Monday, August 25
Remember the FCC’s long-gestating spectrum incentive auctions aimed at freeing up more airwaves for mobile broadband? Well, as The Hill‘s Kate Tummarello reports, the much-needed auctions have hit a potential snag:
Broadcasters are threatening to stand in the way of next year’s highly anticipated airwave auction, putting one the Obama administration’s top priorities at risk.
Officials in the broadcast and wireless industry are hopeful that a new lawsuit from the National Association of Broadcasters will put pressure on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reach a reach a compromise to save the auction — expected to net billions of dollars — from would could be a months-long delay.
“This lawsuit puts a cloud over the auction,” said one Republican FCC aide.
In order for the auctions to be successful — not to mention generate a sizable chunk of revenue for the Federal Government — broadcasters need to be on board. Hopefully, the FCC can negotiate a deal that makes everyone happy.
Wednesday, June 18
Wireless organization CTIA wants to focus on getting more spectrum to the market for mobile broadband. As Phil Goldstein of FierceWireless reports:
CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker wants to create a spectrum “report card” that would assess how efficiently government agencies are using their spectrum. That’s one piece of a broader agenda she has for getting more airwaves for mobile broadband use beyond this fall’s coming auction of AWS-3 spectrum and next year’s incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum.
Baker, who became the head of the wireless industry’s trade association and lobbying arm earlier this month, said a report card would “keep people’s feet to the fire to make sure we’re utilizing the spectrum, [and that] we’re not warehousing it.” She said that CTIA is going to continue to work towards the goal President Obama laid out in 2010 to free up 500 MHz of spectrum for mobile and fixed wireless broadband use by 2020. Baker said CTIA might push to go beyond that but wants to hit that milestone.
Given the popularity smartphones and tablets — and the mobile broadband that power them — making sure the single-largest holder of the nation’s airwaves, the government, is using those airwaves most efficiently is a critical step in keeping the mobile broadband economy booming.
Wednesday, May 14
Over at VOXXI, IIA Broadband Ambassador Kristian Ramos highlights why the FCC’s incentive spectrum auctions need to be open to every bidder willing to invest. An excerpt:
What many fail to realize is that the rate of growth in spectrum usage continues to accelerate. For example, the amount of spectrum used by mobile broadband data doubled in 2012 and is expected to increase eightfold by 2018.
To address this impending “spectrum crunch,” in 2012 Congress authorized the FCC to conduct a voluntary incentive auction as a way to make additional spectrum from television broadcasters available to commercial wireless providers so that they can meet the ever increasing demand for wireless broadband.
The proceeds of the incentive auction will be used to compensate broadcasters for relinquishing their spectrum and pay for a nationwide broadband public safety network consistent with the recommendation of the 9/11 commission, with leftover funds going toward deficit reduction.
However, for the auction to work properly, the FCC needs strong participation from as many broadcasters and bidders as possible. In fact, 78 House Democrats recently told the FCC as much, writing in a letter: “The FCC must invite as many participants as possible ‘on equal terms’ to an ‘open and fair’ broadcast TV spectrum incentive auction.”
Participation in the incentive auction matters. Remember: The auctions are voluntary, which means broadcasters that are participating do not have to sell their unused spectrum if they do not feel as if they are being fairly compensated.
By increasing the number of bidders participating in the auction, the FCC would improve the financial impact of the auction and enhance broadcaster participation. The more broadcaster spectrum that is available at auction, the more spectrum is available for consumers.
Check out Ramos’ full op-ed at VOXXI.
Wednesday, May 07
In the upcoming incentive auction for wireless spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeks to advance widespread deployment of mobile broadband in rural America with the infusion of additional 600 MHz “low” band spectrum into the wireless market.
What’s the best approach to achieving the goal of expanded rural service? Don’t restrict the auction by cutting out companies that currently serve rural America and want to expand their presence there.
FCC Chairman Wheeler kicked off a lively debate on this issue in his recent blog post maintaining that:
“The low-band spectrum we will auction is particularly valuable because it has physical properties that increase the reach of mobile networks over long distances at far less cost than spectrum above 1GHz. Today, however, two national carriers control the vast majority of that low-band spectrum. This disparity makes it difficult for rural consumers to have access to the competition and choice that would be available if more wireless competitors also had access to low-band spectrum.”
While no disagreement exists on the need for more spectrum and the policy goal of expanding mobile broadband availability in rural America, the realities of today’s marketplace suggest an alternative view on the best way to bring affordable and ubiquitous mobile broadband services to more of America’s heartland.
Sprint and T-Mobile contend that that the success of the spectrum auction depends on the FCC’s ability to limit AT&T (T) and Verizon’s (VZ) future spectrum purchases. Yet, neither Sprint (S) nor T-Mobile (TMUS) has publicly committed to use any additional spectrum to serve rural America. Instead, a recent study by Dr. Anna Maria Kovacs reveals that these wireless entities have informed Wall Street that they would limit high-speed wireless broadband coverage to a population of only 250 million. For America’s rural consumers, their plan means far less broadband service coverage from Sprint and T-Mobile than what these companies offer to their existing voice service customers. In fact, it appears that their goal in utilizing new spectrum is to limit enhanced broadband service mainly to the nation’s urban centers.
