Tales of the Sausage Factory

Cablevision’s WiFi Roll Out — A Wireless Plan B?

As I discussed in the context of the Sprint/Clearwire/Etc. spectrum menage (and discussed a bit more with Gordon Cook on his blog), the reality of the post-700 MHz auction world makes it necessary for cable operators to have some kind of wireless strategy if they want to meet the potential next generation competitive threat from either AT&T and Verizon or possibly from newly en-spectrumed DISHTV. At the same time, cable operators are desperate to avoid the downdrag on the their stock that would come from a heavy investment in wireless licenses and further nvestment in infrastructure — especially when analysts don’t give them a prayer of taking on the wireless carriers in what has become a reasonably mature market. How to resolve this difficult dilemma?

Those cable systems with the combination of resources and forethought to address this have opted for different solutions. Comcast, Time Warner and Brighthouse –through their new partnership with Sprint/Clearwire etc. — have flopped back to the old cable standard of joint ventures and strategic investment. (Anyone else remember @Home Network?) Cox went out and won its own set of licenses covering its cable service area, as did Charter parent Vulcan Enterprises (as have a few lesser systems, such as Washington Post owned CableOne, which captured a bunch of licenses in the AWS auction).

Cablevision tried twice to acquire its own set of licenses: first in the AWS Auction in 2006, and again in the 700 Mhz Auction. Both times Cablevision went home empty-handed, outbid by the wireless giants. With no new spectrum on the horizon, and apparently no invite into the Sprint/Clearwire Happy House ‘o WiMax partnership, Cablevision found itself in need of a spectrum “Plan B.” Happily for Cablevision, there is also such a thing as “unlicensed spectrum” which — as I and other boosters of the competitive power of open spectrum continually point out — is available to everyone and cheap to deploy (relative to building a licensed network from scratch).

Hence the recent Cablevision announcement that it will deploy a wifi network in conjunction with its cable network. As a Plan B, it has some real advantages over using licensed spectrum, as well as some potential disadvantages. But given Cablevision’s unique deployment situation — it is primarily located in New York City and Long Island which gives it incredible population density for its relatiely small footprint — this fall back position may work for it where it would not work for other cable companies.

A bit more analysis below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Academic Article on Unlicensed Spectrum Gets Published

Every now and then, I take a break from the delightful and snarky world of blogging to dash off the odd researched piece for an academic journal. This is always an annoying and painstaking process, because academic journals want footnotes not just the occassional link. They also dislike articles that use terms like “incumbent whankers.”

Still, the effort (when I can find the time for it) is usually worth it — at least from my perspective. You can judge for yourself by following the link to the Commlaw Conspectus website and downloading From Third Class Citizen to First Among Equals: Rethinking the Place of Unlicensed Spectrum in the FCC Hierarchy.

For those unsure if its worth slogging through 39 pages of lawyer writing, here’s a summary. The FCC has a basic hierarchy of licensed spectrum, licensed by rule (family radio service and a few other things), and unlicensed spectrum. From a wireless perspective, the FCC exists for licensed spectrum, has a few oddball things licensed by rule, and has a few slivers of space open for unlicensed spectrum. Unlicensed spectrum is the “third class citizen,” required to shut off if it causes the least interference to licensed services while accepting any interference that comes its way. When the FCC allocates spectrum rights, it does everything possible for licensed services while looking with askance at the free-wheeling unlicensed poor relation. As a result, licensed services get choice spectrum and unlicensed services get the leavings — and that on sufferance.

In my article, I argue that the First Amendment calls for standing this on its head. Licensing of spectrum came about because old technology couldn’t handle everyone using this all at once we call this the “scarcity rationale,” because the need to license spectrum to avoid interference made licenses ‘scarce’). But because the FCC must give the approval for any new technologies, the technology to eliminate scarcity (and thus eliminate the need for exclusive licensing) will never come about. This circular reasoning offends the First Amendment. Accordingly, when the FCC considers whether to permit unlicensed uses, it should need to justify its decisions under a higher Constitutional standard than it does in other licensing cases (“intermediate scrutiny” rather than “rational basis” for all you legal types out there).

Besides, I argue, it’s also better policy.

While I hardly expect the FCC and the federal courts to read my piece and exclaim: “At last! What perfect wisdom! What fools we have been!” I do hope this helps advance the debate some. As with everyone else who publishes in a field where the debate has simmered for a few years, I argue for a “third way” between licensing and commons. Rather than eliminating exclusive licensing altogether, or proposing we split the spectrum down the middle, I propose allowing a gradual evolution in technology and until exclusive licensing will gradually wither away, with perhaps a handful of truly sensitive services still licensed exclusively.

Of course, if that happened, your cell phone bill would drop like a rock, ubiquitous wireless broadband would become too cheap to meter, and television and radio conglomerates would lose their precious monopolies on the airwaves. So don’t hold your breath.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Kerry drops another good bill

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) has introduced the Wireless Innovation Act of 2007. This bill is essentially the same excellent bill to force the FCC to open up the White Spaces that Kerry, Allen (now no longer in the Senate), Boxer and Sunnunu introduced in 2006 and was later incorporated into the Stevens Bill.

