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Panelists Debate the Degree of Openness on Wireless Networks

MCLEAN, VIRGINIA, June 26 – Whether wireless networks are open or closed to competition was the subject of sharp dispute at the Digital Media Conference on “The Coming Open Wireless Network: Hype vs. Reality?”

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By William G. Korver, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

MCLEAN, VIRGINIA, June 26 – Whether wireless networks are open or closed to competition was the subject of sharp dispute at a Thursday afternoon panel at the Digital Media Conference here on “The Coming Open Wireless Network: Hype vs. Reality?”

There is “no openness yet” in wireless networks, said Michael Calabrese, vice president and director of the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation. Three industry practices by carriers are preventing the opening of an era of open wireless networks, he said.

These industry practices are blocking and locking cell phones to a particular wireless network, crippling features that otherwise would be available on the handset, and discrimination in broadband service, said Calabrese. He did say that Verizon’s promise of increased openness provided some hope for the future.

Carolyn Brandon, vice president of policy at the wireless association CTIA, disputed the assertions made by Calabrese. She said that what Calabrese termed “blocking” was actually consumer-friendly “bundling” that routinely saves customers money. This practice is “not screwing the customer,” she said.

Moreover, carriers have every right to limit bandwidth based on costs, said Brandon.

Brandon said that the market should determine the fate of tiered pricing. Pointing to America Online’s decision to change from a “walled garden” of limited online options to an internet-friendly approach as a distribution hub after losing an enormous amount of paying customers, Brandon said that governmental regulation is not needed and a bad idea.

The Federal Trade Communications’ approach to internet issues demonstated that government regulation is a step that should be avoided as long as possible, especially when the market is not indicating that regulation is required, she said.

Echoing Brandon, Suzanne Toller, of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, said that carriers are usually forced to bear the brunt of the blame for failures by regulators and the courts – even though the problems are usually caused by a content provider, not the carriers.

In any case, a major problem confronting the creation of a open wireless network is the question of the appropriate business model to keep costs at a minimum for wireless clients, who are the most price-conscious buyers, according to recent surveys, Brandon said.

Rick Robinson, vice president of products and services for Sprint’s XOHM WiMax service, said that his company hopes to solve the problem of payment by utilizing a flat access fee, with a premium plan for those willing to pay more.

Wireless

GOP Senators Want NTIA to Revisit View That Unlicensed Spectrum Networks Are Not ‘Reliable’

The coalition sent a letter to NTIA head Alan Davidson urging the agency to reconsider the policies outlined in the BEAD NOFO.

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Photo of Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mon., in July 2015, by Joel Kowsky used with permission

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2022 – Led by Montana’s Steve Daines, a coalition of Republican senators on Tuesday urged the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to remove regulatory barriers facing networks that rely entirely on unlicensed spectrum.

In the notice of funding opportunity for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, the NTIA stated that any fully unlicensed networks will not be considered a “reliable broadband network,” and therefore all locations served exclusively by such networks will be classified as unserved.

The coalition, which included Ted Cruz, R-Tex., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., sent a letter to NTIA head Alan Davidson urging the agency to reconsider, arguing the NTIA’s BEAD notice was at odds with congressional intent and precedent set by the Federal Communications Commission.

“Broadband is not a one-size-fits all service. Different states, regions, communities and differing terrain will require different solutions. Removing options off the table will result in communities being left behind,” the senators wrote. “Solutions that work in urban areas may not work in rural America where farms and homes can be miles apart. Likewise, what works in flat terrain, may not work well in mountainous areas. It is important that NTIA allow all broadband providers and technology to compete in order to ensure that we finally close the digital divide.”

The senators also expressed concern that the NTIA’s current policy would lead to waste of taxpayer dollars if areas served by otherwise satisfactory unlicensed-only networks are allotted funding for another type of build, such as a fiber deployment.

“This is a great development for [wireless internet service providers], who serve their communities mainly with unlicensed spectrum,” Mike Wendy, director of communications for the wireless-provider trade organization WISPA, said Tuesday. “Instead of fiber-only builds, it would help limited taxpayer resources go further to bring all Americans online.”

Not all industry players are sanguine about the potential of unlicensed spectrum. Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association and a fervent supporter of fiber-optic broadband, opposed the senators’ stance.

“Senators that are pressing NTIA to include technologies that have been defined as ‘unreliable’ are doing their constituents a huge disservice,” Bolton told Broadband Breakfast Tuesday.

“We have a once in a generation opportunity to get this right,” he added. “Let’s keep broadband about people and ensure that no one is left behind because of their zip code.”

