Tales of the Sausage Factory

Smart Cities, Spectrum, and Senator Snowe — Will Any Republican Presidential Candidates Show Vision?

Thomas Friedman writes in his column yesterday that none of the Republican candidates has focused much on technological innovation, then proceeds to focus on the matter of “smart cities.” Friedman’s thesis is fairly straightforward: to maintain our competitive edge, we will need to keep pumping up our bandwidth, particularly in cities and towns which historically act as the incubators for The Next Big Thing and all its associated, Highly Useful Little Things. Blair Levin’s Gig U gets favorable mention, and Blair gets quoted a lot on why we want huge bandwidth in urban areas as well as making sure everyone gets access to functional broadband.

Let me give the Republican candidates that care (and I just know y’all hang on my every word) some advice. When you want to know where to stand on spectrum, follow the lead of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Most importantly, do NOT follow the lead of House Republicans. Why? See below . . . .

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Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Insanely Long Field Guide To Cisco’s War On The TV White Spaces

Will Cisco’s war against the TV white spaces tank incentive auctions? No doubt this question comes as a surprise to the vast majority of people unaware Cisco was running a war against TV white spaces (TVWS). True, Cisco has mostly tried to stay behind the scenes. But as we get closer to the Super Committee deadline, which include negotiations for incentive auction rules that would let TVWS survive, Cisco has become increasingly willing to go public with its anti-TVWS lobbying efforts.

This blog post on the Cisco blog, followed by this letter from the High Tech Spectrum Coalition (HTSC), finally say publicly what Cisco and its allies have been saying privately since debate over spectrum legislation began last January: “Death to the TV White Spaces.” Instead, argues Cisco, open up a new block of 5 GHz spectrum to “replace” the white spaces. But with spectrum legislation in trouble – as evidenced by CTIA’s non-stop radio advertising here in D.C. and it’s recent ‘we love unlicensed, can’t we all get along?’ letter to the Super Committee – Cisco’s continued opposition to white spaces threatens to tank any hope of getting incentive auctions passed either in the Super Committee or elsewhere.

Incentive auctions, while popular as a revenue generator, were always a tough sell because of broadcaster passive/aggressive opposition. Adding D Block reallocation made it even more difficult. Cisco’s war on the TVWS threatens to be the final straw that makes this lift just too heavy. It splits a tech community that would otherwise wholly support incentive auctions, while simultaneously pissing off key members of Congress who helped get TVWS done in the first place.

So the time has come for Cisco, CTIA, and others who really want incentive auctions, to ask themselves whether it’s worth it to risk incentive auctions just so that Cisco can keep Microsoft, Google/Motorola, Dell, and others from bringing a competing product to market. The Hutchison/Rockefeller Bill, S.911, was a compromise that kept spectrum for TVWS, gave Cisco the 5 GHz block it wants, and made sure that a minimum threshold of 84 MHz would be auctioned before allocating any recovered spectrum to replace white spaces lost by auction or repacking. While not great from my perspective as a white spaces supporter (and I’d still like to see it tweaked some), it was at least a livable compromise. Cisco’s anti-TVWS campaign already backfired once, with the Republican discussion draft to require auction for all unlicensed spectrum. Will Cisco and CTIA fail to learn just how easy it would be for them to blow this for everyone? Or will they settle for the compromise that got a bipartisan bill out of the Commerce Committee?

Why Cisco has been gunning for the TVWS, the quiet little war of the last ten months, and how to get out of this quagmire before it’s too late, below. . . .

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

PK Action Alert To Save the Future of Unlicensed Spectrum

Despite the obvious reliance on unlicensed spectrum by Americans every day in the form of everything from wifi to baby monitors to RFID, the current mania for spectrum auction revenues combined with lobbying from companies opposed to the TV white space has put the future of unlicensed spectrum at risk. This is particularly true under the discussion draft circulated by House Republicans last week. That draft would require that before the FCC could allocate any new spectrum for unlicensed use, it would first have to have an auction that would allow companies to buy the spectrum for exclusive use. Only if everyone collectively outbid AT&T or Verizon for unlicensed would the spectrum go to unlicensed use. As Stacy Higginbotham at GigaOm notes, this would have devastating impact on the future of unlicensed and the innovation that comes out of the unlicensed bands.

As if that were not enough, the proposed bill literally allows companies to buy their way out of FCC consumer protection regulation.

We are trying to stop this before it’s too late.  Public Knowledge has created an Action Alert asking anyone who cares about protecting unlicensed, or opposed to letting companies literally buy their own rules, then help us this Friday (tomorrow) by telling your member of Congress not to sell off our digital future or let companies buy their way out of public interest obligations. Sign up for the PK mobile Action Alert and you will get a text message tomorrow letting you directly contact your member of Congress so you can tell them why this bill is a really, really bad idea.

