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Commissioners Welcome DTV Delay, but Concerns Remain on Consumer Outreach

WASHINGTON, February 5, 2009 – The three members of the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday expressed relief over Congress’ Wednesday passage of legislation delaying the date of the digital television transition from February 17 to June 12.

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WASHINGTON, February 5, 2009 – The three members of the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday expressed relief over Congress’ Wednesday passage of legislation delaying the date of the digital television transition from February 17 to June 12.

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps did not present any “grand plan” of action for the next four months, but said at a monthly meeting that it was still important to “take stock of where we are” and assess what kind of efforts will be necessary to create a “new and effective game plan.”

The DTV Delay Act was pushed by advisors to President Obama, and the president is expected to shortly sign the legislation. Former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had opposed – as had the consumer electronic industry – although his predecessors Michael Powell and Bill Kennard joined Obama in seeking a short extension.

Copps, a Democrat, said it had “long been clear…that we were not ready for a nationwide transition on February 17.”

Copps welcomed the commitments of broadcasters to “step up to the plate” and keep their analog signals on the air until the new transition date.

By keeping their analog signals up until June, Copps praised broadcasters as “truly serving the public interest.” But the delay should not be used by anyone to “take a break,” he warned.

Instead, Copps stressed the need for all stakeholders to “redouble our efforts” and work together to make the transition successful. “Working together, we can make a huge difference for consumers.”

With the new delay, “unprecedented cooperation is finally underway,” said Commissioner Jonathan Adelsten, a Democrat. He said prior efforts on the DTV transition were “not ready for prime time.”

Adelstein said he remained “deeply concerned” about the availability of enough converter boxes – as well as whether FCC-sponsored DTV outreach call centers are delivering a consistent quality of service.

Outreach efforts should initially target at-risk communities, but in the coming months they should shift to a “nationally coordinated, but locally based grassroots effort” targeting all affected consumers, Adelstein said.

The transition will be “messy, regardless of when it happens,” said Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican. McDowell noted that he had been warning about potential problems for some time now, and welcomed the extra time Congress has given broadcasters and consumers to prepare. “Now is not the time to play the Washington blame game,” he said.

McDowell also expressed concern that there were two million Americans on a waiting list for government sponsored coupons.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers the coupon box program, also welcomed the additional time presented by the delay, Acting NTIA Administrator Anna Gomez said in a statement.

Acknowledging the need for improvements in the coupon program, Gomez stressed that NTIA could not provide more coupons without additional budget authority.

The extra four months would allow for more outreach by the commissioners, said FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Chief Cathy Seidel. Seidel praised the FCC’s efforts leading up to the transition, and suggested that continuing the same kinds of programs in the interval before the new transition date would be helpful in alleviating remaining concerns.

With adequate funding, the backlog in the government’s DTV converter box coupon could be cleared in approximately three weeks, said NTIA Consumer Education Director Tony Wilhelm said. Despite fears of shortages, Wilhelm told Adelstein that retailers have been a “great partner” in helping to execute the coupon program so far.

The new cutoff date could pose unintended consequences, Seidel said. Consumers could interpret the delay as a reason to not take action, she said. Putting out a clear message to consumers about the new transition date will be a major concern, she said. “There is no downside to acting now.”

Wilhelm similarly cautioned the commissioners that consumers whose coupons have expired need to be informed that they will be allowed to have them re-issued. But re-issuing coupons will require time to complete a new rulemaking process, he said.

NTIA is currently in discussions to cut down on the three week turnaround time required to issue new coupons, it will take until at least early April until those new coupons could hit the mail, he said.

Even in a “best case scenario,” millions of people could be left in the dark, McDowell warned, given the number of available coupons and capacity of the NTIA’s factory.

McDowell expressed dismay over a “lack of ownership” for outreach in many individual markets, asking Seidel why every community did not have someone who could “crack the whip” on broadcasters and other stakeholders.

Closer coordination between the FCC and broadcasters would be extremely helpful during the next four months, Seidel said.

Broadcasters have spent $1.2 billion in consumer education, said NAB President David Rehr. Broadcasters “stand ready” to assist the FCC in informing consumers of the new June 12 date, he said. NAB is taking “immediate action” to distribute new public service announcements to stations. The association will host a webcast for stations tomorrow to discuss the change.

The FCC can also take action to help, Rehr said. Among his suggestions were an improved FCC DTV hotline and coordination of consumer outreach between the FCC, NTIA, NAB and the DTV Transition Coalition, along with the continuing participation of the FCC as unofficial “DTV czar.”

