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Washington Post Story Demonstrates the Perils of Understanding Wi-Fi Developments Through Mainstream Newspapers

in Broadband's Impact/Congress/Expert Opinion/FCC/Wireless by

February 5, 2013 – Now that I’ve had a chance to read the front-page Washington Post story on so-called “Super Wi-Fi,” I have to confess to being extremely disappointed in the Post.

Like many others, I was taken in on an allegedly new development repackaged in an exaggerated fashion. It is another re-affirmation for me that the mainstream media is no longer up to coverage of important telecommunications-related events. In some cases, this is not the fault of the reporters, who are hard-working individuals trying to “advance” their story in substantive and newsworthy ways. What they are up against, is the medium in which they are operating: the general-purpose newspaper.

To get a story on the front page of a major metropolitan newspaper, it has to be sufficiently free of technology jargon. Unfortunately, the careful use of technology jargon is what helps explain — to those who do follow telecom- and broadband-related matters — what really is the “news” of the matter.

The Washington Post’s story was really all about the “white spaces” issue. This is the proposal, talked about and considered in various forms by the Federal Communications Commission for more than half-a-decade, that would allow for the transmission of broadband information in the radio frequencies that are occupied, but not being used, by television broadcasters. Here’s a story explaining the concept, as of about five years ago: “FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s Excellent Silicon Valley Wi-Fi Adventure.

There are some positives to the white spaces concept: potentially offering unlicensed airwaves for innovators to make use of, free of charge. But there are also some negatives: one cannot create a nationwide band for broadband communications. These are the nationwide swaths of spectrum generally used by wireless providers for today’s 3G and 4G networks.

More significantly, the larger narrative now (versus five years ago) are the FCC’s moves to create an “incentive auction,” or a plan to get television broadcasters to vacate the valuable wireless frequencies. At the Consumer Electronics Show last month, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski highlighted the value of getting broadcasters to vacate and re-auction most (but not all) of the spectrum.

This auction, which the FCC is planning to conduct by 2014, has made the “white spaces” controversy seem more distant. And while the Post’s piece was apparently driven by new comments in either the proceeding affecting the “white spaces” matter or the proposal for an “incentive auction,” whether or which one of these is the case has been lost in the oversimplification of the subject matter by The Post.

Among the debunkers worth reading:




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White Spaces, Special Access and mHealth: Last Week’s Policy Wrap Up

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/Fiber/Health/Mobile Broadband/Spectrum/Wireless by

WASHINGTON Tuesday June 12, 2012 – Last week the Federal Communications Commission moved forward with white spaces reform free of challenges from the microphone industry, they took on special access reform and held a meeting of experts to address the future of wireless mHealth innovation.  Broadbandbreakfast has some notes on each of these stories.


Wireless Microphone Industry Withdraws Suit Challenging the FCC Whitespaces Order

The wireless industry association comprised of an association of theatres, NewsCorp, The NBA and NFL formally dismissed their petition to review the FCC’s 2008 White Spaces Order.  The petition to review filed back in 2009 reflected the industry’s concerns that the Order would cause serious interference and future need for reallocation of wireless microphones.

The dismissal comes shortly after the National Association of Broadcasters dropped their petition for review of the Order.

In 2010 as the FCC announced a second set of regulations allowing for theatres and stadiums to register their microphones in the white spaces database, and additionally set aside 2 channels in some of the largest markets for wireless microphone use.


FCC Takes On Special Access

The FCC Chairman has circulated an order to colleagues at the FCC calling for the reform of the special access rules.  The FCC will look into new regulation of middle mile broadband connections used by many smaller businesses and owned by the largest communications companies.

Special access refers to the arrangement between telecommunications carriers, mobile phone service providers and other businesses to transmit information on a whole sale basis.   Mobile providers for example use special access to transmit voice and data in order to reduce the strain on the wireless networks.

The FCC order proposes a temporary suspension of petitions for pricing flexibility while the agency collects additional data and develops a new framework for special access.  In a statement last week an FCC official told the press “our reforms will aim to protect competition; ensure access to robust, affordable broadband for small business, mobile providers, and others; and eliminate regulations where evidence of competition exists.”

