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Matthew Hussey

ITIF Panel: FCC Needs to Address Spectrum Needs

in FCC/Mobile Broadband/Spectrum/Wireless by

WASHINGTON May 18, 2011 – The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation assembled a unique group of economists, legislative aides and engineers on Tuesday to explore how best to allocate this scarce resource.

“The most popular mobile operating systems, Android and iOS, along with the top applications have all been developed in the U.S.,” said Rasika Abeysinghe, director of Networks Solutions. “The rest of the world is looking to the U.S. as a model for the use and deployment of mobile broadband; therefore we must figure out how to best use spectrum to support the expansion of mobile broadband networks.”

According to data collected by Network Solutions mobile broadband use will grow 30-fold over the next five years. As devices become more complex, they consume greater amounts of data. On average, feature phones, like the popular Motorola Razor use 8 megabytes (MB) of data per month, whereas a smartphone uses an average of 900 MB and tablets typically use about 2 gigabytes.

According to Abeysinghe, researchers are working hard to improve the efficiency of devices; however, there is a physical limit as to how much data radio waves can carry. Soon, he said, the only way to increase bandwidth will be through the use of more spectrum. If the mobile providers are unable to obtain and then access additional spectrum connection speeds will become stagnant.

Steven Crowley, a consulting wireless engineer, suggested that to improve the use and allocation of spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission needs to conduct an annual report on spectrum use in the same way it reports on broadband deployment.

“The report could show where spectrum is being used or just being held,” Crowley said. “Also, it would allow the Commission to see if the licensees were using their holds efficiently.”

Matthew Hussey, Legislative Assistant in the Office of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), said that that the FCC needs to conduct an in-depth inventory of the spectrum currently being used. Earlier this year Sen. Snowe co-sponsored a bill with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the Reforming Airwaves by Developing Incentives and Opportunistic Sharing (RADIOS) Act, which would in part require the FCC to conduct an inventory.

“The spectrum dashboard is a great tool but it provides a very high level look,” Hussey said. “What we need is granular data to see who owns what and what it’s being used for. The proposed inventory [would] provide policy makers and industry with crucial information which we currently don’t have.”

Hussey also commented that the inventory does not need to precede proposed voluntary incentive spectrum auctions and could be done concurrently since the auctions will only include voluntary participants. He also called upon industry to expand the use of shared spectrum as a way to increase efficiency.

Currently all revenue gained from the auctioning of spectrum goes directly to the Treasury Department. Voluntary incentive auctions would allow current spectrum owners to obtain a part of the proceeds from the auction of part or all of their spectrum holdings. The FCC believes by providing a financial incentive license holders will become more likely to participate in the auction. However, before the FCC shares any auction proceeds the Congress must change the current regulations.

The idea of using voluntary incentive spectrum auctions was generally praised by the panelists.

“An auction will bring the spectrum to the group which values it most.” said Hal Singer, managing director and principal at Navigant Economics.

Singer went on to say that an auction will prevent money from being wasted in lobbying that would occur if the FCC simply gave out the spectrum to groups the agency felt deserved it.

Speaking from the audience, Blair Levin, former Broadband Plan executive director, said that if the auctions do not take place, it is likely that when the mobile firms use up their entire spectrum holdings the FCC will simply take away spectrum from television broadcasters and give it to mobile providers. Incentive auctions provide a way for the broadcasters to obtain some revenue from their holdings.

George Mason University Law professor, Thomas Hazlett, opposed the incentive auction proposal and called for the use of an overlay plan. Such a plan would repack television broadcasters into a single contiguous block, which would then free up a large amount spectrum that could be used by mobile broadband. The “Hazlett Plan” would allow television stations that continue to use broadcast technologies to share transmitters, since they would be transmitting on frequencies which are located next to each other. Additionally the plan would free up large contiguous blocks of spectrum which is better for mobile broadband deployment.

Richard Bennett, Senior Research Fellow at Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said that the FCC needs to change the way they think about overall spectrum allocation.