The FCC should continue to cooperate with stations that do make the switch before June 12, Rehr added.

Outreach efforts should be tailored to individual states, said National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations president Dennis Lyle. Lyle cautioned against a “one size fits all” approach, but praised local stations and state associations for spearheading efforts at consumer outreach.

Rehr dismissed a question from McDowell expressing concern over a lack of local accountability and emphasized that NAB was operating a successful national campaign.

McDowell immediately disagreed. “I’ve been yelled at in too many communities,” he said, noting while many consumers may be aware that “something is happening,” they may not know exactly what.

McDowell repeated his concern over lack of local accountability, citing a town hall where he was chastised regarding consumer confusion over the cable industry’s separate transition to digital signals. McDowell attributed this to poor outreach and education efforts.

“There needs to be ownership of each [designated market area],” McDowell said, emphasizing that different areas of the country have different sets of problems. “There are only 210 [markets]…it’s not that hard.”

The state associations have “the pulse” on what is going on, Lyle said. However, he told McDowell that broadcasters were loathe to cooperate for fear of inviting antitrust problems. But McDowell quickly quashed Lyle’s argument against industry cooperation, pointing out that despite the advice of antitrust counsel, “if the government mandates something…it’s not collusion.”

Consumers Union’s Joel Kelsey applauded the “modest” extension. Consumers Union is “heartened to see the FCC acting swiftly and decisively to begin taking advantage of the extended deadline,” he said.

With the new cutoff date, non-profits, business and the government can work together to better help consumers navigate the transition, he said.

The market for converter boxes has responded to the new cutoff date, said CEA Vice President Michael Petricone. The worst case scenario, he said, is if the available inventory of boxes is the lowest estimate of three million. It is more likely that the actual inventory of six million boxes will be enough to meet demand by the time new coupons are issued, he said.

Manufacturing of converter boxes resumes at full speed in anticipation of the new transition date, he said. Petricone said that while there could possibly be a temporary shortage of converter boxes, accelerated manufacturing processes will ensure that an adequate supply will be available by April when the new round of coupon funding is in place.

Broadband Breakfast Club

Don’t miss the Broadband Breakfast Club on Tuesday, February 10, 2009, with Donald C. Brittingham (Verizon Communications), Tom DeRiggi (Rapid DSL & Wireless), John Kneuer (formerly of NTIA), John Muleta (M2Z Networks) and Steve B. Sharkey (Motorola) on “The Role of Wireless Frequencies in Widespread Broadband Deployment” at the Old Ebbitt Grill, from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m.

Webcasts of the Broadband Breakfast Club Produced in Partnership with:

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Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Spectrum

It Will Take Multiple Strategies to Provide Enough Spectrum for Nascent Technologies, Expert Says

Rysavy argued that it would take an “all of the above” approach to meet the coming need for spectrum.

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Photo of Peter Rysavy (left) from January 2018 by the Internet Education Foundation used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2022 – Spectrum sharing can provide unique opportunities for needed bandwidth, but it is not an end-all-be-all solution, and the U.S. cannot afford to turn down any strategies freeing up more spectrum, a spectrum expert said Wednesday during a Georgetown University event.

Spectrum sharing often refers to dynamic spectrum sharing, a process whereby an operator uses a radio band that is already being used by an incumbent operator. The incumbent may not use the band all the time, and thus the incumbent can allow the secondary operator to use the band when the incumbent does not need it.

During an event hosted by the university’s Center for Business and Public Policy, Rysavy Research CEO Peter Rysavy said that while this process can have useful applications, its utility is not limitless.

Rysavy explained that spectrum sharing solutions have only been developed to address specific scenarios for specific systems. “We do not today have any spectrum sharing solution that is general purpose – that can be applied to arbitrary systems,” he said.

This specialized and complex nature makes spectrum sharing solutions makes them not only more expensive, but also take longer to deploy.

Rysavy advocated for what he referred to as an “all of the above approach,” whereby spectrum sharing, licensed, and unlicensed spectrum strategies are utilized to address the U.S.’s growing need for broadband as 5G services continue to expand.

He referred to several killer applications for 5G, such as home broadband, augmented reality, and the metaverse that will be completely dependent on 5G infrastructure.

“We are really reaching the limits of physics as far as how efficient the technology is,” Rysavy said. “There are other things you can do on the edges, but there is only so far you can go with technology.”

Rysavy explained that growing physical infrastructure – such as increasing the number of small cell signal boosters – is not sufficient in resolving the need for bandwidth. “Ultimately, you do have to keep adding more spectrum into the equation – there is just no other way around it.”

