Tales of the Sausage Factory

Commissioner Pai: A ‘Consensus’ Of Incumbents Without Consumers Is No Consensus And means Disaster For 600 MHz.

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Wireless Bureau issued what should have been a fairly routine and highly technical Public Notice about possible alternative band plans for the 600 MHz Auction aka the Incentive Auction aka “that incredibly crazy, complicated deal Congress came up with last year where broadcasters sell back licenses to the FCC so the FCC can sell them to wireless companies.” Since public comment makes it clear that the various proposals present a lot of challenges (see my incredibly long and wonky explanation here), it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Wireless Bureau asked for further comment after holding a band plan workshop a few weeks ago.

 

But Commissioner Pai issued a separate statement blasting the Wireless Bureau. In particular, Pai berated the Bureau for departing from what he called the “consensus framework” for one particular band plan – the band plan favored by AT&T, Verizon, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the largest equipment manufacturers. Pai ignored objections to the AT&/VZ/NAB plan and support from consumer groups (including Public Knowledge), competitors such as Sprint, or tech companies such as Microsoft. Over and over in his statement, Pai cited to the comments of AT&T, Verizon and NAB as proof of a “broad consensus” as if none of these objections existed.

As someone fairly active in this proceeding, who actually participated in the Band Plan Workshop, I am more than a little peeved. Yoo hoo! Commissioner Paaaaiiiiii!!! What am I, chopped liver? I am also more than a little irked at the allegations that the Bureau somehow behaved improperly in issuing the Public Notice. Pai’s accusation that the PN violates the Bureau’s delegated authority by soliciting comment on alternatives to the AT&T/VZ/NAB “consensus plan” appears designed to bully the Bureau into submission.

Setting my personal pique aside, as I keep trying to explain, letting the broadcasters and the largest wireless incumbents write the rules for the auction spells absolute disaster. If Pai genuinely wants to see a successful Incentive Auction, that means looking past industry “consensus” and getting into the very nasty and complicated details to figure out the right set of tradeoffs that will (a) get the broadcasters and wireless guys to the auction, but (b) not let them short the U.S. Treasury out of the cash it expects to collect in the process.

I vent and take one more shot at explaining this below . . . .

 

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Progeny Waiver: Will the FCC Wipe Out Smart Grid? Save Thousands of Lives? Both? This Season on Spectrum Wars!

Depending on whom you ask, the Progeny Waiver will either (a) totally wipe out the smart grid industry, annihilate wireless ISP service in urban areas, do untold millions of dollars of damage to the oil and gas industry, and wipe out hundreds of millions (possibly billions) of dollars in wireless products from baby monitors to garage door openers; (b) save thousands of lives annually by providing enhanced 9-1-1 geolocation so that EMTs and other first responders can find people inside apartment buildings and office complexes; (c) screw up EZ-Pass and other automatic toll readers, which use neighboring licensed spectrum; or (d) some combination of all of the above.

 

That’s not bad for a proceeding you probably never heard about.

 

For me, the Progeny Waiver is a microcosm of why it has become so damn hard to repurpose spectrum for new uses. The added twist here is that this time it is largely the unlicensed spectrum users acting like incumbents and saying that it will be the end of the universe if Progeny lights up its system (although the licensed neighbors say the same thing, pretty much), and Progeny, the licensee, arguing that everything will be JUST FINE, really, and if it isn’t too damn bad because we are licensed and they are unlicensed so there!

 

You might ask, “if this Progeny thingie is so gosh darn important, why have I never heard of it?” Well that’s why you read this blog, you clever reader you. This amazing little proceeding is still so deep in the bowels of the FCC that only the true spectrum wonks have noticed. But action now appears imminent, so consider this a sneak preview of this season’s favorite telecom reality show, Spectrum Wars.

What raises the stakes on this too damn high, however, is the implications for the future of unlicensed generally and the implications for the credibility of the FCC as an agency able to actually do the technical job of managing an increasingly complex spectrum world. Fairly or unfairly, everyone is going to compare this to Lightsquared (waiver, followed by worries about interference, arguments that the FCC failed to follow its own rules and procedures, blah blah). Let us add to this House Republicans who would love to call the FCC on the carpet for mismanaging spectrum – especially around unlicensed. Add to that the car manufacturers in the 5 GHz band and the federal users generally wanting to show that the FCC can’t adequately manage the stuff it has and you have a pack of circling sharks just waiting for the FCC to screw this one up and commence the feeding frenzy. So no pressure.

 

Happily, I have, if not a solution, at least a better way for the FCC to cover it’s rear-end and contain the damage, below . . . .

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 13 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why The White House and CTIA Don’t Agree On Incentive Auction Revenue, And Why I Think Both May Be Wrong.

The White House budget proposed last week contains an estimate of about $28 billion from auctioning federal spectrum and giving the FCC authority to conduct incentive auctions.  By contrast, the CTIA – The Wireless industry Association — and the Consumer Electronic Association (CEA) have published a study showing that the FCC could raise $33 bn from an incentive auction of the broadcast bands alone. So what gives?

The short answer is that spectrum auctions are extremely hard to predict, and incentive auctions are even harder to predict because we’ve never done one before. The longer answer is that because the White House is banking on the revenue as part of the budget process with real world consequences, they have therefore hedged against uncertainty by including an easier to estimate spectrum auction. CTIA/CEA, have written an advocacy piece. As with all such pieces, it tends to accent the positive. Unfortunately, the Report fails to address some rather pivotal issues, a factor that renders it of rather limited utility for resolving what I consider the most critical question no one has answered: will enough broadcasters participate in a voluntary auction to make it happen at all. It is on this point in particular that I remain profoundly skeptical.

Fair warning, as with all spectrum policy posts, this one tends to run pretty long. Still, I’m hoping the prospect of all that money  will rivet folks as I unpack the “known unknowns,” the “unknown unknowns,” and why I raise a skeptical eyebrow over the CTIA/CEA estimate below .  .  .  .

UPDATE: As I’ve explained here, I’ve edited this article considerably to take out some unwarranted snark on my part against CTIA/CEA.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

What’s A POTUS SOTU Shout Out On Wireless Worth?

Last night, the wonkiest corner of telecom policy experienced its 15 picoseconds of fame when President Obama invoked spectrum policy in his State of the Union (SOTU) Address. In nerdness terms, this would be like James Franco and Anne Hathaway pausing before the Best Picture Oscar to announce this year’s Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

Needless to say, I am uber-pleased to have the geekiest of Presidents acknowledge the wonkiest of my issues. But does it do any actual good? I explore this below . . . .

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

See Greg Rose and I Utterly Revolutionize Federal Spectrum Management Through The Power of Our MINDS!!!!

Ummmm……OK, maybe that overstates things a tad. Still, fellow Wetmachiner Greg Rose and yr hmbl obdn’t blogger will be unveiling two new White Papers on how we can break past the stale debates on federal spectrum and figure out how to make some wireless magic happen.

The event happens Thursday, June 3, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington DC 20001. NTIA Administrator Asst Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling will give the Keynote Address, “Averting the Spectrum Crisis.”

Here’s the event web page, which will also allow you to RSVP. Now go below the fold to see an amusing event description and hilarious video advertisement for the conference.
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Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
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