Last week, I predicted the FCC would opt to auction the AWs-2/AWS-3 spectrum rather than adopt the M2Z proposal. Yesterday, the FCC issued it’s teaser for recommendations to improve broadband adoption. One of these was “[c]onsider use of spectrum for a free or very low cost wireless broadband service.”
That, of course, was M2Z’s chief selling point. They would provide a free tier for for everyone supported by adds and by the higher-speed, ad free pay tier. So do I want to revise my prediction on whether the FCC will adopt the M2Z or T-Mobile asymmetric auction proposal?
Not at this point. Sure, this tea leaf looks much more favorable to M2Z than it does to T-Mobile. But I note two things. First, the language says “consider” rather than simply “use.” The question of whether to require free service of some kind as a public interest obligation was teed up in the pending AWS-2/AWS-3 proceeding. If they were going to go with M2Z, they wouldn’t say “consider,” they’d say “use spectrum . . . .” Second, there are a number of other ways to use spectrum for free or low cost wireless. These range from expanding the use of unlicensed spectrum to facilitate creation of community wireless networks to mandating “wireless lifeline”-type programs that would require all carriers to offer cheap or free access on a needs basis. It also remains to be seen whether the FCC will actually do anything other than “consider” such an approach, or whether revenue concerns and incumbent resistance will ultimately carry the day.
So while I’m pleased to see the FCC looking at spectrum from a public interest/public welfare perspective, I’m not changing my bet on how the FCC resolves the AWS-2/AWS-3 band fight. The real questions are (a) timetable, and (b) spectrum caps, yes/no? (and no, I haven’t forgotten about Fred Campbell’s standing invite/challenge for me to justify spectrum caps generally, just haven’t gotten time yet). The FCC could conceivably issue an Order with service rules and schedule an auction date. Or it could put out a final set of rules for further notice. My personal bet is thy will move quickly — both to show they are taking action and because OMB would really like to book that revenue. But we’ll have to see.
Heck, I could be entirely wrong in my prediction and they could go with M2Z, or some variant thereof. Stranger things have been known to occur.
Stay tuned . . . .
Back in 2004-05, a bunch of us fought to open up the 3650-3700 MHz band for unlicensed use (Sometimes refered to as 3.65 GHz rather than 3650 MHz). While we did not get “pure” unlicensed, the FCC’s “hybrid unlicensed” regime gave us pretty much everything we wanted.
In August 2005, a group of tech firms led by Intel filed a Petition for Reconsideration. This group, which I dubbed the “WiMax Posse,” wanted the Commission to reverse itself and optimize the band for WiMax operations. Notably, this meant adopting a licensing regime instead of the open spectrum rules we won in March 2005.
By this time, Powell had left and been replaced with Kevin Martin. Martin had earned the eternal scorn of Netheads by deregulating DSL (actually a process begun by Powell). And, unlike Powell, Martin had no record of support for open spectrum. So even though the WiMax Posse and the various licensed wireless providers who came in to support them raised no new arguments, no one knew whether Martin would reaffirm the 2005 rules or side with the licensed spectrum/WiMax posse.
So I let out a huge sigh of relief and felt a modest sense of accomplishment when the FCC issued an Order denying the WiMax Posse Recon Petition and basically reaffirming our March 2005 win. Commissioner Adelstein had a very nice concurring statement highlighting the important roll played by WISPs and Community Wireless Networks (CWNs) in getting wireless connectivity to rural and underserved urban communities.
So what does this mean for wireless deployment for WISPs, CWNs, and muni systems? How do I read the FCC tea leaves in light of last month’s FCC decision terminating two important open spectrum proceedings? See below . . . .
Below the surface, where policy makers rarely go, live the community wireless networkers. They don’t have billions in capitalization, they don’t lay miles of fiber, and they don’t have spectrum licenses. Heck, most aren’t even commercial organizations. Many of them are collections of volunteers, or non-profit organizations. The commercial ones are usually small businesses, embedded in their comunities, trying a run a business in a responsible manner rather than dreaming of huge IPOs.
But the community wireless networks (CWN) change people’s lives every day. They bring broadband connectivity to neighborhoods that can’t afford it and the rural areas that the big boys ignore. They are the development lab of innovation for networking. From open source mesh to solar powered transmitters to “cantenna”-type reuse and recycling of available parts, you can find folks playing with these in community wireless networks.