Sprint Nextel, XO Communications, Public Knowledge and other organizations that make up the NoChokePoints Coalition have raised concerns that AT&T and Verizon, who own over 80% of the Special Access services, are charging too much.  The Coalition believes, “Returning rates to just and reasonable levels will generate billions of dollars of savings across the broadband economy, will spur investment and jobs, improve wireless deployment and enhance rural broadband coverage at a time we need it most.”

AT&T, Verizon and the other Special Access providers  have expressed their disapproval with the order.  Bob Quinn AT&Ts Senior Vice President for Federal Regulatory Affairs believes that the FCC’s Order is a step in the wrong direction.  “Instead of creating a path to fiber, significant infrastructure investment by all carriers, job creation and achieving the nation’s broadband goals, we are going to instead pursue policies that will result in less fiber, less infrastructure investment, less job creation, and less broadband. It’s not that we haven’t pulled this kind of transformation before.”

A third point of view on the issue of special access comes from the smaller companies who are building networks to compete with the large special access providers.  Companies that provide the services that will compete with the special access lines worry that if the FCC requires a reduction in special access rates for incumbent providers, they would essentially be decreasing incentives for competitor to build out their own networks and facilities.


 Challenges to the Adoption of Wireless mHealth Technologies

Last Wednesday Chairman Genachowski of the Federal Communications Commission was joined by health and telecommunications industry experts, government officials and tech developers inorder to address the challenges to increase adoption of wireless mHealth technologies. Participants included Philips, Qualcomm, and Medtronic, startups such as Telcare, TheCarrot, and WellDoc, non-profits including the West Wireless Health Institute, hospital leaders, and government experts from the FCC, FDA, HHS, VA, CMS, and NIH.

MHealth technologies currently have the power to revolutionize the delivery of patient care by increasing awareness and engagement with ones own health and by cutting costs and improving outcomes in the healthcare system.  Wireless monitoring allows healthcare providers to improve the quality of care.  Continuous monitoring gives physicians a more comprehensive view of the patients condition and deliver tailored feedback to the patient.

Experts at the meeting presented evidence that remote monitoring technologies could save up to $197 billion over the next 25 years.  The savings will come from better managing chronic disease by giving providers more information about patients, and increasing the likelihood that patients will stick with certain treatment regimes.  mHealth can reduce the cost of care by 25% because it reduces the number of face to face doctor visits and expensive hospital stays. When a patient is knowledgeable and proactive about their care that alone leads to a 10% reduction in urgent care visits. Finally costs related to data collection will be reduced allowing patients and doctors to access record remotely cutting down administrative costs by 20% to 30%.

The major challenges to mHealth adoption include the regulatory approval structure, reimbursement and payment issues and the security of patient information.

The Chairman announced a plan that would eventually lead to the introduction of new wireless health in the market.  The FCC has proposed to move forward with an Office of Engineering and Technology proposal to increase innovation in wireless device development by reducing regulatory barriers to testing and evaluation of new technologies.  Additionally the FCC will set forth a new experimental licensing process which will allow for more flexibility for experimental uses of spectrum for wireless healthcare devices.  New licenses would be created for research, in coordination with the FDA to cut through the red tape in testing new wireless medical devices and the FCC has also proposed the creation of an innovation zone license  to allow pre approves spectrum use experimentation in specified locations.

The Chairman also called on industry leader to research and submit white papers on barriers to deployment of mHealth technologies to be presented at a follow up hearing in September



Groups Generally Pleased With FCC ‘White Spaces’ Decision

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/Public Safety/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, September 23, 2010 – Broadband watchers generally reacted favorably to the Federal Communications Commission’s vote on Thursday to finalize rules to open vacant television channels, which are often referred to as TV white spaces.

Today, only about a third of the frequency channels reserved exclusively for over-the-air television are licensed for use by local broadcast stations.

Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge, called the decision a “great step forward to providing consumers with an exciting new range of products and services” such as flexibility to laptops and tablet computers and extending broadband access to underserved people in rural and urban areas.

“We haven’t seen anything like this since the FCC 20 years ago approved the use of what was then thought to be unwanted spectrum and what today is used for Wi-Fi, and other unlicensed consumer applications,” he added.

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, senior member of the Commerce Committee, also lauded the FCC’s action. Kerry said it will help Massachusetts and create a “robust wireless future” benefitting all Americans” while Snowe highlighted that it will aid the nearly 14 million Americans who don’t have access to broadband.

“Opening this beachfront spectrum for unlicensed use by any individual, entrepreneur or internet service provider will unleash innovation and promote pervasive connectivity, particularly in underserved communities,” said Michael Calabrese, a senior research fellow with the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative. His peer Sascha Meinrath, also with OTI, added that many details need to be resolved to determine whether TV white space technologies “are viable or dead on arrival.”

FCC Adopts New Rules on Disabilities, Spectrum Deregulation

in FCC/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, August 5, 2010 –The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to pass all items on the agenda before closing business. The orders were presented by agents of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, and included a report and order of proposed rulemaking allowing hearing-impaired people to enjoy the advances supplied by smartphone technology, as well as a notice of inquiry seeking to remove restrictions on uses of spectrum for wireless backhaul.

Speaking on the issue of disabilities access, the Commissioners gave specific praise to a change in the de minimis rule which would require all companies selling headsets to design at least one model for the hearing-impaired, a clear shift from previous regulation that only required headsets designed by providers to manufacture such technology. Speaking on this subject, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said, “We must encourage manufacturers of the new technology to consider hearing aide compatibility at the earliest possible process.”

The backhaul proposal, meanwhile, also met with clear approval for its potential applications in rural areas, a topic where Commissioner Robert McDowell say particular cause for optimism. “”I’ve long thought that there’s a tremendous amount of potential for backhaul to be used in the white spaces. Especially in rural areas, where there’s an abundance of white spaces,” McDowell said.

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell on C-SPAN’s ‘Communicators’

in National Broadband Plan/Net Neutrality/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, January 8, 2010 –  With about a month left until the Federal Communications Commission delivers its National Broadband Plan to Congress, Commissioner Robert McDowell spoke about the impending plan – as well as spectrum politics, Net neutrality and competition in the video media landscape – on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.”

Commissioner McDowell began by commending the quality work of the broadband team and the numerous updates and outlines that have been presented over the past year.

The interview with Washington Post Report Cecilia Kang, was conducted before FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski requested a month-long extension of the February 17, 2010, deadline. McDowell said that the agency’s five agency commissioners would have their first look at the broadband plan on February 11. McDowell also said that there was no requirement that the agency would vote formally on the proposal.

A whether there will be any Republican dissent to the plan, McDowell countered that the Republicans and Democrats on the Commission can dissent on any number of issues but that will not affect the outcome of the presentation to Congress.

McDowell hopes Congress will analyze and consider all of the issues and take appropriate action to stir adoption through tax incentives or other means. Once the plan is in the hands of Congress the Commission will then be able to focus on other essential spin off issues such as changes to the Universal Service Fund subsidy program.

When asked about the true purpose of the plan for 2010, McDowell said that while some studies claim that there is already a 95 percent penetration rate for broadband, the true question is whether “those speeds are actually fast enough and whether there is enough bandwidth for cutting edge technologies?”

He followed by explaining that while cable might pass 92% of the country, with an upgrade to DOCIS 3.0, 92 percent of the country might actually be wired to 100 Megabits per second.

Since he came to the agency, McDowell’s main focus has been on the construction of new delivery platforms such as fiber, wireless and satellite. These delivery platforms are the only real way to address the broadband supply gap.

Kang mentioned that the Commissioner’s comments echo some of the most recent correspondence from the administration calling for the need for more competition.

She asked McDowell what are his beliefs on the competitive landscape specifically the wireless sector and how, given the need for competition can one reconcile the fact that the biggest wireless providers are also the biggest providers of fixed wireless, AT&T and Verizon.

