All of these years, I wondered why you find folks in the cable industry who are such a pain in the neck about maintaining and getting stuff from their “public file.” Now I understand that this was really a last line of defense against an army of terrorists and saboteurs bent on destroying our way of life. Unfortunately, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the FCC’s recent action approving the technology for the broadcast white spaces may undermine this defense of our vital public infrastructure. How? Read below. And pray, PRAY, that the FCC heeds this warning and helps NCTA protect us from the army of lazy, easily frustrated terrorists inspired by Family Guy to destroy cable head ends that apparently surrounds us.
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.]
Unsurprisingly, the telecom world is all abuzz over the news that Google will build a bunch of Gigabit test-beds. I am perfectly happy to see Google want to drop big bucks into fiber test beds. I expect this will have impact on the broadband market in lots of ways, and Google will learn a lot of cool things that will help it make lots of money at its core business — organizing information and selling that service in lots of different ways to people who value it for different reasons. But Google no more wants to be a wireline network operator than it wanted to be a wireless network operator back when it was willing to bid on C Block in the 700 MHz Auction.
So what does Google want? As I noted then: “Google does not want to be a network operator, but it wants to be a network architect.” Oh, it may end up running networks. Google has a history of stepping up to do things that further its core business when no one else wants to step up, as witnessed most recently by their submitting a bid to serve as the database manager for the broadcast white spaces devices. But what it actually wants to do is modify the behavior of the platforms on which it rides to better suit its needs. Happily, since those needs coincide with my needs, I don’t mind a bit.
How does that play out here, and why do I compare Google to a protozoa? See below . . . .
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 . . . .
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 . . .
Republicans Finally Make FCC Picks. McDowell and Baker to Take R Slots. Now Can The Senate Please Get Everyone Confirmed So We Can Get To Work.
At long last, it looks like the Senate Republicans got their act together enough to settle on two FCC candidates: Current Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell and former NTIA Administrator Meredith Atwell Baker. While I expect a fair number of policy fights, I also expect to see this group weighing matters fairly and searching for common ground.
I’m hopeful this can clear the Senate before July 4 recess. The FCC has a pretty big agenda, starting with the National Broadband Plan (yes, February 2009 may seem far away, but not for this), continuing through finishing up on white spaces and wireless microphones, FCC Reform, ownership, network neutrality, etc., etc. Be nice if the Senate also confirmed Larry Strickling for NTIA. Finally, if we really want to get things moving, the Senate Agriculture Committee should schedule a hearing for Adelstein’s appointment to head up the Rural Utility Service now (they don’t have to wait for him to be off the FCC to have a hearing on his nomination to RUS) so he can be confirmed in a group with everyone else.
A bit more on Baker and McDowell below . . .
I find myself in complete agreement with the wireless industry on supporting The Radio Spectrum Inventory Act. This Bill, sponsored by John Kerry (D-MA), Chair of The Subcommittee on Communications of the Senate commerce Committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), requires NTIA and the FCC to account for every MHz of spectrum between 300 MHz and 3.5 GHz within 180 days of the bill’s passage. You can see Kerry’s statement here, and Snowe’s statement in here.
“Same bed, different dreams” was the title of a book by David Lampton on Sino-US relations, and comes from a Chinese expression describing people whose lives are fundamentally intertwined but who do not fundamentally communicate with each other. That pretty much sums up supporters of more licensed spectrum and supporters of more unlicensed spectrum, both of whom very much back this bill. Kerry caught this duality nicely by saluting both the 700 MHz auction and the opening of the broadcast white spaces as demonstrating the value of spectrum access and the need for the inventory.
A bit more on this below . . .
Unsurprisingly, the NAB and MSTV have filed a Petition for Review with the D.C. Circuit to try to get last November’s Order permitting unlicensed use of the white spaces overruled. As is the norm, the Petition merely recites the basics of jurisdiction and the general allegation that the Order is “arbitrary, capricious and otherwise not in accordance with law.”
Of perhaps greater interest, Broadcasting and Cable reports that a coalition of Broadway groups is filing in the Second Circuit.
As anyone reading the sidebar can tell, I’m a big fan of the folks over at OpenLeft. So I was extremely happy when Matt Stoller asked to interview me on what the November 4 white spaces vote at the FCC means for the future of media and telecom policy.
You can find the interviews here:
I have no idea if the Obama people — or anyone else for that matter — agree with me on this stuff. The views expressed in the interviews are my own, just like any other time I talk to the press. In particular, I am pretty sure no one else agrees that our priority should be to
“crush monopoly incumbents, drive them before us, and hear the lamentations of their shareholders.” “have a strong national broadband policy that includes federally funded fiber-to-the-home and greater access to federal spectrum for intelligent devices.”
But I hope we can persuade them to agree with me.
Stay tuned . . . .