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

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.  Broadband

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

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