McDowell responded that “you cannot have enough competition…since I have been at the Commission, I have looked for ways to create new competition and that obviates regulation on many levels.”

He added, “I would like to see more spectrum audits as long as we manage our expectations ahead of time.” He said that it was very difficult to pin point a time and place to see who is using what spectrum for what purpose.

McDowell said he believed that we are in “The Golden Age of Wireless.” He quoted Marty Cooper, one of the most influential people in the development of the cell phone, in saying that “spectral efficiency doubles every 2.5 years and since the development of radio we are 2 trillion times more spectrally efficient.”

He also added that with the increased use of smartphones there might be a current efficiency gap, but this tension creates more incentives to use the airwaves even more efficiently.

The spectrum efficiency discussion lead to the question of the use of white spaces. McDowell again commended the agency for their November 2008 decision to approve the use of unlicensed devices for unused spectrum. Kang then turned the discussion towards Google’s role in administering the white spaces database and documenting the gaps between the users and the unused spectrum.

She followed up with a question about whether such a task supposed to be performed by a neutral third party can be accomplished by a company like Google with its own communications interest.

While traditionally such a role would have been handled by a truly neutral party, McDowell believes that Google could handle the task as long as their interests are examined.

Next, Kang asked McDowell why he chose to agree to a Net Neutrality rulemaking proceeding when he felt that there would be no need for a new policy? Would there be a new rule or policy that he would be comfortable with, and how can white spaces solve some of the problems with net neutrality policy?

Since the Net Neutrality proceeding comments are due on January 14, McDowell felt the most important feed back would be hard evidence on whether without these rules there will be a systemic market failure.

He understands that his opponents might fear anticompetitive discrimination on behalf of the operators, but he also explained that few instances of discrimination have been handled through the appropriate FCC procedures.

McDowell said he believed that “the cure for anticompetitive conduct is more competition.” He continued, “we have not yet seen the fruits of the newly auctioned 700Mhz spectrum…WiMAX technologies and white spaces.” With these technologies in place, McDowell believes that the consumers will be fully protected.

McDowell said he was worried about the unforeseen consequences of new regulation. “The new regulation would essentially be a tax, and when you tax you tend to get less out of the service.”

In quoting Ronald Reagan he said “they are those that see something moving and they want to tax it, if it keeps moving they regulate and if stop moving then they subsidize it.” McDowell said he did not want that to happen with the Internet.

On a related note, McDowell was asked whether the FCC has jurisdiction to regulate the internet and more specifically the question of search neutrality. He stated that the proposed rules place all regulation on the network operators and not the application providers; however, he welcomes comment from the public as to whether they believe the FCC has such jurisdiction over the search providers.

McDowell also agreed with the dissent in the 2008 Comcast-BitTorrent ruling because he questions whether congress has given the FCC enough authority to regulate information services in such a way.

While McDowell avoided a question on the Comcast-NBC merger, he did admit that the transition of video from fixed cable and satellite to the internet is an exciting area to watch. McDowell believes that these issues are in their adolescent phases and there are issues between subscription and advertising that the market has yet to figure out.

 Therefore it is his belief that government should allow as much room for free experimentation as long as there are no anticompetitive actions taken.

Finally, McDowell ended his interview by welcoming legislation by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., to bring more expertise to the FCC and the decision of the Commission to hire their first scholar in residence as a liaison between the Commission and the academic community.

Broadband Expert Q&A: Spectrum Bridge CMO Has Eye On Sen. Kerry Bill

in Broadband Data/Broadband Stimulus/Expert Opinion/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, December 29, 2009 – Rick Rotondo, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Spectrum Bridge, advises technology policy enthusiasts to keep an eye on wireless broadband legislation from Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. For more on Rotondo’s thoughts on broadband issues in 2010, read the Q&A below:

Broadband Census News: What do you see happening to broadband stimulus government funding in 2010?