I reprint the PK Action Alert below.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, I Fear These Things, Life In The Sausage Factory, Media Ownership, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Insanely Long Field Guide to Lightsquared v. The GPS Guys

For some time now, I’ve been rooting for Lightsquared. Despite the fact that it faces tough odds trying to build out an expensive wireless network, a wireless network built from ground up for wholesale only could totally change the wireless market (which is entirely different from the mobile cellphone (aka the “commercial mobile radio service” or “CMRS”)  market, but that’s a rant for another time). But now, I just love the fight between Lightsquared and the GPS industry because it manages to contain everything that makes spectrum policy in this country like running a marathon with concrete blocks on your feet: bad neighbors operating critical systems so they can get away with being prima donnas, hostility from other federal agencies, unanticipated interference issues that crop up on deployment, and efforts to politicize the FCC’s technical process.

And, as always, a special guest appearance by a very tired looking Julie Knapp.

For a spectrum wonk such as myself, it simply does not get better than this. I also get one more real world example where I say to all the “property is the answer to everything” guys: “Ha! You think property is so hot? The rights are clearly defined here. Where’s your precious Coasian solution now, smart guys?” Which usually sends them back muttering that it’s not their fault no one in the real world follows the models that explain how it’s all supposed to work out in the world of rational actors and no transaction costs where unicorns frolic in the golden sunshine.

So, in the latest installment of my occasional “Insanely Long Field Guide” series, I take a lengthy look at Lightsquared, how we got here, and what I think will happen. Short version, ignore all the pseudo-Whitewater nonsense flogged by the conservative conspiracy theorists and complaints that the FCC bypassed their own process. So far, and I do not say this often so please pay attention, the FCC has behaved entirely appropriately, even intelligently. (Yeah, yeah, don’t let it go to your heads.) What matters is that the FCC is about to receive a report that confirms that, yes, when Lightsquared operates it system, it creates interference for existing deployed GPS systems. As a result, only the following things matter:

1. The Lightsquared folks are right about how the GPS guys knew this day would come and conveniently chose to do nothing. But in the short term it doesn’t matter, because the FCC will not allow anything to happen to GPS.

2. OTOH, if the GPS guys get their way, it means taking another 40 MHz of prime spectrum and rendering it useless forever. That also isn’t going to happen. That suggests a phase in/compromise.

3. Whether Lightsquared actually survives the compromise as a viable service will depend on a lot of things. The dimensions of any such compromise will depend on the interference tests. So while it is pretty clear from what’s been leaked that Lightsquared’s system as proposed causes interference with GPS systems, a lot of questions remain about what ought to happen to make it so that GPS and Lightsquared can live together in harmony.

At this point (from my wonkish perspective), the precedent of how to deal with annoying neighbors is almost more important than what actually happens to Lightsquared. If the GPS guys get their “sit on your rear-end veto,” then we can pretty much kiss off spectrum reform in the most useful spectrum bands. Every potentially useful band has neighbors that built systems on the assumption that nothing would ever change. So the FCC either finds a way to balance the interest of incumbents with fostering the expanded use we need for our expanding wireless  demand, or we forget about “spectrum flexibility” and resign ourselves to the current state of the universe pumped up by the occasional auction.

More below . . . .

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , | 6 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why Chairman Genachowski Should Appoint Commissioner Baker To Chair The Spectrum Task Force

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski has a spectrum politics problem problem. On the one hand, he learned from last year’s D Block battle that he needs to stay aggressively on message to sell his spectrum reforms.  His every speech on spectrum therefore reads like a campaign speech for incentive auctions. ‘We have a looming spectrum crisis, we need bold action, Congress must act now to pass incentive auctions.’ But, as Genachowski has discovered, this approach can have unintended consequences. Recently, Commissioner Robert McDowell reported that this focus on incentive auctions created uncertainty in Silicon Valley over the FCC’s commitment to the TV white spaces (TVWS). This follows earlier concerns from Senator Snowe (R-ME) and others that the Chairman’s exclusive public focus on incentive auctions invariably means giving short shrift to other, equally important spectrum reforms identified in the National Broadband Plan.

 

Genachowski moved quickly to reaffirm that support for TVWS remains strong and that TVWS is a big part of the FCC’s  spectrum for broadband initiative. Further, the inclusion of several spectrum items for the next open FCC meeting shows that Genachowski remains committed to broad spectrum reform. But these incidents underscore Genachowski’s difficult dilemma. How can he campaign to push through incentive auctions on the one hand, while making sure that other aspects of the spectrum reform agenda receive the prominence and attention they need to move forward? The fact that anyone could doubt the FCC’s continuing commitment to developing the TVWS despite its broad bipartisan support and support from the Obama Administration spectrum team underscores how little it takes to undermine confidence even in reforms already accomplished.

