Tales of the Sausage Factory

What the Heck Is The “Duplex Gap” And Why Has It Blown Up The July FCC Meeting?

Difficult as it is to believe, there are times in policy when issues do not break down simply by partisan interest or into neat categories like incumbents v. competitors or broadcasters v. wireless carriers. Sometimes — and I know people are not gonna believe me on this – issues break down on pure substance and require lots of really hard choices. Of course, because these issues are highly technical and complicated, most people like to ignore them. But these kinds of issues are also usually the hardest and most intractable for people who actually care about what the world looks like and how this policy decisions will actually work in reality.

 

So it is with the question of whether to put broadcasters in the duplex gap as part of the repacking plan in the incentive auction. Did your eyes glaze over yet? Heck, for most people, it’s gonna take a paragraph or two of explanation just to understand what that sentence means. But even if you don’t know what it means, you can understand enough for this basic summary:

 

  1. Just about every stakeholder in the auction — wireless carriers, broadcasters, wireless microphone users, tech company supporters of using unlicensed spectrum in the broadcast bands, public interest groups — all told the FCC not to put broadcasters in the duplex gap.

 

  1. Nevertheless, the Auction Team proposed putting broadcasters in the duplex gap, based on a set of simulation that suggested that the FCC would only get back 50-60 MHz of spectrum to auction if they protected the duplex gap. The Chairman circulated a draft order adopting the Auction Team’s proposal.

 

  1. Everybody freaked out. The Chairman found he did not have 3 votes, or possibly not even 2 votes, to adopt his proposal on duplex gap. The freak out is so intense and so bad that the FCC actually waived the Sunshine Period for this itemso that interested parties can continue to talk to FCC staff and commissioners until the night before the meeting. The FCC also released additional data showing the impact would be limited to a relatively small number of cities.

 

  1. That helped some, but not enough. Despite progress on negotiations, the FCC clearly did not have time to get to the right solution in the 5 days between the release of the new data and the actual vote. Also, a bunch of people were pissed that the Auction Team hadn’t released the data sooner, and hadn’t provided more explanation of the underlying model and the assumptions behind it. On Tuesday, the Republican Chairs of the House Energy & Commerce Committee & the Telecom Subcommittee wrote Wheeler a letter chastising him for having a bad process and calling on Wheeler to pull the item from the agenda entirely. On Wed., the day before the vote, Wheeler wrote back defending the process but agreeing to pull the item (and the associated item on whether or not to change the spectrum reserve) until the August Meeting three weeks from now.

 

In Policyland, this passes for high drama. It is, to say the least, highly unusual. Enough so that even folks who find technical issues like this complicated and boring to the point of insanity are asking: “what the heck just happened there? Who lost and who won?” The equally complicated answer: “no one lost or won, we’ve got a serious debate about a technical problem which has consequences no matter how you resolve it” is not nearly as satisfying as “the carriers” or “the tech companies” or whatever.

 

I explain and unpack all of this below, as well as consider possible impacts and ways to resolve this. But again, I want to stress this is a super hard problem. This is about competing goals and the difficulty of predicting the future with any certainty. It’s also about trust and stuff, which is hard to come by in Washington even at the best of times. This is not subject to simplistic plotlines like “Oh, the Auction Team are out of control” or “The broadcasters and unlicensed supporters are just being stubborn.” (Wait, the NAB and the unlicensed guys and the wireless microphone guys are on the same side? And they agree with Verizon? WTF?) This stuff is hard.

 

More below . . .

 

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Reminder: Wireless Microphones Must Cease Operation on Former Channels 52-69 by June 12, 2010.

The FCC has issued a reminder to all users of wireless microphones that they must cease operation on former Channels 52-69 (also called the 700 MHz Band) by June 12, 2010. As part of the transition to digital television, these channels have been repurposed for public safety uses and commercial uses incompatible with operation of wireless microphones.

You can see the FCC’s Public Notice reminder here.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Issues Excellent Wireless Microphone Order — Perhaps NAB Will Rely Less on Scare Tactics and Celebrity Letters Now.

