Tales of the Sausage Factory

And now the moment we've all been waiting for WHITE SPACES

O.K., Julie opens with a basic summary that technology now lets us do this. Rules recommended are a conservative first step. Appropriate safeguards for interference protection. Now, Hugh Van Tuyl will present the Order. Take it Hugh!

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Commission Meeting Happens! Begins With Gifts To Verizon and AT&T . . . .

O.K., we finally started at 3:50 p.m. Three items left, VZ/Alltel, New Clearwire, and White Spaces. I’ll split tdo my happy dance on his in two, so I can gripe about the suckiness of the mergers while doing my happy dance on white spaces unsullied by this market consolidation.

Details of merger suckiness below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

3 p.m., FCC approves another item. Crowd Thins, But Reporters and Hardcore Policy Wonks and White Space Folks Hang On.

O.K., now coming up on 3 p.m. on the meeting that should have started at 11 a.m. The FCC has announced that the Commissioners voted another relatively non-controversial item on circulation, the grant of the Verizon C Block licenses.

As some folks may recall, Google filed a Petition with the FCC after the 700 MHz auction requesting that they put some teeth into the C Block conditions and provide further clarity on how they can enforce the conditions against Verizon if it plays games. It is expected that the item basically says “yes, we mean it,” but not give any further details. We’ll have to wait for when they publish the Order to find out.

Meanwhile, those of us desperate for a white spaces vote continue to sweat it out and hope the Order doesn’t get derailed. Those opposed, unsurprisingly, are now hoping for the opposite.

NEWSFLASH: According to FCC staff, while Commissioner Godot will not vote today, he will surely vote tomorrow!

AAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Vote this thing!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

2:30 P.M., Still No Meeting . . . .

O.K., I hope tonight’s election results go better. Rumor is the hold up is on roaming conditions in the VZ/Alltel merger. Still, after the DOJ approved the merger with a few divestitures, there was no doubt that the FCC will roll over. The only question is whether Tate or McDowell will side with the Ds to exact some additional conditions for the benefit of the rural carriers or competitors. Hence the speculation that this involves roaming. But I still expect a vote today. You can almost hear the Verizon charatcer in the Alltel ads whispering “Soon Chad . . . .soon you will share your circle for the last time . . . . you ding dong.”

While we wait, here are some preliminary thoughts about the items.

Here’s the original agenda. The FCC dropped item 1, Universal Service/Intercarrier Compensation (USF/ICC), and voted the item on distributed television systems (DTS) and closed captioning on circulation.

Of these, the voted items were fairly non-controversial. DTS is designed to address the fact that DTV signals don’t work the same way as analog, and will allow broadcasters to maintain their audience after the conversion. The only possible pitfall was whether it would allow broadcasters to expand their footprint which would (a) eat into the available white spaces, and (b) give them yet more free spectrum goodies for no good reason. My info is that the order will emphasize that the intent is to maintain the status quo ante transition. I have no idea on the closed captioning item.

That leaves USF/ICC. USF/ICC is a huge mess of biblical proportions that causes even a hardened policy wonk like me to quail and flee the room screaming. It is famously broken, everyone hates it, but no one can agree on how to fix it. There is absolutely no right answer, and any piece of it impacts all the other pieces.

What is interesting is that this created another 4-1 revolt by the other offices against Martin. While I give Martin credit for trying to get hideously controversial stuff done, you are clearly doing something wrong if you have managed to uniformly piss off all four Commissioners to the point where they are making pointed public statements that boil down to “Kevin, you ain’t the boss of me.” It is always hard for a Chairman to get stuff done in the last months of an administration, but unless Martin and the other offices figure out a way to get along, it is going to be a very viscious and unproductive couple of months until January 21.

The delay on this meeting, which caught Martin totally by surprise, is not exactly an auspicious omen.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Live Blogging the FCC Vote — What If They Called A Vote and Nobody Came?

So here I am, waiting for the white spaces vote, votes on the merger items, and a few other things. The FCC adopted two orders on circulation already — an item on closed captioning and an item on distributed television systems, a technology that will allow digital television broadcasters to keep their current viewers after the transition (I will explain this later). Given that Martin pulled the USF/Intercarrier comp itemyesterday at the insistence of the other Commissioners, that leaves (a) The Verizon/Alltel deal, (b) the New Clearwire deal, (c) the white spaces item, and (d) Google’s pending petition to have the FCC put some teeth into the C block conditions before granting the licenses to Verizon.

