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ITIF Panel: FCC Needs to Address Spectrum Needs

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.



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.


Former Commissioners Commend FCC in Absence of Fifth Commissioner

But there’s concern a Senate vote on a fifth FCC commissioner will not happen before midterms.



Screenshot of Former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2022 – Former chairs of the Federal Communications Commission commended the current FCC administration at a symposium on Wednesday for working together on important issues with a 2-2 party split, but expressed increasing uncertainty about the fate of a fifth commissioner.

The Senate vote to confirm Gigi Sohn, a Democrat and net neutrality advocate, has stalled for months. And former FCC commissioners were wary of her prospects before the midterm elections in November. Some Republican critics are concerned that Sohn, nominated by President Joe Biden in October, won’t be able to remain non-partisan on the issues she would encounter as a commissioner.

“Confirmation is still possible, but with the extended August recess and looming midterm election, there aren’t a lot of legislative days to get the job done,” said former FCC Chair Richard Wiley. With each passing day, the confirmation becomes more difficult, agreed panelists, as the Senate could flip to a Republican-controlled chamber come November.

In the meantime, the former commissioners praised the efforts of the current staff. “A lot of credit should go to the Chairwoman [Jessica] Rosenworcel and indeed to all the commissioners for maintaining a robust agenda over the last year and half and really getting decisions made,” said Wiley. “Two Democrats, two Republicans have worked together to serve the public interest.”

William Kennard added that, “this is an energetic commission, they want to get things done.”

Some initiatives that have received unanimous FCC votes include spectrum-sharing initiatives and robocall enforcement.

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FCC Adopts Spectrum-Sharing Incentives, Proposal on Call Traffic Arbitrage

The agency voted to incentivize the sharing of underutilized spectrum to increase connectivity in the nation.



Photo of Nathan Simington, Brendan Carr, Jessica Rosenworcel of FCC (left to right)

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted at its July open meeting Thursday to adopt spectrum-sharing incentives and to crack down on the practice of driving up revenue from call traffic inflation.

The commission voted to adopt a program that will build incentives for larger spectrum holders to make underutilized spectrum available to smaller carriers, tribal nations and entities serving rural areas. The program, called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program, will have incentives including longer license terms, extensions on buildout obligations, and more flexible construction requirements.

The commission is also seeking comment on whether to expand the program eligibility to non-common carriers serving non-rural areas.

“I’m excited to see the new deployments this program will foster,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “I think it will help expand wireless deployment in rural and tribal communities… to make sure we reach 100 percent of us with high-speed service.”

Experts have advocated for more carve-outs for unlicensed spectrum to tackle the growing demand for connections and relieve congestion on existing frequencies. The Rural Wireless Association applauded the FCC Thursday on the vote, saying it believes that program can “encourage the necessary transactions that can expand telecommunications and broadband service in rural America.”

Cracking down on call traffic arbitrage

The commission also proposed rules to address the practice of telephone companies inflating traffic to generate more revenue, which raises costs for long-distance carriers.

Intercarrier compensation is the system of regulated payments that sees carriers compensate each other for cross-carrier call traffic. Some companies, however, continue to take advantage of the system by inflating traffic to extract additional revenues, the FCC identified. As a result, the FCC proposes to adopt monitoring rules to identify illegal arbitrage practices.

“This rulemaking is designed to shut down the loopholes these companies are exploiting,” said Rosenworcel. It would require providers to tally and report call traffic volumes to the FCC to verify its compliance with access stimulation rules, which were adopted in 2019 to clarify financial responsibility for calls.

Other actions

The FCC also proposed a $116 million fine against ChariTel Inc. for a robocall scheme that made nearly 10 million robocalls to toll-free numbers, which then generated revenue for the company from payments by the toll-free service provider.

FCC commissioners further voted to open an inquiry to evaluate how the Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program can be modified to support the connectivity needs of domestic abuse survivors.

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FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’

In remarks at the Rural Wireless Association event on Wednesday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reaffirmed the FCC’s goals.



Photo of Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, leading a discussion at the summit on Wednesday by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 30, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks acknowledged the agency’s goal of obtaining secure broadband networks at an event of the Rural Wireless Association on Wednesday.

“We must ensure that our broadband networks are secure,” Starks said in keynote address at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here, delivered via Zoom. “This is evident in the constant barrage of attacks of American networks from hostile state and non-state actors.”

Starks continued, “insecure networks, by definition, can’t provide the stable, reliable, always on communications we need. Especially during emergencies… Broadband must be secure for the full benefits of broadband to be achieved.”

The issue of ridding American telecommunications networks of equipment manufactured in China was a constant theme during the conference.

In addition to Starks’ presentation, several sessions addressed the dilemma faced by telecommunications carriers, particular rural ones, that had in the past invested heavily in lower-cost equipment from Huawei, a leading Chinese manufacturer.

As the political winds have changed on the topic over the past three years, Congress has allocated funds for a “rip and replace” program. The FCC is expected to announce the providers that will receive nearly $2 billion as part of the program by July 15.

But some fear that number could be more than $4 billion short of needed funds.

“The funds available will cover only a very small portion” of the costs to replace Huawei with non-Chinese manufacturers, said Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association.

Potential new requirements imposed on telecom providers

The commission recently sought comment on whether it should require carriers that receive high-cost support to have include baseline cyber security and supply chain risk management plans.

If these plans are included in requirements, Starks said that American communication networks would be protected from bad actors. Moreover, they are consistent with requirements already included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Starks thanked the RWA for its activity and advocacy in the “rip and replace” proceedings, officially dubbed the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program.

“The threat is real,” called Starks. “Companies that are deemed by the federal government to be a threat to the United States and its people can not have free reign in data centers featuring some of the most sensitive data of Americans.”

This comes only days after Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores in response to the apps’ obligation to comply with the Peoples Republic of China’s surveillance demands.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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