Time to clear up a little piece of unfinished business for which I and this humble blog can claim some modest responsibility. The FCC finally issued it’s long awaited Order on wireless microphones stemming from this blog post and the subsequent complaint/Petition for Rulemaking by the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (to which a special shout out to the folks at New America Wireless Future is due, given the fantastic amount of work they did on assembling evidence and helping draft the document).

As one can tell from this FCC press release describing the details, we pretty much got what we wanted — although not entirely and not in the way we expected. But, as I noted in this press statement in my role as Legal Director of Public Knowledge, we’re very happy with how things turned out. Briefly:
(a) all wireless mic users are now granted legal status, this is done pursuant to the FCC’s Part 15 rules for unlicensed rather than the “license by rule” that we suggested, but my only regret about that is I didn’t think of it when we filed.
(b) Everyone using wireless microphones needs to clear out of the 700 MHz band by Jun 12, 2010 — one year after the DTV transition and 15 months after the original date proposed by the FCC. Given how the Broadway people have been telling the FCC for months how they are off the 700 MHz band, this should not be too much of a hardship — especially for those who had no right to be there in the first place.
(c) The FCC will invest a boatload of its own resources, and gin up the FCC 2.0 machinery, to get the word out to folks and help consumers, churches, etc. handle the transition.
(d) The FCC will require that wireless microphones have signs and labels going forward to make sure that people understand the difference between licensed users and unlicensed users.

In addition, the FCC is having a further notice of proposed rulemaking that will:
1) Set the rules for the new Part 15 unlicensed wireless microphones.
2) Will examine whether to expand the class of Part 74 Subpart H eligible licensees to see if they should expand the class to give interference protection to some set of users — which would include who gets to be in the database of licensed services protected from operation of TV white spaces devices.

Yeah, that kicks the can down the road rather than saying flat out “anyone who was using a wireless microphone illegally is not entitled to protection against the TV white spaces devices, which went through the legal process and got approved.” But I can most definitely live with that. For one thing, I am confident that in an evidence-driven FCC which places consumer interests first, as demonstrated by this Order with its unprecedented investment of FCC resources for outreach (which we had not even dreamed of requesting except in the most general way of offering to help), will focus on the real question of whether or not there is interference and if so how to strike the appropriate balance between allowing new technologies and protecting existing users. Hopefully, this will inspire white spaces opponents to focus on engineering rather than trying to use scare tactics and celebrity “star power”.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Last Day of (Full Power) Analog TV And Our Post Transition To Do List.

Well, here it is at last. Finally, more than 13 years after the 1996 Act created a scheme to transfer us to digital television by giving all existing broadcasters $70 billion (at the time) in new spectrum rights, the great day of reckoning is here.

Give the FCC and NTIA, especially mid-season replacements Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps and Acting NTIA Administrator Anna Gomez, massive applause for seeing this through to the end. You guys rock! As one of your 300 Million taxpayer bosses, I’m telling you to sleep in tomorrow. Oh yeah, it’s Saturday.

Once you’re back on Monday, however, and assuming the world as we know it did not end, we have a few items left on the clean up list: Wireless Microphones, LPTV, the UHF Discount for Ownership, and Public Interest Obligations.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Libby Beaty, Executive Director of NATOA. A tireless advocate for the importance of local government and its power to protect consumer interests. Today, Libby tragically lost her battle with lung cancer. She will be sorely missed.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

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 . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

CellAntenna Still Plugging Away on Cell Phone Jamming — And Why They Must Not Succeed.

I’ve been following the adventures of CellAntenna, the company that wants to sell cellphone jamming devices in the U.S., for awhile now. As lots of folks would love to jam cell phones — from hotels that hate losing the revenue from charging for use of their phones to theater venues that want customers to enjoy the show to schools trying to tamp down on texting in class — you would think there would be lots of these jammers on the market. The problem, of course, is that Section 333 of the Communications Act (47 U.S.C. 333) makes cell phone jamming illegal. Just in case anyone missed this rather straightforward statutory prohibition, the FCC officially clarified that Section 333 means “no cell phone jammers” in 2005.

Enter CellAnntenna, determined to sell cell phone jammers legally. If you are going to develop a legal on something illegal, you either need something real clever (like magic cellphone blocking nanopaint), or a strategy for changing the law coupled with the sort of stubbornness that does not mind slamming into a brick wall 99 times because you might dent it on the hundreth time. CellAntenna has apparently followed this later strategy — and may be making some headway.