The meeting was scheduled for 11 a.m. It’s now after 12:30 p.m. Martin was down here for about an hour before heading back upstairs again. He appeared surprised at the delay.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

CORRECTION: The Record Is NOT Closed In White Spaces. Record On That Item Open Until Friday.

Serves me right for rushing something out late last night. As one reader pointed out to me in email, the FCC has not closed the record on the white spaces proceeding, although it has on the other agenda items. The record for white spaces will remain open until Friday, October 31.

Although closing the record a week before the meeting is usual, the FCC has authority to extend the time for ex parte presentations and hold the record open. The last time I recall them doing this was before the first 700 MHz Order back in April 2007.

I do not think this extension of the Sunshine period is necessarily good or bad for any side in the white spaces debate, although I would prefer if they would just vote the Order on circulation and get it out (which won’t happen ntil the record closes). At a guess, I think Martin (and it is his prerogative as Chair) extended the opportunity for presentations because the Commissioners have been on travel as roving amabassadors for the DTV transition, and getting meetings with Commissioners and their staff has been very difficult for folks — especially given the crush of other items on the agenda. The Order is also fairly complicated from a technical perspective, and, as a political matter, it helps mitigate the accusation about a “rush to judgment” (because five years is just too short, ya know).

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Record Now Officially Closed In White Spaces, Mergers, USF.

The FCC has now published the official agenda for the Nov. 4 meeting. The agenda has not varied from the tentative agenda released 3 weeks ago.

For white spaces, and the other items on the agenda, the focus of lobbying is now (of necessity) the Congress and in the popular press. Members of Congress can still write to put pressure on FCC Commissioners, and FCC Commissioners and staff can actively solicit information. But no new presentations can be made or evidence placed in the record.

Items can still be pulled. Or they can be voted on before the meeting — especially if they are non-controversial.

I will do a more full analysis of the agenda a bit later, God willing and there is time.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

NAB/MSTV Embrace Radio Pirates, Make Up Engineering Data, And Do Whatever Else It Takes To Kill White Space Devices.

I gotta admire the broadcasters (as represented by their trade orgs, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV)). Even with the facts completely against them, they never give up trying. Sadly, they all too often succeed through a combination of heavy duty lobbying power (what politician doesn’t suck up to his or her local broadcaster?) and the fact that most decision makers don’t know squat about engineering and regard the whole thing as black magic. Heck, it worked to hamstring low-power FM (LPFM) radio, despite a subsequent independent government report showing the broadcaster interference claims were unsubstantiated bologna.

But embracing radio pirates by proposing to expand the availability of wireless microphones in the broadcast white spaces for their political allies and tacitly agreeing to amnesty for illegal wireless microphone users? Even I never thought they would go that far.

So let me get this straight, NAB, a million unauthorized mobile wireless microphone users operating “dumb” transmitters at higher power don’t cause interference. But smart devices, identical to those relied upon by the U.S. military to share frequencies with unlicensed devices, operating at much lower power and required to use a geolocational database, do cause interference? Wow, that makes so much sense. I can see why NAB and MSTV did not include any actual engineering analysis with their comments.

Personally, I think that if spectrum sensing and “smart radio” is good enough to protect the lives of American soldiers, we can trust it to protect viewers of American Idol. But I do not expect the broadcasters to let a piddly little thing like reality stop them — especially when using false interference claims and blatantly bogus evidence made it possible to clip the wings of the fledging low-power FM (LPFM) radio service back in 2000 (more details on the Prometheus Radio website LPFM fact sheet).

Still, I never thought I would actually lie to see the day the NAB would embrace unauthorized users, utterly reverse everything it ever said about the need to restrict access to the broadcast bands, and walk away from the more than 1 million unauthorized users in the band. Mind, you’d think that after a five year proceeding marked by such shenanigans as giving themselves free air time to push bogus interference concerns onto the public, adorable made up videos that purport to be real like Your Neighbor’s Static (aka “white spaces Reefer Madness), and the ”experiment we refuse to explain so you can’t check the results,“ the NAB would have already shot its credibility beyond all hope of recovery. But since no one not obsessed with this proceeding pays much attention to it, the NAB and friends gets to rerun the same bogus claims over and over and over again.

On the plus side, I hope my friends at Prometheus Radio are taking notes for when they make another run at Congress next year (or even this year in a lame duck session) to get the Local Community Broadcasters Act passed and get the shackles based on the broadcasters’ bogus ”interference concerns” lifted. After all, if the NAB doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about interference from unauthorized users anymore and is willing to embrace unauthorized operators, Congress should take them at their word.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Will The FCC Create An ICANN for White Spaces?

