Posts by Michael Marcus

Deficit Limits, Budgets and Their Likely Impact on Wireless Innovation at FCC

I recall being at FCC in 1981 when the Reagan budget cuts came rolling with the new Administration and Congress. FCC like most other agencies were viewed as an “enemy of the people” to be held on the shortest budget leash using “zero based budgeting”. I has been the 157th person hired in OET’s predecessor in 1979, I believe OET’s staffing is now around 90. Prior to these budget cuts, there was a policy research budget controlled by OPP. It was used for starting what now is called Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well as exploring how much UHF spectrum could be made available if TV receivers were better.

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Section 7 is Also Part of the Communications Act

Section 7 of the Communications Act (47 USC 157) has been law since 1983. It states:

157. New technologies and services

(a) It shall be the policy of the United States to encourage the provision of new technologies and services to the public. Any person or party (other than the Commission) who opposes a new technology or service proposed to be permitted under this chapter shall have the burden to demonstrate that such proposal is inconsistent with the public interest.

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The LightSquared/GPS Controversy


This is a major controversy brewing at FCC over its 1/26/11 Order and Authorization to LightSquared authorizing them to offer terrestrial service, in addition to mobile satellite service, in a band just below the band used by privately owned GPS systems.  This struggle has all the things that make spectrum policy interesting - I will leave out the boring technical details here as they are in my own blog:

• An aggrieved incumbent claiming the new entrant will cause massive interference.

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“Startup America”: What FCC and NTIA Could do to Stimulate Wireless Innovation

The White House announced today “Startup America”, “a plan for winning the future by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building the rest of the world.”

President Obama said, “Entrepreneurs embody the promise of America: the belief that if you have a good idea and are willing to work hard and see it through, you can succeed in this country. And in fulfilling this promise, entrepreneurs also play a critical role in expanding our economy and creating jobs. That’s why we're launching Startup America, a national campaign to help win the future by knocking down barriers in the path of men and women in every corner of this country hoping to take a chance, follow a dream, and start a business.”

NTIA’s parent, the Department of Commerce, seems fully committed to the program

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On Paying to Hear Public Officials Discuss Their Work

In June I had a post here entitled "Should the Public Have to Pay $1149 to Hear FCC Officials Talk About Broadband Policy?".  In it I pointed out that 2 commercial groups were sponsoring in conjunction with the FCBA a seminar on broadband issues and you could hear a wide variety of officials from FCC, NTIA, and State speak for only $1149.   At the time I made a suggestion for reform:

"FCC should adopt an internal policy that its officials will not speak at events charging more than a certain amount, say $100, UNLESS the sponsors provide a video of the official’s remarks - including questions and answers - within 24 hours after the event for posting at the FCC web site."

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RF Safety: Time Magazine Finds The Hidden Problem of OET Bulletin 65 Supplement C


An article by columnist Mark Scherer entitled “Cell-Phone Safety: What the FCC Didn't Test” is in this week’s Time magazine. It points out

"FCC testing regulations notably chose not to simulate a situation in which the phone was broadcasting at full power while inside a shirt or pants pocket flush against the body, an odd oversight given the known habits of many cellular-phone users. As a matter of physics, radio-frequency energy generally increases sharply as distance is reduced. "The exposure is definitely related to distance," says (retired FCC RF safety expert Robert) Cleveland."

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This Time It is $1,595 to Hear FCC Officials Discuss Telecom Policy


In June I wrote an entry here entitled "Should the Public Have to Pay $1149 to Hear FCC Officials Talk About Broadband Policy?".  It did not get much response.  In a mere 6 months the price of the next Practising Law Institute event, "28th Annual Institute on Telecommunications Policy & Regultation" has increased to $1595!  The brochure clearly states "Q&A: FCC Commissioners and other senior officials will answer your questions".  Probably worth the price of admission for this alone!

Speakers include:

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FCC’s Secretive Flip-flop on Cell Phones and SAR Data

For about 10 years FCC has been facilitating the public availability of data on the specific absorption rate (SAR) of cell phone models sold in the US and pointing out that people concerned about unknown safety risks of cell phone use might want models with lower SARs.  While there is no proof or evidence that cell phone emissions cause ANY health problems, exposure to such power is not necessarily health enhancing either.

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Should the Public Have to Pay $1149 to Hear FCC Officials Talk About Broadband Policy?

I received an announcement today about "Broadband Policy Summit VI: Implementing the National Plan".  This event is cosponsored by two commercial organizations, BNA and Pike & Fischer, in association with the FCBA.  The speakers include

· Meredith Attwell Baker, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
· Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, and Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), U.S. Department of Commerce
· Ambassador Philip L. Verveer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, U.S. Department of State
· Edward P. Lazarus, Chief of Staff, Federal Communications Commission

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What is “Harmful Interference” and Why is it Important?

"Harmful Interference"/HI is the test FCC uses to see if a new spectrum use is acceptable with repect to incumbent uses.  All radio systems impact other systems, or at least have since Marconi built his 2nd radio.  Thus it is important to limit this impact and FCC does so through the HI criterion. In effect, HI is also vital in determining whether spectrum can be reallocated.  As demand for spectrum to support mobile and fixed broadband increased, HI is a key factor in allocation decisions.  It will probably be crucial in the followon to the spectrum inventory in determining whether the vacant spectrum that is discovered can actually be used.