Though Rysavy noted that wireless cannot compete with fiber in terms of bandwidth, he stated that it should not be viewed as a “wireless versus fiber” situation.

“The way to look at it is that we are extending fiber through the environment and close to the endpoint all the time,” he said. “The question then is just ‘how do we connect that last 100 yards?’”

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Wireless

Starry Hosts First Earnings Call, Says its Model Positions it to Compete Against Larger Players

Starry CEO assured investors that Starry’s technology model allows them to compete with other more established providers.

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Photo of Staryy CEO Chet Kanojia, from Starry

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2022 – In its first earnings call since becoming a publicly-traded company, telecom company Starry Inc. reported continued profitability and a desire to expand its services.

Starry, which uses fixed-wireless technology for the last-mile with support from a fiber-based middle-mile, merged with special purpose acquisition company FirstMark Horizon Acquisition Corp to go public in March. Its founder and CEO Chet Kanojia said on the earnings call Thursday that Starry has the potential to be a disruptor.

“The opportunity in broadband is to be able to disrupt the sector with extremely low-cost technologies, and to be able to achieve scale with less investment compared to traditional approaches that have been used in the past,” Kanojia said.

“This is not a concept company – we have found investors willing to finance our approach,” Kanojia said. “However, the business ultimately will require more capital,” adding that last quarter, the average user consumed 574 gigabytes of downstream and a substantial amount of upstream.

Kanojia also emphasized that urban and dense suburban areas continue to make up the majority of Starry’s consumer base.

“In order to succeed as a service provider, we need to be able to match speed and capacity,” he added.

Kanojia also said that connecting a new customer to the network costs around $100, and this is over years of improving and refining the process in order to keep the cost down.

In addition to operating the infrastructure, Kanojia said that Starry owns it as well, which has allowed the company to cut down on supply chain interruptions and exercise more control over how the technology is implemented.

“The underlying economic model remains extremely healthy and unchanged,” Kanojia said. “We continue to see the potential for raising the profitability.

“This gives us a lot of confidence that the underlying economic model works as intended and reinforced our desire to expand.”

Chet Kanojia will be the guest on Broadband.Money’s Ask Me Anything! series on Friday, May 13, 2022, at 2:30 p.m. ET.

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Spectrum

Rosenworcel Proposes Funding Infrastructure and 911 Transition with Spectrum Auction Money

The FCC’s chairwoman spoke on the future of spectrum during a Tuesday CTIA event on 5G’s climate impacts.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel by T.J. York

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel on Tuesday proposed using funds raised in upcoming spectrum auctions held by the commission to fund infrastructure projects and the transition to a next-generation 911 system.

The proposal came as part of a list of potential future areas of focus on spectrum from the commission during Rosenworcel’s session at wireless trade association CTIA’s 2022 5G Summit focusing on 5G’s impacts on climate.

Rosenworcel has stated in the past that she would like spectrum auction proceeds to go towards updating the national 911 system.

Proposed upgrades include allowing 911 callers to send first responders photos, videos and text messages rather than just calls. A bill also exists in Congress to upgrade 911, the Next-Generation 911 Act, authorizing federal grants to go towards the upgrades.

In March the FCC announced that in July it would auction 2.5 GHz band licenses for 5G services.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also speaking at Tuesday’s event, added to the calls for upgrades to the national 911 system.

Rosenworcel also spoke about the possibility of legislation targeting mid-band spectrum and development of next-gen wireless networks, work on updates to the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act that governs allocation of spectrum to the commercial sector, as well as a greater focus on receiver performance and procurement practices rather than just examining transmitters.

She emphasized that the commission is always actively working on spectrum policy through the Affordable Connectivity Program, the freeing up of spectrum with a particular focus on mid band, advocating for a national spectrum plan, and broadband data collection via the provisions of the Broadband DATA Act. She stated that the commission is actively involved with National Telecommunications and Information Administration head Alan Davidson on freeing up spectrum.

Additional speakers at Tuesday’s event included director of the White House’s National Economic Council Brian Deese, who noted that in the coming weeks and months there will be many more announcements on broadband funding from the administration on money to come from new and existing sources, and Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky.

Guthrie voiced frustration with government agencies not designated authority on spectrum over the role they took in public debates on spectrum policy, largely related to the Federal Aviation Administration’s influence over cellular providers to make concessions on their rollout of 5G over safety concerns earlier this year.

“And we must always continue to address inter-agency coordination issues,” said Guthrie.

He stated the necessity of these agencies communicating concerns to the NTIA and FCC rather than directly involving themselves in policy discussions.

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