If satisfying Wall Street’s demands for Sprint and T-Mobile to use newly acquired spectrum only to serve revenue-rich urban and suburban broadband customers is the nation’s primary goal, the FCC may be on the right track. On the other hand, if expanding mobile broadband deployment to rural Americans everywhere, from the mountains of western Virginia to the open ranges of the West, best serves the public interest, the FCC may want to choose a different path.
Unlike Sprint and T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon have stressed that they will use additional spectrum to serve nearly a population of 300,000,000, bringing advanced mobile broadband services to less densely populated areas. In fact, these companies already serve large portions of rural America directly (not just through partners), offering the same competitive nationwide pricing and calling plans that they offer in the suburbs or cities.
Excluding certain companies from the auction in an attempt to engineer greater “competition” isn’t going to work. Modern broadband networks require significant capital investment to build out these new services to difficult-to-reach populations. The companies that are most likely to make that capital investment are the ones who currently serve rural America and have announced their intention to expand rural access with newly acquired spectrum.
Availability of high-speed mobile broadband depends on service providers that agree to actually deploy cell towers there—something both Sprint and T-Mobile have failed to commit to doing in the future. They seem perfectly content to focus their core efforts on areas where revenue per square mile will be highest. The “back 40” of Manhattan contains a lot more people, after all, than the back 40 of a ranch in New Mexico or Montana.
While these two foreign-owned entities are free to advance their business interests in Washington and Wall Street corridors, America’s rural customers depend on the FCC to separate fact from fiction and help deliver broadband to every corner of the nation.
Non-existent investment commitments and theories on managed competition are no basis to rig an auction. If we seek a real “pop” in high-speed mobile broadband use in rural America, let’s look at the population each company has agreed to serve. Our spectrum policies shouldn’t exclude from the auction the prospective bidders who have actually announced plans to serve more of America’s heartland.
Wednesday, April 23
Via our Tumblr.
Monday, April 21
With the FCC moving toward its upcoming incentive spectrum auction, The Hill‘s Kate Tummarello examines a debate over Wi-Fi:
Next year, the Federal Communications Commission will auction off airwaves worth billions to wireless companies. While the agency has pledged to set aside some unlicensed airwaves — which fuel consumer electronic devices like garage door openers and Wi-Fi routers — some fear the FCC might not reserve enough of the valuable airwaves as it tries to meet congressionally set revenue goals.
The highly anticipated 2015 auction will involve buying airwaves back from broadcasters and then selling new licenses for those airwaves to spectrum-hungry wireless companies looking to expand their networks.
While most focus on the battle between wireless companies over the agency’s plans to limit certain companies in the auction, the tech industry is watching to see how much of the available spectrum the FCC will set aside for unlicensed use.
With wireless companies in dire need of more airwaves — and the government in need of revenue — it’s clear the FCC faces a precarious balancing act. Finding a solution that works for everyone will be tricky, but it needs to be done in order for consumers not to end up on the losing end of the auction.
Wednesday, April 16
As the FCC continues to design its upcoming incentive spectrum auction, 78 House Democrats have penned a letter — led by Congressmen John Barrow and Bennie G. Thompson — encouraging the Commission to maximize the benefits of the auction by ensuring they are open to all entities willing to bid. An excerpt from the letter:
For the auction to be a success, the Commission should maximize participation by both broadcasters incented to relinquish their spectrum rights and bidders seeking to buy those rights in the spectrum auction. In fact, inviting as many bidders as possible to compete in an open and fair auction on equal terms will allow for the full market price for spectrum to be realized and, in turn, lead to higher compensation to incent greater broadcaster participation resulting in more spectrum for the auction.
We agree with the position taken by the House Democrats. As our Honorary Chairman, former Congressman Rick Boucher, wrote in an op-ed for Light Reading last year:
In order to meet these multiple needs simultaneously, it’s essential that the auction be open to all financially qualified bidders. Some have suggested that the largest mobile carriers be restricted in their ability to participate fully in the auction in order to favor smaller carriers. Limiting the ability of the largest carriers to purchase the spectrum their customers are demanding will mean fewer services for consumers and lower auction proceeds, rendering very difficult the challenge of meeting all of the competing and urgent demands for the auction revenues.
Moreover, it is not at all clear that spectrum acquisition restrictions on the largest carriers would actually promote competition.
Wednesday, April 02
Monday’s move by the Federal Communications Commission to open up the 5GHz band for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses has the potential to kickstart the expansion of new, faster Wi-Fi technology. That’s a win — for consumers, for innovation, and for America’s digital infrastructure.
