those which provided a nearly half-billion dollar windfall for Verizon in the 700 MHz Band auction.

In brief, T-Mobile has proposed a “bandwidth maximization plan,” first mooted in this filing and elaborated here. The T-Mobile plan would split the J Block in half, giving 5 MHz for uplink and joining the other 5 MHz of J Block with 20 MHz of AWS-3 spectrum for downlink. This would force abandonment of the Time Division Duplex (TDD) technology envisioned by the FNPRM in favor of Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) technology favored by T-Mobile.

That might seem innocuous enough at first glance, but it eliminates consideration of a technology which is both more efficient and more robust than T-Mobile’s FDD alternative, and it is never a good idea to throttle new technologies at the bidding of vested incumbents. However, it is more pernicious still in that it aims at excluding the TDD technology on which Sprint, Intel, Arraycom, and M2Z proposed to build a nationwide network, effectively erecting entry barriers to major competitors to T-Mobile.

The irony is that T-Mobile proposes to kill TDD technology in AWS-3 on the pretext of preventing interference between AWS-3 and AWS-1 spectrum (T-Mobile was a major acquirer of AWS-1 spectrum). However, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology conducted extensive testing and found that such interference presented no significant problem. T-Mobile’s justification for the technologically-discriminatory erection of this entry barrier is, thus, a lie.

But it gets worse.

More below…

Read More »

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Also tagged , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Shure Makes Clever Defensive Gambit Against CTIA/Public Safety in 700 MHz Tussle — $1000 Rebate.

In an interesting new development in the wireless microphone saga, Shure is now offering a $1000 rebate on a replacement wireless microphone for anyone who trades in a wireless microphone that operates on the 700 MHz frequencies, provided the purchaser bought the microphone before February 2007. I’m not sure why the magic cut off date, and Shure does not explain.

Shure does, OTOH, offer an explanation for why it will make this generous offer — albeit an incomplete one:

“Our number one priority is to provide our customers with the highest quality products, service, and support,” said Al Hershner, Vice President and General Manager of the Shure U.S Business Unit. “We’ve known for some time that the ‘700 MHz band’ would be reallocated for new services following the DTV transition on February 18, 2009. Although a final decision from the FCC is still pending, we felt the need to assure our customers now that we will take care of them regardless of the outcome.”

Shure does not mention, of course, that the most likely outcome involves outlawing all use of wireless microphones in the 700 MHz, and a reasonable probability that Shure (and other manufacturers) will be required to replace the equipment for free. But that doesn’t mean Shure will miss an opportunity to spin its customers and recruit their support at the FCC explain to interested customers the ongoing FCC legal proceeding:

“There has been a great deal of confusion for wireless microphone users regarding the political and technological developments surrounding the DTV transition and the 700 MHz auction over the past few years,” added Hershner. “As always, Shure has a team of sales, customer service, and technical support staff available to answer any questions people might have about this rebate program or their products.”

Hmmm….could this have something to do with the recent push by the incoming public safety and commercial 700 MHz licensees to take this seriously so it won’t mess up deployment? Could Shure be trying to fob off the FCC with a fake remedial action while boosting its own sales and recruiting its customers for a massive push against the wireless guys and public safety? Or is that just my nasty and suspicious nature rejecting the idea that Shure is deeply — deeply I say — concerned about its customers (which it assures the FCC are only retailers and not members of the public ineligible for licenses to operate such systems) and I should be ashamed of myself for questioning this noble voluntary remediation by an upstanding corporate citizen that just happened to build its business on wholesale violation of federal law?

I explore the possibilities below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

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 . . .

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Wireless Mic Follow Up: Turns Out Public Safety Did Get There First

One may logically ask, if I am right about the wireless microphones being such a big problem for public safety, why haven’t the public safety folks complained to the FCC about this?

Answer: turns out they have. But, the public safety folks being quiet and unassuming, failed to make themselves heard.