“We need to move to a place where we no longer allocate spectrum for a single purpose. Instead we should think of it as mobile data in general be it for mobile broadband or television or public safety,” Bennett said.

Experts Debate Incentive Auctions at Brookings

in FCC/Mobile Broadband/Spectrum/Wireless by

WASHINGTON May 6, 2011 -The Brookings Institution gathered key industry and government experts Thursday to discuss how solve the impending spectrum crunch through voluntary incentive auctions.

Incentive auctions would allow current spectrum owners to obtain a part of the proceeds from the auction of part or all of their spectrum holdings. Currently any revenue obtained from the sale of spectrum by the Federal Communications Commission goes directly to the Treasury Department. To increase participation in the auctions, the FCC has proposed to share the proceeds with the spectrum holders. Congress must first pass legislation changing the law to allow for the sharing of auction proceeds before the incentive auctions could be held.

“Wireless is the fastest-growing information communications technology around the world and it can become a key solution to bring broadband to the most remote Americans,” said Matthew Hussey, Legislative Assistant to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

According to Hussey, however, Incentive auction may not be enough to solve the spectrum crunch many experts forecast.

Though incentive auctions are a useful tool in obtaining additional spectrum, he says, they would not be able to provide enough spectrum to meet the full needs of the wireless industry. Key innovations such as spectrum sharing and advanced radios must also be considered in determining solutions.

Hussey also called upon the FCC to conduct an in-depth spectrum inventory to determine if license holders are currently using their spectrum or if it is lying fallow.

Sen. Snowe, along with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) called for a spectrum inventory earlier this year, but FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski stood by the information available on the Commission’s website, insisting that such an inventory had already been completed.

“The spectrum dashboard the FCC created presents a very broad overview of the current spectrum holdings; we need a much more granular view,” Hussey said. “We must remember that spectrum is a public good and must be used in a way to maximize the benefits of the American people.”

Christopher Ornelas, vice president and chief strategy officer at the National Association of Broadcasters, agreed that wireless broadband is the best solution to reach the most remote 8 percent of Americans who cannot access wireline broadband, but indicated he feels that spectrum should not be recklessly taken away from broadcasters.

“We do not have a problem of holding a truly voluntary auction, but broadcasters should not be coaxed into participating,” Ornelas said. “We need to first conduct a deep inventory of the spectrum currently being used before we make any decisions and right now, we lack the data to make the most informed decision. This is something that we can only do once, so we have to do it right.”

Ornleas also warned that after the auctions, any repacking of spectrum would have to be done very carefully to ensure that broadcasters who kept their spectrum would still be able to reach their original consumers. Repacking would create a contiguous block of users rather than having them spread out across the band.

Uzoma Onyeije, president of telecommunications consulting firm, Onyeije Consulting, echoed Ornleas’ sentiments on the lack of data.

“Before we act we need a truly complete and up to date inventory of how spectrum is being used,” said Onyeije.

“Incentive auctions are the key to meeting our future spectrum needs,” said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at the CTIA – the Wireless Association. “The rest of the world has already allocated hundreds of megahertz for mobile use while the U.S. only has 50.”

Mobile broadband is experiencing explosive growth according to Guttman-McCabe, even as more mobile phones allow users to use Wi-Fi networks.

Guttman-McCabe told the assembled crowd that U.S. consumers use considerably more data and voice services than their international counterparts which makes the lack of spectrum a major issue for mobile carriers.

Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition Holds Broadband Summit

in Broadband Mapping/Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/Congress/Education/Health/House of Representatives/NTIA/Senate/States/Universal Service by

WASHINGTON March 30, 2011- The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition assembled broadband stimulus award winners and government officials for their inaugural broadband summit on Tuesday to share solutions and success in  solving digital literacy and adoption issues.

The SHLBC, formed two years ago, comprises libraries, hospitals, schools, non-profit groups and corporations that seek to further broadband availability for community anchor institutions.

New Mexico’s State Librarian, Susan Oberlander, provided one of the most descriptive presentations on the state’s digital literacy program.