Rotondo: We’ll see more grants soon. I expect them to follow the early trend in awards the NTIA and RUS have made. That is: local/county/state government coalitions seem to have an upper hand. Also, seeming to be contenders are private companies with very strong wide support from local and county governments. Also, fiber optic and wireless internet seems to be the favorite technologies early on – we’ll see if this trend continues.

Broadband Census News: What do you expect will happen on the Net neutrality front?

Rotondo: More complaining for a while, then the FCC will come out with real rules (believe it or not there really aren’t any real rules to complain about – but the guidelines and principles have incumbents all worked up already). In the end, the current FCC will probably come up with a set of reasonably pro-consumer rules that will not be that bad for the carriers. Still expect the teeth gnashing to continue.

Broadband Census News: What do you think will happen with government efforts to map broadband access? Will states be able to even meet their broadband mapping grant deadlines?

Rotondo: Some will some won’t. Funding is not even in place for some. However others started this project early, like Virginia. There will be lots of challenges from incumbents as well has new entrants (or would-be-entrants) that will not agree with the findings. Most will get it done when they get it done – what I mean is that most states don’t have a lot of experience with this sort of broadband mapping projects and they may not get it 100% right the first time, so the maps may (and should) be revisited as data and measurability improve as the states get better at it.

Broadband Census News: What broadband legislation might move or get filed in 2010?

Rotondo: Well, I would keep my eye on the spectrum inventory bill (S. 649, Senator Kerry) this may see the light of day sometime in 2010. Though this will not directly effect broadband rollout in 2010, it could impact wireless broadband sometime in the next 5 years or so (if it passes in the next year or so). It could make some fairly valuable spectrum currently held by government agencies available for use by wireless broadband providers. I suspect it will follow a similar policy as that used for TV white spaces spectrum access. That is, radios will have to contact a spectrum database over the internet to find available channels based on the radio’s location, type of radio, power output, etc.

Lawmaker Wants More Spectrum For Wireless Broadband

in Wireless by

WASHINGTON, December 4, 2009 – The United States must act soon to meet the increasing demand for more spectrum, a key lawmaker said on Friday.

“Our nation is on the verge of a wireless spectrum shortage,” said Sen. John Ensign, R-N.V. “As evidenced by the tremendous success of smart phones, demand for wireless broadband devices and services is exploding. If the United States does not act soon to meet the increasing demand for more spectrum, we risk falling behind other nations in developing new technologies.”

Ensign is the ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications issues.

The Federal Communications Commission said recently it will move ahead to implement an order from last year that would establish rules to allow new wireless devices to operate in unused broadcast television spectrum.

“The rules will allow for the use of unlicensed TV band devices in the unused spectrum to provide broadband data and other services for consumers and businesses,” according to a public notice (DOC) dated November 25. The FCC has invited proposals from entities that would like to be “Designated TV Band Device Database Managers.”

In order to ensure that the new unlicensed wireless devices only operate on spectrum that is currently not being used by licensed services, the FCC is requiring users to provide information that will be put into a database that “will tell a TV band device which TV channels are vacant and can be used at its location.”

On Thursday FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker focused on the need to improve the allocation of spectrum for future broadband expansion during the Phoenix Center’s Annual Telecom Symposium.

“The United States needs a comprehensive approach that expands upon proven flexible, market-oriented policies that facilitate spectrum access, wireless innovation and competition,” said Baker.

Ensign said he commended the “Commissioners for taking this first step toward allocating more spectrum for wireless broadband. This is a vitally important conversation that our nation must have now if we are to stay at the cutting edge of innovation. I also applaud the FCC for recognizing the important public interest value of free over-the-air broadcast television. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress, the FCC, the NTIA, and all public and private spectrum stakeholders to allocate more spectrum for wireless broadband.”

FCC Takes Steps To Allow Use Of Unused TV ‘White Space’ Spectrum

in Wireless by

WASHINGTON, November 25, 2009 – The Federal Communications Commission has moved ahead to implement an order from last year to establish rules to allow new wireless devices to operate in unused broadcast television spectrum.