Mind you, I am generally pleased with the announcement by FCC Chair Kevin Martin that the exhaustive study of possible white spaces devices by the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) proves that the FCC can go to the next step and authorize both fixed and mobile unlicensed devices. I shall, God and the Jewish holiday schedule permitting, eventually have more to say on the subject. But I can’t help but focus on one aspect of Martin’s generally outlined proposed rules that raises questions for me.

See, I spent a lot of time back in the day working on domain name policy with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN derives its authority through control of the authoritative list of top-level domain servers (“the root zone file”). Or, put another way, the entire structure of ICANN, which now has a budget in the tens of millions and an entire cottage industry that surrounds it, is based on the fact that ICANN controls access to a list that you must have in order to get internet access.

So I’m very curious about who will control the database that will work to supplement sensing as a way to protect over-the-air broadcasting and operation of (legal?) wireless microphones. If the FCC administers this database, and makes it freely available online, then things will work fine. The FCC is already supposed to maintain such a database, because it supposedly keeps track of every license and licensees have a responsibility to keep their license information current. In practical terms, it would cost some money and effort to upgrade the existing database to something easily accessed and updated on a dynamic basis, because the FCC has let this lapse rather badly. (Not their fault, really. No one likes to pay for “back office” or “infrastructure” and it has never really risen to anyone’s priority level.) OTOH, it means that actually upgrading the FCC’s existing database, and giving broadcasters and wireless microphone licensees incentive to keep their information current, will yield benefits beyond making geo-location possible.

OTOH, if the FCC outsources this function, it will be an invitation to disaster. A database manager –particularly an unregulated one — will have every incentive to charge for access to the database. While I don’t expect anything on the scale of ICANN, the possibility for real bad results goes up exponentially if no one pays attention to this kind of detail. Will the database manager get exclusive control? Will the database manager be able to set its own fees for access to the database? How will the database manager be held accountable to the broader community? These are questions that need to be answered — either in the Report and Order or in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

My great fear is that the FCC will treat this as the equivalent of a frequency coordination committee. But it isn’t anything like a frequency coordination committee, since the whole point (from my perspective) is to open up access for everyone and not just for a handful of industry folks who can work the process and pay the fees. Worse, if the FCC delegates this to the broadcasters themselves, it will create an incredible opportunity to hamstring the process at the critical access point.

On the plus side, perhaps we can get Susan Crawford to go from an ICANN Director to an FCC Commissioner.

Stay tuned . . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

White Spaces Update — Field Testing Can Be Soooo Educational. You Always Find Something You Don’t Expect.

As folks may recall, the primary opponents of opening the broadcast white spaces for use, the broadcasters and the wireless microphone manufacturers — notably our good friend and radio pirate Shure, Inc. (official slogan:“We get to break the law ’cause we sound so good”) — insisted that the FCC conduct field tests on the white spaces prototypes. Of course, because these are concept prototypes and not functioning devices certified to some actual standard, everyone knew this would leave lots of leeway for the broadcasters and the wireless microphone folks to declare the “tests” a “failure” regardless of the actual results. Which, of course, they did. Needless to say, Phillips (which makes one of the prototypes) said the opposite, and it all depends on whether you mean “the device functioned perfectly as if there were actually some standards for building a functioning device” or “the device proved it could detect occupied channels at whatever sensitivity the FCC decides is necessary.” The FCC engineers, wisely, made no comment and went back to their labs to analyze the actual data.

But one of the nice things about field testing is that you learn the most amazing things that you can never learn in a lab, as demonstrated by this ex parte filed by Ed Thomas for the White Spaces Coalition, the industry group that backs opening the white spaces. Apparently, in front of eye witnesses (including the FCC’s engineers), both broadcasters and unauthorized wireless microphone users in the Broadway field test operated wireless microphones on active television channels, at power levels well above what white spaces advocates propose for mobile devices. All apparently without interfering with anybody’s television reception or even — in the case of the unauthorized Broadway users — screwing up the hundreds of other illegal wireless microphones in the neighboring theaters.

A few rather important take aways here: (1) the danger of interference claims by broadcasters and Shure are utterly bogus, as the wireless microphones do not screw up either television reception or each other; (b) the broadcasters and Shure know their interference claims are bogus. If they actually cared on iota about possible interference, they would not casually operate high power wireless microphones on the same channel as active television broadcasts and as each other. Instead, they are so unconcerned about interference that they can’t even remember to pretend to care about basic interference concerns when they are conducting a field test in front of the FCC’s own engineers.

A bit more elaboration on these points below . . . .

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