“By holding the programs in the libraries we found that the programs instantly gained credibility,” Oberlander said. “People already trust the library as a source of good information.”

Oberlander went on to describe how the state contacted telecommunications providers for assistance with developing and implementing the digital literacy and training programs, but the telecommunications providers were not receptive to providing assistance.

As part of the training programs, the attendees participate in broadband usage surveys that track their interests and progress.

“Our preliminary findings are quite interesting,” said Oberlander. “We found that a large number of small businesses that come to our workshops already have broadband, but they want to expand their knowledge of computers.”

The surveys also found that cost of service and lack of a computer are the largest barriers to adoption.

Mary Ann Stiefvater, Cultural Education Specialist at New York State Library, agreed with Oberlander’s findings regarding the use of libraries as digital literacy training centers.

“People already go to the library to use computers; it becomes a natural place for them to learn more,” Stiefyater said.

Stiefyater also talked about the benefits of training the small businesses: “Libraries face the same challenges of developing a web presence as small businesses do. The libraries have learned what works and are now able to train small businesses in the best practices.”

Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), who is co-chair of the Congressional High Tech Caucus, presented the first keynote address of the summit with the announcement that she will  reintroduce legislation to expand Lifeline and Link-Up to include broadband. The Lifeline and Link-Up programs currently provide subsidies to consumers to help pay for telephone service and connection costs.

“Community anchor institutions are critical to our communities,” Matsui said. “By keeping the internet free and open while improving digital literacy programs we can bridge the digital divide.”

She also stated that she supports the Federal Communication Commission’s plan to update  the Universal Service Fund (USF) to include broadband access.

“With the current budgetary realities it’s unlikely we will see another large round of funding, but the USF is a viable alternative,” said Matthew Hussey, Advisor to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), during a panel on the Congressional perspective.

Lawrence Strickling, Administrator of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), presented the second keynote, commending the assembled group for its  tireless work.

“The grant programs are still new, but they are already producing results,” Strickling said. “During the last quarter they have already created one thousand new jobs, installed four thousand new computers and held over 150 thousand hours of training, and our middle mile projects are in talks with over 200 last mile providers to provide connections.”

Of the 233 BTOP projects, only two have been cancelled.

“We worked with these two award winners to try and salvage the projects but they declined our help so unfortunately the projects were canceled,” Strickling said. “Both projects were in the early stages and there was a minimal loss of federal funds.”

According to Strickling, the funds which are not used by the grantees will be given back to the Treasury department to help decrease the deficit.

Strickling then provided the audience with an overview of the National Broadband Map which the NTIA unveiled in February. He called the map a “first try” and promised that with each update the map’s accuracy will improve. With regard to the depth of the data, Strickling said that originally the NTIA wanted to collect address-level data, however, internet service providers told the agency that they did not keep data at that granular of a level. Instead, the NTIA settled on census-block level data, which is more precise than the zip-code level data the FCC collects.

“When we compiled the map we asked internet service providers for their advertised speeds,” Strickling said, “but with anchor institutions we were able to obtain actual speeds and many of them said they did not receive the speeds they wanted or needed. Our anchor institutions are being underserved.”

According to Strickling educational researchers have found that schools need 100 megabits per second (Mbps) for every 100 students, but most schools are not able to provide that level of speed.

When asked by the audience about how looming budget cuts will affect the NTIA’s oversight of the BTOP grantees, Strickling said that both of the continuing resolutions that Congress has passed have included funds for oversight and he does not suspect the funds to be cut in the final budget resolution.

 

Experts Review Reform and Standards at the FCC

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/Net Neutrality/Transparency by

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2010 – Panelists from the Federal Communications Commission, Capitol Hill, public interest groups and the private sector addressed issues of FCC reform and regulatory responsibility at “An FCC for the Internet Age: Reform and Standard-Setting,” a half-day conference sponsored by Public Knowledge, Silicon Flatirons and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Dale Hatfield from Silicon Flatirons opened up the conference by enforcing the need for an open, transparent process to encourage investment. He said regulatory risk is no good but it is critical to our fundamental belief in government. He added that while it’s important to protect investors, we run the danger of too much or too little regulation with bad effects on both ends.

