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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5 Comments

  1. Steve Goldstein says:

    You say: “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.”

    ICANN does not “control” the root zone file at all! Where did you ever get that idea? ICANN coordinates the Domain Name System to ensure globally unique entries, and it recommends changes to the root zone file to the Department of Commerce, which in turn, authorizes changes that are to be made by Verisign, the keeper of the root zone file.

    You also say: “On the plus side, perhaps we can get Susan Crawford togo from an ICANN Director to an FCC Commissioner.”

    At ICANN’s Annual General Meeting in Cairo, the first week in November, Susan’s term as an ICANN Director will end, and she will step down from the Board. As an ICANN Board member, I will certainly miss her presence on the Board. She has been a stalwart contributor to the Board’s business and a voice of wisdom and experience.

  2. Dan Lubar says:

    Harold.. Sometimes the beginning of things can be a very important time. That’s why I wanted to thank you for “shining a light” into this particular corner of the TVWS proceeding–especially as at least some part of the FCC’s TVWS response will be made public at the upcoming Nov 4th meeting.

    It seems intuitive that the TVWS proceeding will not be the last time that the issue of who controls the Registration System (ie database of operational info) will come up.

    Registration Systems will soon be a very important stepping stone to future “spectrum use” innovations like Dynamic Spectrum Access technologies.

    Thanks again for pointing out this issue.

  3. PeopleAreAntennasToo says:

    There are several precedents for this, including utam.org (for unlicensed) and nsma.org.

  4. Jon Baker says:

    Steve Goldstein wrote:

    <i>ICANN does not “control” the root zone file at all!</i>

    This may come as a surprise to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, an arm of ICANN.

    http://www.iana.org/domains

    To take an historical example, in the Herodian and Roman period in Israel, the Pharisees controlled Temple procedure, even though the priests who actually performed it were mostly Sadducees. This is borne out by numerous stories in the Mishnah and Talmud (the textual record of the descendants of the Pharisees), and by the Dead Sea Scroll 4QMMT, which is a bunch of Sadducean complaints disagreeing with Pharisaical ideas about running things in the Temple. That they complained how the Pharisees were doing things, is prima facie evidence that the Pharisee record in the Talmud is accurate.

    So no, ICANN-IANA may not have physical control of the Root Zone database, but they have effective control of it.

    IANAL

  5. The other potential danger is that anyone who might profit off of such a database will have an incentive to prevent progress towards devices operating with spectrum sensing alone.

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