“The rules will allow for the use of unlicensed TV band devices in the unused spectrum to provide broadband data and other services for consumers and businesses,” according to a public notice (DOC) dated November 25. The FCC document invites proposals from entities that would like to be “Designated TV Band Device Database Managers.”

In order to ensure that the new unlicensed wireless devices only operate on spectrum that is currently not being used by licensed services, the FCC is requiring users to provide information that will be put into a database that “will tell a TV band device which TV channels are vacant and can be used at its location.”

The FCC also plans to use the database “to register the locations of fixed TV band devices and protected locations and channels of incumbent services that are not recorded in Commission databases.”

The FCC has decided to designate one or more “database administrators from the private sector to create and operate TV band databases, which will be a privately owned and operated service.” The FCC said database administrators can “charge fees to register fixed TV band devices and temporary broadcast auxiliary fixed links and to provide lists of available channels to TV band devices.”

Proposals from those seeking to become database managers are due to the FCC by January 4. Proposals should address how the entity plans to meet the basic components of a TV band database such as a data registration process “and whether the proponent seeks to provide all or only some of these functions and affirm that the database service will comply with all of the applicable rules.” The FCC is allowing public comments on the proposals through February 3.

Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, hailed the FCC’s progress to allow the use of the unused spectrum. “Selecting an administrator for the white spaces database is a crucial step toward bringing consumers another choice in a restrictive broadband marketplace. We expect that use of the white spaces spectrum will foster innovation and create jobs as new devices and services become available,” he said.

FCC Panelists Valued Wireless Spectrum by Current Use, by Cost and by Demand

in FCC Workshops/National Broadband Plan by

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2009 – A three-panel workshop on the role of wireless spectrum in the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband plan considered how one could tell the value of spectrum: by its current use, by its cost, and by demand.

These were the central discussions at the agency’s Spectrum workshop on September 17. Among the issues discussed were fourth-generation wireless supply and demand, sources of spectrum, and innovation in spectrum access.

The economic efficiency of spectrum becomes a crucial means to measure the efficiency of spectrum, since many bands have been undervalued.

Apple’s iPhone is jacking up the capacity of video downloads 75 percent, according to Kris Rinne, the senior vice president of Architecture and Planning at AT&T. “We need to start thinking of global harmonization, and band spectrum efficiency,” Rinne said.

“There is [a] need to set apart specific spectrum for backhaul, in order to deal with surge,” said Tarun Gupta, vice president of strategic development at Fiber Tower. “Spectrum also needs to be allocated more in order to be of more use to consumers, which includes those in the rural areas.”

The panel could not quantify how much spectrum is needed in the country, but there was a general agreement that licensing spectrum is key to the monitoring of its use. Backhaul involves questions of integrating wireline and wireless technologies.

Panelists urged both an increase in the supply of spectrum, and a more efficient use of spectrum through the “white spaces” of current vacant television channels. Costs of allocation is still a major issue for wireless carriers, said Kathleen O’Brien Ham, vice president of Federal Regulatory Affairs at T-Mobile USA, as companies seek to clear spectrum in more markets.

“We also need more certainty around time frames since there is need to share the spectrum,” she said.

Secondary markets were also discussed, with more calls for a more robust and functional market since there is a significant growth in the secondary market.

Panelists also urged the FCC to identify individual users of spectrum in order to help facilitate greater utilization.

Workshop presentations and video.

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Week's Links: Julius Genachowski Takes Reins at FCC

in Broadband Stimulus/FCC/National Broadband Plan/NTIA/Premium Content by

From BroadbandCensus.com Weekly Report

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2009 – In a speech on Tuesday to staff at the Federal Communications Commission, new Chairman Julius Genachowski said that “if we…harness the power of communications to confront…challenges” such as the economy, education, health care, and energy, “we will…make a real positive difference in the lives of our children and future generations.”

Genochowski also called for “a new climate of openness and accountability at an agency that has been criticized for a culture of secrecy and playing favorites,” as well as a briefing from the FCC’s Bureau of Public Safety and Homeland Security on the agency’s own emergency management plans.


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