The Third International Summit for Community Wireless will take place in Columbia, MD at Loyolla Colege on May 18-20. It represents an unparalleled oppotunity to find out what is going on not just here in the U.S., but in other countries as well. This is the place to find out how people confronting the “digital divide” in the trenches are finding solutions in places that the largest companies don’t want to service. Whether it’s how to keep cows from knocking down your towers or how to make sure a local project stays local and sustainable, you’ll find people talking about it here.
I plan to be there. I know a lot of great people listed in the press release reproduced below plan to come as well. If you’re smart, you will as well.
Stay tuned . . . .
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 . . .
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 . . .
On March 31-April 2, I attended the Second National Summit for Community Wireless. It was an amazing event. The energy was unbelievable. My one regret was that I agreed to do two panels. Because the panels were so long, that meant doing two thirds of the day talking when I wanted to be attending other things and learning what was going on.
And there is plenty going on in Community Wireless. Community wireless can include a local government, or “muni wireless” component, but it doesn’t have to. At it’s best, community wireless is about empowering a local community to use the tool of wireless intra-net and inter-net to reenforce everything good about the community. If the community owns the network, and uses it to create educational, social and other opportunities the members of the community value, then community wireless works real well.
I got to give the final plenary talk. I spoke from bullet points, and got really worked up emotionally while speaking (my voice actually broke on the last few lines). My attempts to recreate my speach feel overly wordy and intellectual compared to what I actually said. But I think it is still a valuable exercise to try to capture what I said and put up somewhere people can see. Hopefully, it will do some good.
Remember, we can change the world by talking.
A big shout out to Mark Cooper — probably the most prolific and proficient writer on matters economic in the consumer and media reform movements — for putting together two new papers. One explains an economic theory of open spectrum, the other is a brief overview of the basic principles as applied to open source as well.
I shall attempt to translate from the econ speak for the unitiated, as well as explain why Cooper’s discovery/description of a phenomena called a “collaborative good” has such huge implications for public policy.
Please distribute this broadly.
At 2 p.m., I participated in a conference call hosted by the FCC Chief of Staff on how network operators providing service with license exempt spectrum can assist in re-establishing critical voice, data and video service in areas devestated by Katrina.
Part-15.org is taking
the lead in organizing volunteers and donations of equipment from individuals,
WISPs and community wireless networks. Companies such as Cisco and Intel are
also heavily involved.
THERE IS AN URGENT NEED FOR DONATIONS OF EQUIPMENT AND VOLUNTEERS FROM THE TECH
COMMUNITY WILLING TO TRAVEL TO THE AREA EFFECTED BY KATRINA. Interested parties
can volunteer or describe contributions through www.part-15.org (there is a link
on the front page).
There is freely available software and instructions on how to convert a computer and wireless router into a mesh network node from the Champaign Urbana Wireless Network. Their website is http://www.cuwireless.net/
The FCC will remain open throughout the holiday weekend to address the crisis. Coordination efforts are ongoing, but part-15.org hopes to have a preliminary asset list for coordination with federal authorities by Noon Saturday 9/3/05. It would therefore be enormously helpful to hear from people who can donate equipment or time, even if they cannot provide the equipment or time until a later date.
Media Access Project
There’s an interesting short editorial in Tech Review about the significance of mesh networks. This is where wireless networks can be made from a vast network of independent, individually owned, volunteer peers, rather than a centralized distribution of wires or radios towers. The essay brings together three themes of Wetmachine.
The technology is an overlay on a self-organizing P2P network, closely related to Croquet and the Internet itself, and a strong interest of Croquet and TCP/IP architect David Reed. There’s “Inventing the Future.”
The essay then mentions how such networks are not owned by anyone, and that this effects commercial network carriers, particularly for the “last mile.” There’s “Tales of the Sausage Factory.” (Indeed, I am indebted to Harold for first exposing me to this powerful technology, right here on Wetmachine.)
Finally, the editor broaches the cybernetic quality of these beasts. Meshes draw inspiration from the behavior of swarming bees, so might not there be emergent properties in such meshes that go beyond sterile function? There’s our host John Sundman, whose “Cheap Complex Devices” draws more than a casual comparison between a swarm and human consciousness — or is it computer consciousness?