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A Tale of 2 Regulatory Commissions

We are an unusual "nuclear" family. Unusual in the sense that I worked at FCC for almost 25 years and my wife's career was mostly in the nuclear power area and included 13 years at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Thus in our household we have experience at 2 different regulatory commissions - probably a rare occurrence even in Washington.

This week was NRC's annual Regulatory Information Conference (RIC) and we dropped by together to register her Monday afternoon and I was there yesterday for a bit to catch the flavor and go to some private company receptions in conjunction with the conference since I know many people in that industry.

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FCC Grapples with Ex Parte Reform

Thanks to Mr. X-Parte for his excellent video on the FCC's recent ex parte NPRM.

I have been blogging on ex parte reform on my own blog for a while and have repeatedly complained to the FCC about the entity that I believe is the worst offender. Indeed, I have a petition for review of the latest in a series of staff rejections of complaints that has been pending before the Commission since September 2008.

In that petition, I quote former Commissioner Abernathy who said to an ITU meeting

“I believe that transparency is best achieved through the creation and publication of clear rules.

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Spectrum Inventory Bill Moving Through Congress reports that The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved S. 649, the Radio Spectrum Inventory Act, which would give the NTIA and FCC 180 days to present Congress with a complete inventory of the radio frequencies that they manage from 300 Megahertz to 3.5 Gigahertz.

The key provision of the bill is a new Section 342 of the Communications Act that would read:

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There is a lot of press coverage about yesterday's White House action on stem cell research, but a key part received less attention. Included in the action was a presidential memorandum that directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to "develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making." Since key parts of the FCC's jurisdiction are technical, this could have a big impact on FCC if also implemented there.

President Obama outlined the goals of his new policy:

To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisers based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions.

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Learning from the Past:  It Rarely Happens at FCC


I attended Comm. McDowell's talk to the FCBA yesterday as it marked a welcome change from the ancienne regime. In his talk Comm. McDowell said,

"Many of our most valued team members are nearing retirement age. We need to do more to recruit and retain highly-qualified professionals to fill their large shoes. I hope our next budget will give us adequate resources to address this growing challenge."

This was a noncontroversial statement similar to statements made by many others. But what struck me that here, as in many other issues, FCC never seems to want to address the root cause of the problem and possible long term solutions.

Why are so many people at FCC nearing retirement age?

(This is similar to the key social problem in Japan called the "aging society". People all over the world get older, so this is not a new phenomena.

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Change at FCC


Acting Chairman Copps has his work cut out for him in addressing the sad mess at FCC these days. An anonymous post to my blog, SpectrumTalk, from an FCC staffer reported on Copps first meeting with the FCC staff,

“When Chairman Copps gave his speech today to the entire FCC staff, before he had said even a word, he was met by thunderous applause. Like Obama with Bush right behind him declared that the country he was receiving was in disarray, Copps made clear that the FCC is in disarray and that things will be changing.”

Copps’ address to the FCC staff is posted on the FCC website and is a great plan for short term action. As he has written to Comm. McDowell, he is limiting his actions during his interim period to allow the new chairman flexibility in making major changes. He has stated that he is removing the unusual barriers between the staff and the other commissioners that were the hallmark of the ancienne regime. He stated,

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FCC Morale: A Review of New Data from OPM


The Federal Human Capital Survey is an admirable Bush Administration initiative that OPM describes as,

"a tool that measures employees' perceptions of whether, and to what extent, conditions characterizing successful organizations are present in their agencies. Survey results provide valuable insight into the challenges agency leaders face in ensuring the Federal Government has an effective civilian workforce and how well they are responding."

As I wrote 2 years ago, the FCC has used its status as an independent agency to opt out of participation in the past even though other independent agencies did participate. (This year as last time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) got very high marks in the survey. The obscure Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a new agency that is smaller than FCC, also ranked in the top 10 agencies in job satisfaction. So the survey was not biased against independent agencies or small agencies.)

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Is “Sunshine” Really the Problem?


At Monday's conference on FCC reform, several speakers raised the issue of the 1976 Government in Sunshine Act (5 USC 552b) as being a major factor in the FCC's current dysfunctionality. I am not so sure, although I will not deny it could be a factor.

I joined the FCC in 1979 under Chairman Ferris after the effective date of the Sunshine Act. Ferris, the product of a Jesuit education at Boston College and a career on Capitol Hill, loved debate - both debate in his office among senior staffers from different parts of FCC and debate at Commission meetings. These days people talking about the "monthly FCC meeting". One meeting/month is the legal minimum, not the requirement. In the Ferris era there was a meeting almost every week and sometimes 2 in one week.

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FCC Reform Conference


This is my first blog entry here, although some readers may have seen my personal blog on US spectrum issues: SpectrumTalk. I was a speaker at today's Reforming the FCC conference.

I am retired from FCC where I worked almost 25 years in the spectrum policy area and now am an independent consultant on complex spectrum policy issues for innovative technologies. While at FCC I proposed and directed the policy development that was the foundation for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth a few years later. Thus I have a lot of experience on the interface of regulation and innovation.

In the next few posts I will elaborate on issues that came up at the conference.

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