“We need the right tool to stay closer to the optimum,” he said.

Public Knowledge Director Gigi Sohn moderated the first panel titled “The Present and Future of FCC Reform.” Sohn said the FCC has been “a little broken” in the past and asked the panelists to focus on agency reform by analyzing what has been done, what needs to be done and whether Congress should step in.

With regards to what reforms have been made, Mary Beth Richards, special counsel on FCC reform, said the agency’s goal is to become a model of excellence in government through openness, transparency, public input and data driven decisions.

She stressed that the FCC has made strides in seven areas beginning with public safety and readiness, data collection analysis and dissemination and system reform (licensing, comment filing and interface commonality).

The agency also has focused on how it communicates within and outside the agency, and Richards said there have been great strides in the areas of social media. Additionally. the FCC has focused on its workforce and organization, rules and procedures and all things financial.

FCC General Counsel Austin Schlick focused on the rules and processes reform and highlighted three changes in that area.

“The over-arching principles are accessibility, transparency and efficiency,” he said. “Sometimes they are complementary and sometimes they are in tension, and it is our job to balance them as best we can.”

Schlick added that the first thing the agency did was to return to the model that the drafters of the Administrative Procedures Act intended, which is to provide the public with draft rules in the FCC’s Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) where ever possible.

As a tradeoff, this approach can lead to a loss of efficiency, he said, explaining that the agency will be using more Notice of Inquiries to gather preliminary knowledge to establish the content of draft rules.

The second change is what the agency calls the Procedures NPRM, which seeks to reform the operating procedures and rules of practice.

Schlick said the highlights of the NPRM streamline certain procedures and clear out stale items and backlogs, but perhaps most importantly they press toward a broader use of electronic filing and docketing. A big problem Schlick cited is that a number of large proceedings in the bureaus are undocketed and maintained as adjudications, making it difficult to get the comments filed in those proceedings.

Schlick highlighted a third change – the Ex Parte NPRM. The proceeding revises ex parte rules by proposing to require disclosure of every meeting addressing the merits and a summary of what was discussed in the meeting. Additionally the NPRM proposes reforms to the Sunshine Act and extends ex parte filing deadlines from one to two days to allow for more substantive filings.

Sohn turned to Matthew Hussey, who is the telecommunications legislative assistant for Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), to gauge the Hill’s reaction to the changes.

Hussey told other panelists that it seems like Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), who heads the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, takes FCC reform seriously.

The committee still has concerns about undue influence and the integrity of data collection, he said, later adding that it is important for the FCC to resolve its bottleneck issues because industry cannot wait. Undue delay within industry will erode potential for competition and advanced technological development, he said.

Mark Cooper, the director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, said the essence of democracy is established when the people write the rules that they want to live under.

“Change means changing the rules. Changing rules means having proceedings” and changing proceedings naturally take a long time, he said.

Cooper also took issue with ex parte communications. He believes they “are an affront and insult to democracy and a denial of due process.” Certain parties are naturally much better situated to get those meetings than others. Why does the agency need everything explained to them by an army of lobbyists, he asked rhetorically. Cooper proposed that the FCC basically abolish ex parte communications.

Nick Johnson, a former FCC commissioner and now a law professor at the University of Iowa’s law school, agreed with Cooper. Johnson said all communications with commissioners should be done in writing and if a meeting is requested, it must occur in front of the full commission and be properly documented.

Susan Crawford, former National Economic Council member and now a law professor at the University of Michigan, said the work of the agency – especially in the area of net neutrality – is particularly exciting.

“When we see something, we make progress,” said Crawford in regards to the Openinternet.gov Web site fully dedicated to that proceeding.

To address Crawford’s concerns about the ex parte procedures, she said having the members of the FCC meet more often as a commission might reduce the dependence on the ex parte system.

