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FCC Schedules Action on PCAST Report

FCC yesterday released the following statement,

Today, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski joined PCAST members Eric Schmidt and Mark Gorenberg at Stanford University. Specifically, he announced that the FCC will, by the end of the year, initiate formal steps to implement the key recommendations of the PCAST report, including small cell use in the 3.5 GHz band. Freeing up spectrum in this band will add 100 megahertz to our nation’s wireless broadband networks.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “Today’s iPhone announcement and last week’s release of the new Kindle Fire, Windows 8/Nokia Phone, and Droid RAZR by Google/Motorola offer the latest evidence that, over the past few years, the U.S. has regained global leadership in key areas of communications technology. These high-performance devices, and the demands they place on our broadband networks, underscore a critical challenge.”

“Today, I announce the FCC will initiate formal steps by the end of the year to implement keyrecommendations of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report around freeing up spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band. This action will represent a major innovation in spectrum policy that will in turn enable innovations in wireless applications throughout the economy, including energy, healthcare, education, and other uses yet to be discovered.”

Wireless Week had reported in July

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said he has "serious concerns about the report’s apparent dismissal of clearing and reallocating federal spectrum for commercial use."

Though "spectrum sharing has its place... I continue to believe that clearing federal spectrum bands and reallocating them for exclusive commercial use is a critical component of any sensible spectrum strategy," he said.

While CTIA has no statement as yet on the new statement by Chairman Genachowski, they indicated in July their primary interest is in reallocation of spectrum, not sharing. They stated then

At the same time, and as Congress recognized in the recently-passed spectrum legislation, the gold standard for deployment of ubiquitous mobile broadband networks remains cleared spectrum.

Cleared spectrum and an exclusive-use approach has enabled the U.S. wireless industry to invest hundreds of billions of dollars, deploying world-leading mobile broadband networks and resulting in tremendous economic benefits for U.S. consumers and businesses

The real issue is not whether industry would prefer reallocations of federal spectrum, but rather whether that is practical in a timely way, especially considering the current arrangements for federal spectrum management. Thus while in July AT&T said

“We fully support the NTIA effort of determining which government bands can be cleared for commercial use, and we look forward to continuing to work with NTIA and other stakeholders to make more spectrum available for American consumers and businesses.”

the reality is that NTIA as presently structured is in no position to make such determinations. NTIA may have the same nominal 47 USC 305 power as the Nixon era Office of Telecommunications Policy, Larry Strickling is no Tom Whitehead! This is not because of Strickling’s intentions and competence, but serving as Assistance Secretary of Commerce he does not have the political horsepower to tell other agencies how to spend their own money on wireless systems.

It seems odd that the cellular industry, in all its griping about the PCAST report, has not made any statement on Section 5 which deals with reform of federal spectrum management. At the October 3 FCBA Engineering and Technology Practice Committee brown bag lunch in DC, one of the PCAST contributors, Preston Marshall, will speak alongside Chris Guttman-McCabe of CTIA and former NTIA Administrator Larry Irving. I will post signup details when available. Perhaps we will hear more on this issue at that time.

The PCAST report states near the beginning

PCAST finds that clearing and reallocation of Federal spectrum is not a sustainable basis for spectrum policy due to the high cost, lengthy time to implement, and disruption to the Federal mission. Further, although some have proclaimed that clearing and reallocation will result in significant net revenue to the government, we do not anticipate that will be the case for Federal spectrum.

I suspect as long as the current practices in federal spectrum management continue this will be the case. At present the IRAC is the real judge of “high cost, lengthy time to implement, and disruption to the Federal mission” and NTIA lacks the independence and resources to review these issues objectively. For example, at a House hearing today, NTIA reallocation cost/time estimates were disputed by GAO:

Mark Goldstein, director of physical infrastructure issues for the GAO, said that some of the info NTIA used to make that cost/time estimate was not accurate, and that the system it used for gathering it would not change for several years.

But there are other agencies that regulate federal government activities in a more objective way then NTIA. For example,

  • OPM regulates personnel practices,
  • GSA regulates real estate use,
  • OSHA regulates worker safety issues,
  • EPA regulates environment impact of federal agency activities,
  • NRC regulates use of radioisotopes and reactors (other than those involved in weapons production), and
  • NSA regulates communications security practices.

These agencies do not kowtow to their fellow agency regulatees as NTIA does - although in the NTIA case this is a result of structural weakness, not poor intent.

Federal spectrum management need a similar objective regulator that focuses on the overall national interest, not the near term interests of the IRAC members. Maybe the creation of NTIA in 1978 was reasonable at the time, but the proposals of section 5 of the PCAST report go a long way towards creating the basis for greater use of the spectrum in the public interest either through sharing or reallocation. Perhaps the cellular industry will formulate a viewpoint soon on where they stand on federal spectrum management reform and not just gripe about sharing vice reallocation.
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