Allow me to change that. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, a federation of public safety associations, sent a letter to Chairman Martin asking that the FCC address the problem of wireless microphones back on June 30, 2008. i.e., about two weeks before I filed. While I wish I could claim that it was the NPSTC letter that inspired me, I had no idea it was out there until today. My conversations with the public safety guys were all informal and off the record. Still, as always when folks remind me I’m not an engineer (or an economist, or technologist, or any of the other topics on which I chose to share my humble layperson’s opinion), I am rather pleased to find a bunch of actual engineers that agree with me.

Mind you, the NPSTC letter asks the FCC to go a heck of a lot further than I have. NPSTC wants wireless microphones kicked out of the entire 700 MHz band. I, OTOH, think lots of folks can productively use the broadcast white spaces. Still, I do feel compelled to point out that wireless microphones do not have nearly the level of intelligence/sophistication being discussed for interference avoidance for the white spaces devices at issue in 04-186. Perhaps we should require wireless microphones to rely on sensing as well, or require that they consult an online database for possible new users in the band, or require them to acknowledge some sort of “permissive beacon.” Perhaps public safety entities like NPSTC should administer the database or beacon, and we should require wireless microphone users to pay for these services.

I mean, after all, we wouldn’t want to let these devices run around loose, would we? Think of the terrible interference that might cause. Unless these devices can meet the same rigorous standards that Shure and others seek to impose on unlicensed devices in 04-186, I don’t see how we can ask NPSTC to abide by circumstances that they feel place our public safety at risk.

Stay tuned . . . .

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

Econoklastic

Verizon's “Perfect Storm”: A Reason Why 700 MHz Band's C Block Cleared On the Cheap

Some critics of the 700 MHz Band Auction (Auction 73) attribute the failure of C Block — which consisted of large Regional Economic Grouping (REAG) licenses — to clear at the kinds of premium over the licenses in the AWS-1 auction that the Economic Area (EA) and Cellular Marketing Area (CMA) in the A, B, and E Blocks did to the fact that C Block had wireless Carterfone service rules attached.

However, careful analysis of the dynamics of the auction suggest that interaction of the auction’s combinatorial bidding, eligibility and activity rules, and the way in which minimum acceptable bids were calculated created a “perfect storm” in which Verizon was able to scoop up the two most populous REAGs for nearly half a billion dollars less than bidders were willing to pay earlier in the auction. This had a seriously depressing effect on the price at which C Block cleared and had nothing to do with the wireless Carterfone service rules.

More below…

Read More »

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Econoklastic

Breaking News: Frontline Bites the Dust

Frontline Wireless LLC, which submitted an incomplete application to participate in the FCC’s Auction 73 for the 700 MHz band as Licenseco LLC and which was expected to be a major competitor for the D Block nationwide commercial-public safety broadband license, has folded and is “closed for business.”

Industry rumours suggest that Frontline’s bidding entity, Licenseco LLC, failed to make a required upfront payment deadline on January 4.

Speculation focuses on several possible explanatory scenarios. Frontline has changed its business plan several times and, frankly, I was never completely convinced that it would bid when push came to shove. Verizon’s belated embrace of open attachment rules — the Carterfone condition which the FCC has imposed on Auction 73 — gave many of Frontline’s Silicon Valley backers what they wanted without having to hazard the auction or undertake the encumberance of deployment requirements if they prevailed at auction. The possibility that Google might bid the reserve price on C Block to force Verizon and AT&T to concentrate on battling it out for the C Block REAGs while Google seriously bid on the less expensive D Block to acquire a nationwide third broadband pipe and implement its nondiscriminatory, wholesale open access business model may have had something to do with Frontline’s decision to pull out. The possibility that AT&T may have been interested in D Block for national backhaul could have presaged a serious challenge has also been mooted as a factor in Frontline’s decision.

It’s likely that some of Frontline’s backers and associates — Fortress Investment Group’s Backline bidding entity and Cellular South in particular — will remain in the auction, but Frontline’s demise creates extremely interesting possibilities for D Block competition in the auction.

Part III of the 700 MHz series, Bidding Strategies of the Major Actors, coming soon…

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Also tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Econoklastic

Part IIb — Who's Who in 700 MHz: the Experienced Actors

Now we turn our attention to the more experienced potential bidders in Auction 73 for the 700 MHz Band. All have participated in either one or more of the three Lower 700 MHz auctions (44, 49, or 60) or the AWS-1 auction (66).