Bolton argued that the NTIA’s BEAD-related policies should facilitate the deployment of long-lasting broadband infrastructure. Bolton also touted fiber as essential to smart grid modernization, public safety, and emerging technologies such as 5G.

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Spectrum

Interagency Spectrum Agreement Already Paying Off, Officials Say

The August agreement has improved the agencies’ capacity for long-term planning, said an NTIA official.

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Photo of Derek Khlopin, the NTIA’s deputy associate administrator of spectrum planning and policy

November 21, 2022 – The updated memorandum of understanding on spectrum coordination between the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is already greasing the wheels of federal spectrum policy, said officials from both agencies during a webinar Monday.

Freeing up spectrum for commercial use will drive 5G technology and the attendant economic benefits and has become a favorite cause of many in Washington. The agencies agreed to the updated memorandum in August, at which time FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called for a “whole-of-government” approach to spectrum policy.

The August agreement has improved the agencies’ capacity for long-term planning, said Derek Khlopin, the NTIA’s deputy associate administrator of spectrum planning and policy.

And although the memorandum is young, “it’s starting to have a meaningful impact and will continue to,” Khlopin said. He added that his agency is considering methods to concretely track the memorandum’s effectiveness going forward. Khlopin also suggested that the memorandum will demystify the NTIA’s spectrum-related activities for other federal agencies, to the benefit of all.

“I think [the memorandum] reestablished expectations and focused on the sharing of information between the agencies and on long-range planning,” agreed Joel Taubenblatt, acting bureau chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at the FCC.

The FCC administers spectrum for non-federal uses, the NTIA for federal uses. Federal spectrum managers must weigh the needs of federal agencies – e.g., spectrum used for national security purposes – with the interests of private actors. One way of making more spectrum available is to convince federal agencies to give up their allotments. 

In October, Scott Harris, senior spectrum advisor at the NTIA, said his agency will develop a “spectrum strategy” that will heavily rely on public consultation. Khlopin on Monday echoed Harris, saying that the public’s input is critical.

The FCC announced the winners of the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz) spectrum auction in September and adopted a notice seeking comment on the 12.7–13.25 GHz band last month. Last week, Commissioner Brendan Carr called on his colleagues to make still more spectrum available.

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Spectrum

Carr Advocates Release of More Spectrum as Deadline to Extend FCC Auction Authority Looms

Allowing the FCC’s authority to auction spectrum to expire would be “unacceptable,” Carr said.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2022 – Commissioner Brendan Carr of the Federal Communications Commission on Monday advocated making available more spectrum for commercial use and urged the extension of the commission’s auction authority that expires next month.  

“We’ve got to make…a great spectrum comeback,” Carr argued during a “fireside chat” hosted by the R Street Institute. “We’ve got to start matching that same pace and cadence that we saw [during Ajit Pai’s term as FCC chairman from 2017 to 2021].” Carr is, like Pai, a Republican.

Carr spoke highly of Pai’s record of acting on several spectrum bands, which includes the auction of 280 megahertz in the C-band – from 3.7–3.98 GigaHertz. Carr called the C-band, “the big kahuna.”

Since the FCC is an independent agency, largely driven by technical considerations, Congress was prudent to vest it with its spectrum authority, Carr argued. But that authority expires on December 16, after a continuing resolution signed by President Joe Biden extended the FCC’s ability to deliver on spectrum policies beyond the original September 30 deadline.

Such an expiration would be “unacceptable,” Carr said. “We have never had a lapse in this auction authority,” he added. “We need to continue to signal to the world and to our private sector that we know what we’re doing, we’re competent here, you can rely on a consistent pipeline of U.S. spectrum.”

In July, the House of Representatives passed the Spectrum Innovation Act, which would vest the commission with auction authority until March 2024.

Carr also praised the efforts of his colleague, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. The FCC in October sought comment on the 12.7 GHz–13.25 GHz band, following the agency’s August announcement of the winners of the 2.5 GHz auction.

Congress can also act to free up spectrum now held by federal agencies that would be more productive if available to the marketplace, said Joe Kane, director of broadband and spectrum policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, on a panel following Carr’s remarks.

“Most of the spectrum, whether it’s for licensed or unlicensed, nowadays is going to have to come from federal agencies, and federal agencies are loath to give up the spectrum that they have,” Kane said.

In October, a senior spectrum advisor at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the entity that administers spectrum used by the federal government, said his agency will develop a “spectrum strategy,” the primary goal of which will be to make available more spectrum.

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