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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Tales of the Sausage Factory

A Quick Note On The Departure of Kevin Martin

I will, hopefully, have time in the near future to write up my farewell to Kevin Martin and assessment of his term as Chairman of the FCC. In the meantime, I think Commissioner Copps gives a good assessment and farewell.

As I say, I hope to have more to say later. For now, I will simply say that I have enormous respect for Kevin Martin and for what he tried to accomplish, even when I disagreed with him.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

700 MHz Auction Pre-Game: Just A Bit More Unseemly (and perhaps untimely) Gloating . . . .

So last summer, as we debated the rules for the upcoming 700 MHz Auction, one of the big questions we at PISC repeatedly kept getting asked was “so who is really going to show up to bid?” Especially on controversial issues like open access (and even its wussier cousin, device open access), block size (have big blocks and combinatorial bidding, or maximize smaller blocks), and anonymous bidding, the incumbents all kept repeating over and over again how any deviation from previous rules would keep people from bidding and the auction would be a failure and everyone would hate us forever. Commissioner McDowell reiterated these criticisms (at least with regard to the open device conditions on C Block) in his dissenting statement:

Curiously, however, in an effort to favor a specific business plan, the majority has fashioned a highly-tailored garment that may fit no one. It’s not what Silicon Valley wants; it’s not what smaller players have told me they want; and it’s not what rural companies want. To date, the Commission has received no assurances that any company is actually interested in bidding on the encumbered spectrum. Not one.

Because, of course, everyone knew Google wasn’t going to bid, the DBS companies weren’t going to be real players, and if anyone new was planning to show up, there was no sign of it. Even those most eager to see new competitors emerge (and who ultimately supported the PISC proposals) had their doubts and looked for as much reassurance as possible before taking a leap of faith that we were right.

Well, the FCC just released the list of applicants to bid in the upcoming 700 MHz auction. A total of 266 potential bidders filed (the bulk of the forms are “incomplete” due to procedural defects that will be corrected, but this is pretty standard). That’s more than the 252 potential applicants that showed up at this stage for the “wildly competitive” and “highly successful” AWS auction in August ’06. The list includes Google, Frontline, Echostar, and — as I kept insisting — a number of companies that could not possibly be predicted as bidders until bidding rules were actually determined and potential bidders got to assess whether they had a chance or not.

Towerstream is an excellent example of this last type of bidder. No one could possibly predict that they would show up, and many folks still can’t believe it. But Towerstream CEO Jeff Thompson cites the FCC “embracing the open access model supported by Google” as making the spectrum a “natural fit” for his entreprenurial wireless broadband company, and credits the FCC for making the auction amenable to new bidders. Nor is Thompson alone. A host of newcommers apears to have found the rules attractive enough to make it worthwhile to ante up for a chance to play.

We must still see what happens, of course. I can recall all the pre-game prediction for the AWS auction, where the most valuable licenses ended up in the hands of the usual suspects. In many ways, this is working out like my waiting to see if the Patriots complete a perfect season or if the Red Sox would win the World Series. There is lots of room still for things to go badly. But I can’t help but feel a happy, warm contented glow (and breathe a quiet sigh of relief) that I don’t have to answer the age old question “what if we throw a party and no one shows up?”

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

My guest spot on Esme Vos' Muniwireless site

If you don’t already read Esme Vos’ amazing Muniwireless.com website, you will miss the fact that she published a guest editorial of mine on the 700 MHz auction and how the open access proposals (PISC’s and Frontline’s) can help muni operators.

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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