CellAntenna initially tried to get courts to declare Section 333 unconstitutional. So far as I can tell, that’s going nowhere. Next, and far more successfully, CellAntenna has recruited prisons to push the idea that only cellphone jammers can resolve the problem that prison security sucks rocks. This has prompted a bill to create a “prison waiver” exception to Section 333 (House version here) and a raft of credulous stories like this one that prefer to ask “isn’t it awful that we can’t jam cell phones” rather than ask “what the $#@! do you mean we can’t secure our ‘maximum security’ prisons?”

I explore the issues, and why I think creating an exception to Sec. 333 would be a big mistake, below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Shure Makes Clever Defensive Gambit Against CTIA/Public Safety in 700 MHz Tussle — $1000 Rebate.

In an interesting new development in the wireless microphone saga, Shure is now offering a $1000 rebate on a replacement wireless microphone for anyone who trades in a wireless microphone that operates on the 700 MHz frequencies, provided the purchaser bought the microphone before February 2007. I’m not sure why the magic cut off date, and Shure does not explain.

Shure does, OTOH, offer an explanation for why it will make this generous offer — albeit an incomplete one:

“Our number one priority is to provide our customers with the highest quality products, service, and support,” said Al Hershner, Vice President and General Manager of the Shure U.S Business Unit. “We’ve known for some time that the ‘700 MHz band’ would be reallocated for new services following the DTV transition on February 18, 2009. Although a final decision from the FCC is still pending, we felt the need to assure our customers now that we will take care of them regardless of the outcome.”

Shure does not mention, of course, that the most likely outcome involves outlawing all use of wireless microphones in the 700 MHz, and a reasonable probability that Shure (and other manufacturers) will be required to replace the equipment for free. But that doesn’t mean Shure will miss an opportunity to spin its customers and recruit their support at the FCC explain to interested customers the ongoing FCC legal proceeding:

“There has been a great deal of confusion for wireless microphone users regarding the political and technological developments surrounding the DTV transition and the 700 MHz auction over the past few years,” added Hershner. “As always, Shure has a team of sales, customer service, and technical support staff available to answer any questions people might have about this rebate program or their products.”

Hmmm….could this have something to do with the recent push by the incoming public safety and commercial 700 MHz licensees to take this seriously so it won’t mess up deployment? Could Shure be trying to fob off the FCC with a fake remedial action while boosting its own sales and recruiting its customers for a massive push against the wireless guys and public safety? Or is that just my nasty and suspicious nature rejecting the idea that Shure is deeply — deeply I say — concerned about its customers (which it assures the FCC are only retailers and not members of the public ineligible for licenses to operate such systems) and I should be ashamed of myself for questioning this noble voluntary remediation by an upstanding corporate citizen that just happened to build its business on wholesale violation of federal law?

I explore the possibilities below . . . .

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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

Blogging Live From Denver: The Quest To Actually Get Into Big Tent.

Well, my usual level of organization pays off.

Due to an annoying computer crash, I failed to get my application to get into Big Tent Denver. My pass as a speaker for Common Cause only covers me for tomorrow. My alternate arrangement has run into a bit of difficulty. And, of course, such is my fame among the progressive blogger community that no one here knows who the $@! I am or why they should care.

I had hoped to take Henry Cohen up on his offer to see the wireless microphones for the convention in action. Alas, the DNC convention is locked down like a drum, and Henry — despite massive efforts — could not get me in today to see the tech operations. The DNC and RNC conventions have got to be like the superbowl for wireless microphones, so this is also rather disappointing.

So I am sitting in a delightful bookstore/coffee house down the block from Big Tent, contemplating wandering over to the main convention to see if protesters are using sophisticated technologies to outwit security –or not. I will confess that despite news stories of tight security, I was able to drive past the convention center this morning no problem.

If all else fails, I will spend a pleasant day in Denver and can catch up on some other work and various blog things.

UPDATE: Thanks to the amazing work of Katie Flemming at Common Cause Colorodo, I am now inside with a pass.

Stay tuned . . . .

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