Commissioner Meredith Baker may hold the solution to Chairman Genachowski’s spectrum politics dilemma.  Genachowski should appoint Commissioner Baker chair of the reconstituted Spectrum Task Force. At the moment, the Spectrum Task Force is co-chaired by Julie Knapp (Chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology) and Ruth Milkman  (Chief of the Wireless Bureau). In an ideal world, having two such extraordinarily qualified experts and Bureau Chiefs heading the Spectrum Task Force would be enough to show that Genachowski is not neglecting spectrum reform outside incentive auctions. But in status-conscious Washington DC, the sad truth is that only a Commissioner can give the Spectrum Task Force the “star power” it needs to reassure everyone that serious work continues along multiple fronts.

More below . . . .

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why The White House and CTIA Don’t Agree On Incentive Auction Revenue, And Why I Think Both May Be Wrong.

The White House budget proposed last week contains an estimate of about $28 billion from auctioning federal spectrum and giving the FCC authority to conduct incentive auctions.  By contrast, the CTIA – The Wireless industry Association — and the Consumer Electronic Association (CEA) have published a study showing that the FCC could raise $33 bn from an incentive auction of the broadcast bands alone. So what gives?

The short answer is that spectrum auctions are extremely hard to predict, and incentive auctions are even harder to predict because we’ve never done one before. The longer answer is that because the White House is banking on the revenue as part of the budget process with real world consequences, they have therefore hedged against uncertainty by including an easier to estimate spectrum auction. CTIA/CEA, have written an advocacy piece. As with all such pieces, it tends to accent the positive. Unfortunately, the Report fails to address some rather pivotal issues, a factor that renders it of rather limited utility for resolving what I consider the most critical question no one has answered: will enough broadcasters participate in a voluntary auction to make it happen at all. It is on this point in particular that I remain profoundly skeptical.

Fair warning, as with all spectrum policy posts, this one tends to run pretty long. Still, I’m hoping the prospect of all that money  will rivet folks as I unpack the “known unknowns,” the “unknown unknowns,” and why I raise a skeptical eyebrow over the CTIA/CEA estimate below .  .  .  .

UPDATE: As I’ve explained here, I’ve edited this article considerably to take out some unwarranted snark on my part against CTIA/CEA.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Broadcasters Try To Embed Denial of Service Trojan Horse In White Spaces Rules

The official agenda for the FCC’s September Open Meeting on Thursday lists the broadcast white spaces as one of the items. This Order will resolve the details left hanging from the 2008 Order (although it now appears that it will not select the database operator), finally allowing development of this technology and forming the foundation for the next generation of unlicensed wireless technology.

Or maybe not. Even more than usual, this Order relies on getting all the details right. The limitations and interference mitigation mechanisms have left very little in the way of usable spectrum in the largest urban markets most attractive to manufacturers. Lose what’s left and you lose national markets necessary to interest developers and achieve economies of scale. Do anything further to drive up cost of manufacture or add a new layer of uncertainty and would-be developers – who have already been at this for [8 years] and poured millions of dollars into prototypes and pilot projects -– will likely pull the plug and walk away. Anyone who remembers such promising technologies as ultrawideband should recognize the death by a thousand cuts approach favored by incumbents.

[We’re having some technical issues here at Wetmachine, so I can’t link back to my previous posts on White Spaces. Sorry about that. Hopefully it will get resolved soon.]

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

Tales of the Sausage Factory

See Greg Rose and I Utterly Revolutionize Federal Spectrum Management Through The Power of Our MINDS!!!!

Ummmm……OK, maybe that overstates things a tad. Still, fellow Wetmachiner Greg Rose and yr hmbl obdn’t blogger will be unveiling two new White Papers on how we can break past the stale debates on federal spectrum and figure out how to make some wireless magic happen.

The event happens Thursday, June 3, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington DC 20001. NTIA Administrator Asst Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling will give the Keynote Address, “Averting the Spectrum Crisis.”

Here’s the event web page, which will also allow you to RSVP. Now go below the fold to see an amusing event description and hilarious video advertisement for the conference.
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Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Good Article in WASHPO by Cecilia Kang on Rural Broadband

While I was sorry to see the Business Section drop out of the Washington Post, I am glad if that contributed to this piece by Cecilia Kang getting on the front page.

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Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory, The Stimulus Package (ARRA) | Also tagged , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

I Join Public Knowledge As Legal Director

You can read the release here.

Regular readers will know I have worked closely with PK in the past and that it is an exciting opportunity for me to do more on intellectual property as well as continuing work on the spectrum and network neutrality issues. At the same time, I am continuing my consulting work with Strength To Strength Develop-Ed, LLC — albeit in a reduced role.

Stay tuned . . . .

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