The bill requires the FCC to complete its pending rulemaking on the broadcast white spaces and allocate the use for unlicensed spectrum. Given that the FCC has shifted into reverse on this and has decided to reexplore the licensed v. unlicensed question, it’s nice to see folks on the Hill pushing for this.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Big Win For Community Wireless At FCC

The FCC released its long awaited decision resolving Continental Airline’s complaint that Massport cannot order it to shut down its free wifi access for Continental customers.

While supremely important for its ultimate holding, the case contains many positive and useful determinations for unlicensed generally. It also contains two outstanding concurring statementsfrom the Democratic Commissioners. You can see Copps’ concurence here, and Adelstein’s here.

That’s also very good news. Almost a year ago, I worried that, with the departure of Michael Powell and Ed Thomas from the FCC, and the departure of Michael Gallagher from NTIA no one would champion the cause of unlicensed spectrum. But as Copps and Adelstein have shown, both in this decision and in their actions in last month’s item on the broadcast white spaces, Copps and Adelstein ‘get it’ on unlicensed spectrum and why it is so important.

Further analysis below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC loses a good one

Lest you think I only speak ill of FCC staff, I was quite sorry to see on Mike Marcus’ Spectrumtalk blog that Alan Scrime, Chief of the Policy and Rules Division of the Office of Engineering and Technology, is leaving the FCC to take a job with the Army close to his home in New Jersey.

In the time I’ve been working on unlicensed spectrum issues (which OET handles), Alan has always been a pleasure to work with. A smart fellow who has been just as interested in what the non-commercial folks are doing as he has been with the established players or well-funded start ups, Alan has also displayed considerable patience and willingness to explain things to non-technical folks such as myself.

Sorry to see Alan go, and wishing him luck with the Army.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

More Funding For CUWiN=Good News For Open Source Mesh Networking

As regular readers probably know, I’m a huge fan of the Champaign Urbana Wireless Network (CUWiN) and its co-founder and project coordinator Sascha Meinrath. I was therefore ecstatic to hear that CUWiN
received a grant from the National Science Foundation for $500,000.

I have pushed for support for CUWiN for years as one of the great hopes for open source mesh networking using unlicensed spectrum. To unpack that a little from geek speak, it means using non-proprietary code to create nodes that use unlicensed spectrum to form a network by speaking to each other rather than sending a signal point-to-point from a central “hub” (“hub-and-spoke”). You can find a good illustration of the difference between mesh and hub-and-spoke (and good general introduction to community wireless) on this Free Press page.

CUWiN has spent years developing useful open source software and other tools designed to make wireless networks cheap, ubiquitous, and easy to implement in multiple communities and environments. CUWiN software and methods have created networks in Ghanna, the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, Champaign and Urbana, and the San Diego Tribal Digital Village in San Diego County. Their software is freely available and downloadable fromtheir website.
People who care about creating ubiquitous and affordable wireless broadband around the world should be throwing money at CUWiN hand over fist. Sadly, as with so many good and desperately needed projects, CUWiN has lived starved for funds and hand to mouth.

The NSF grant gives CUWiN much needed money to continue and expand its good work. I’m also hopeful that “money follows money” as they say in the grant world. With this level of support from NSF, I hope CUWiN finds it easier to open doors at other foundations and grant sources.

I reprint the CUWiN press release about the grant below.

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Unlicensed Under Assault, or When Staff Attack!

This latest Notice of Proposed Rulemaking shows how far in the wrong direction the FCC has come on spectrum issues. Funny thing is, I don’t think FCC Chair Kevin Martin hates unlicensed or is in the pocket of the licensees. I think this is an example of WHEN STAFF ATTACK!!! (specifically the wireless bureau staff).

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

STOP THE WIFI TAX RUMOR

Freaking trade press should know better, or at least learn to read more carefully. There is a steady drum beat of reports, starting I think with this one at RCR Wireless News that the President wants a “wifi tax.” This is, bluntly, a misreading of the plain language of the President’s budget proposal.

Lord knows there is plenty in the proposed budget not to like, but there’s no “wifi tax.” My analysis (and a little context) below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Did the Bells Rip Off America? and Is There An Alternative?

I want to put two pieces side by side here: Bruce Kushnik’s magnum opus The $200 Billion Broadband Scandal, accusing the Bell Companies of ripping off the U.S. public to the
and Bob McChesnney’s and John Podesta’s visionary Let There Be Wi-Fi talking about the power of unlicensed spectrum as a broadband solution.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Small But Potentially Significant Spectrum Ruling

Unnoticed by most folks, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a public notice on the legality of cell phone jammers. (They aren’t.) Oddly, this may have very significant impacts for users of unlicensed spectrum.

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