Schlick agreed with Crawford that to the extent that ex parte has become a substitute for other fact gathering processes, it is wrong, inefficient and not transparent.

Schlick said he is a fan of the ex parte process because he has a lot of questions that are not normally addressed on the record.

He added that there is a need to lower the barriers of entry for ex parte communications and participation at the commission.

The OpenInternet proceeding took blog postings into the record, which proved controversial. Schlick added that in the ex parte NPRM they asked how they could take a construct that assumes a small professional record and apply it to everyday people on Twitter sending their thoughts to the commission.

Cooper countered: “It is hard to accept the proposition that a two-hour long dinner with the chairman is equal to a blog post.” His proposed compromise involves the use of an independent third party scribe who takes notes on and files the ex parte letter.

Sohn changed course and asked the panelists what they thought about the perceived notion that the agency’s relationship with the White House is a little too cozy. She then asked whether the FCC should be an executive agency rather than an independent agency.

Crawford said there will always be political pressure due to appointments and congressional budget oversight but that overall, the agency does a good job to try to be independent. However, she cautioned that the real pressure on the agency comes from industry, not from politics.

The relationships with the telecom industries is way too centralized, she said, adding that the revolving door at the agency should be fixed.

She said FCC staff should not be able to work for the industry that they are regulating. Crawford ended by referencing an article written by Kevin Murphy of Catholic Law School. Murphy suggests that the FCC’s policy role should be taken away and given back to the administration, leaving it with the sole responsibility of regulating the industry. Crawford suggests that a split between policy and regulation at the FCC is an interesting idea.

Cooper noted that to decrease political influences, commissioners should be appointed to life terms or have set term limits.

The realistic approach would be to limit commissioners to one term limit, he said, adding that the ban on lobbying the commission should be equal to the amount of time served at the agency.

He also said a former FCC employee should not be allowed face-to-face communications with current staff members and commissioners.

Schlick responded by clarifying that all employees are restricted from lobbying the agency on matters they worked on. Senior officials have a one-year ban on lobbying the agency.

Ethics pledge employees such as commissioners and some other senior employees have a two-year ban, he said. If they register as a lobbyist, they cannot work on the same issues they worked on at the commission.

Sohn brought up the Sunshine Act, which has been criticized as an impediment to honest decision-making. She asked whether proposals like the Stupak bill strike balance between transparency and deliberative privilege.

That bill, named after Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), allows more than two commissioners to meet alone at any time outside of a public meeting. However, the meetings would require a representative from the general counsel’s office as well as a detailed transcription of the meeting.

Johnson said the Stupak bill addresses a serious problem but is troubled by the solution. He wants to see more deliberation between bodies and would like to see the fact-finding process outlined for the public. He is not persuaded that the language in the Stupak upholds the spirit of the APA.

Cooper wanted to bring the Sunshine discussion to the data discussion. He said that when the FCC commissions a study it should be subject to a formal process of peer review just like stated in the guidelines offered by the Office of Management and Budget. Richards responded by saying that in the data and systems reform area, there are many changes to make data more available to the public.

When asked about the FCC academic studies such as those done by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, Schlick explained that they receive many of the academic studies as gifts.

When an audience member asked about the loss of engineering talent, Hussey asserted that Sen. Snowe has a strong interest in FCC reform on technology issues.

She has voiced concern about the reduction in engineering staff compared to the increase in complexity of technical issues. Hussey suggested that at least one commissioner should be an engineer. The senator also has introduced a bill to increase the engineering hires at the commission.

Another audience member asked why the agency does not use video conferencing to stream ex parte meetings.

Richards said it had been considered but the agency is in the process of currently improving its own internal bandwidth. Crawford saw no difference between a full description of the meetings and streaming the meetings. Schlick on the other had was firm to defend ex parte “if you stream ex parte then it is not ex parte.”

The final question asked the panelists how the FCC is balancing the effort to increase online comment filing with the notion that so many low-income Americans do not have access to high speed internet. Schlick responded that the question goes to the heart of the issues and the National Broadband Plan due out this month.

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