The Big Guys

Cellco Partnership, Verizon Wireless’ bidding entity, spent a whopping $2,808,599,000 in the AWS-1 auction for 13 licenses and comes to Auction 73 well positioned to bid for the C Block REAGs and possibly the D Block nationwide license.

MetroPCS 700 MHz, LLC, is the bidding entity for cellular telco MetroPCS, which spent $1,391,410,000 in the AWS-1 auction for 8 licenses. MetroPCS appears to be looking to establish national footprint and will be a strong contender in C Block, and likely using A and B Blocks to fill in coverage gaps.

Cricket Licensee 2007, LLC, spent $710,214,000 for 99 licenses in AWS-1; Denali Spectrum License, LLC, spent $274,083,750 for one license in AWS-1. Both are owned by LEAP Wireless; if their AWS-1 pattern holds, expect them to be mainly active in A and B Blocks, pushing to achieve national footprint, although Cricket may be a C Block contender.

The incredulity expressed by some of the trade press over the application of tech company QUALCOMM,Inc., to participate in the 700 MHz auction seems odd given the fact that QUALCOMM achieved nearly-national footprint in a Lower 700 MHz auction by spending $38,036,000 for five EA licenses. QUALCOMM is positioned to flesh out national footprint in the A and B Blocks or to become a C Block contender.

Cincinnati Bell Wireless, LLC, is the wireless subsidiary of a regional CLEC which spent $37,071,000 for 9 licenses in AWS-1. Expect Cincinnati Bell Wireless to concentrate in the B Block CMAs to reinforce regional coverage.

Bluewater Wireless, L.P., is Aloha Partners’ Charles Townsend’s new stalking horse. Townsend and Aloha Partners spent $34,853,070 in the three Lower 700 MHz auctions amassing the largest bundle of spectrum in the auctions, which they have sold to AT&T for $2.5 billion. Bet on Townsend trying to recapitulate that coup, probably in the A and B Blocks, but Aloha Partners got completely frozen out in the AWS-1 auction, partly by blocking bidding by incumbents, partly because Townsend was unwilling to bid high enough where he wasn’t facing concerted blocking. Auction 73 is shaping up to be more costly than AWS-1, and I doubt that Bluewater Wireless is going to be able to pick up nearly as much spectrum on the cheap as it did in the Lower 700 MHz auctions.

Cellular South Licenses, Inc., the bidding entity for cellular telco Cellular South, spent $33,025,000 for 12 licenses in AWS-1. Look for Cellular South to continue to cover gaps in footprint in the A and B Bocks, although it may compete for some C Block REAGs.

Cavalier Wireless, LLC, spent $23,572,350 amassing 51 licenses in the Lower 700 MHz auctions and 30 licenses in AWS-1. Cavalier may try to establish national footprint or concentrate on firming up its regional dominance.

Vulcan Spectrum, LLC, spent $15,075,000 gaining 24 Lower 700 MHz licenses; Bend Cable Communications, LLC, spent $528,000 on 2 AWS-1 licenses. Both are investments of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. They concentrated on obtaining spectrum in the Washington-Oregon region of the Northwest in Lower 700 MHz and AWS-1, but Allen’s deep pockets make Vulcan in particular a potential C Block contender as well as aspiring for regional coverage consolidation in the A and B Blocks.

Cox Wireless, Inc., was part of the SpectrumCo coalition which gained 137 licenses for $2,377,609,000 in AWS-1, as was part of the Advance/Newhouse Partnership. However, the real powerhouses in SpectrumCo — Comcast, Time Warner, and Sprint/Nextel — decided to sit the 700 MHz auction out. However, Cox’s cable TV operations and Advance/Newhouse’s resources as a newspaper, magazine, and cable TV conglomerate position both of them to be significant bidders for the A, B, and C Blocks.

More below…

Read More »

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Also tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)
  • Connect With Us

    Follow Wetmachine on Twitter!

Username
Password

If you do not have an account: Register