But even as those of us who have long pushed for expanded high-speed Internet access pop champagne corks, it’s worth noting that the FCC’s action is just a step in what should really be a sprint by the Commission when it comes to making more spectrum available for mobile broadband. As Commissioner Ajit Pai said in his statement:
“If we’re to keep pace with consumers expectations, we need more 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum, not just better use of existing 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum. We must redouble our efforts on making an additional 195MHz of spectrum available for unlicensed use.”
Commissioner Pai is right on the money, but that quote only tells half the story. In order to a) keep up with consumer demand, and b) truly advance mobile broadband deployment and speeds across the country, the FCC must also make more licensed spectrum available for commercial use. Or, as Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel succinctly put it, “Good spectrum policy requires a balance of licensed and unlicensed [spectrum].”
Again, the FCC’s 5GHz Wi-Fi move is worth celebrating. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. To quote Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, “We need to be ambitious in finding more ways to provide licensed and unlicensed spectrum for commercial services.” And with consumer demand for mobile broadband not likely to diminish anytime soon, the clock is ticking.
Friday, March 21
President Obama’s ConnectED initiative aims to provide high-speed broadband (as in, 100 Mbps) to every school in America within five years. It’s a worthy — and necessary — goal, but like most major initiatives, it faces the daunting question of funding.
Enter a new proposal from the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology (CBIT), which, the organization believes, provides a path for making ConnectED a reality. This article from Telecompetitor does a good job of digging into the details of the proposal, but in a nutshell it goes something like this:
Currently, wireless provider Sprint leases 2.5Ghz Educational Broadcast Spectrum (EBS) from numerous educational institutions that hold this resource around the nation. Under the Center’s proposal, that spectrum — which, according to CBIT, is going unused in 800 counties across America — should be made available through an incentive auction and its proceeds made available to compensate the educational spectrum licensees and fund the President’s ConnectEd initiative.
It’s rare these days when a proposal can appeal to both the left and the right, yet CBIT’s auction idea has the potential to hit that sweet spot where public good and the free market meet. Even Sprint stands to benefit since, as Telecompetitor’s Joan Engebretson writes in her article. Citing an argument from CBIT Executive Director Fred Campbell:
“Sprint and other wireless carriers would benefit from this proposal because assigning the EBS spectrum for purely commercial use and assigning the 2.5 GHz white spaces would enhance the value of existing commercial spectrum in the band. In addition, it would give the carriers the opportunity to acquire additional 2.5 GHz spectrum that would be free of educational obligations…”
Whether Sprint would be open to CBIT’s idea remains to be seen — Engebretson’s story doesn’t make it seem very likely — but it’s encouraging that innovative ideas are being floated to fund ConnectED. Bringing high-speed Internet access to every student is too important, so policymakers should weigh the costs and benefits of every creative proposal that offers the hope of bringing the tools of the 21st century digital economy one step closer to America’s students.
Wednesday, March 19
With all the recent focus on the transition to all-IP networks — and the FCC trials to make that transition go as smoothly as possible — it’s easy to lose track of another pressing issues, which is the Commission’s upcoming spectrum incentive auction. Over at Broadcasting & Cable, John Eggerton reports that the auctions will soon be moved to the front burner:
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is targeting May for a vote on an item establishing rules of the road for the broadcast incentive auction, according to sources inside and outside the commission.
Wheeler has been saying “spring” for a while, but according to sources, he is looking at scheduling the item for the May 15 open meeting.
Thursday, February 27
The transition to all-IP networks may be the hot tech topic inside the Beltway these days, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other pressing issues. Like the need to free up more spectrum for wireless use, which as Kate Tummarello from The Hill reports, is getting some much-needed attention from members of the House:
As the Federal Communications Commission prepares for its 2015 airwaves buy-back and auction, a pair of House lawmakers has launched a new congressional caucus focused on spectrum.
The caucus, announced Thursday by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), will examine spectrum-related issues, including licensed spectrum — such as the kind used by federal agencies and wireless companies — and unlicensed spectrum, which powers Wi-Fi systems.
“As our economy increasingly relies on spectrum, this Caucus will be an important mechanism for our colleagues and congressional staff to engage on the spectrum policies, both licensed and unlicensed, facing our economy,” Matsui said in a statement.
Friday, January 10
At the official blog of the Federal Communications Commission, Chairman Tom Wheeler lays out the Commission’s commitment to achieving the transition to all-Internet based networks. As the Chairman writes:
Among the biggest changes the FCC must confront are the IP transitions. Note the use of the plural “transitions.” Circuit switching is being replaced by more efficient networks – made of fiber or copper or wireless. Greater efficiency in networks can translate into greater innovation and greater benefits for network operators and users alike.
The best way to speed technology transitions is to incent network investment and innovation by preserving the enduring values that consumers and businesses have come to expect. Those values: public safety, interconnection, competition, consumer protection and, of course, universal access, are not only familiar, they are fundamental.
Those very same values were highlighted by our own Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher in an op-ed for Bloomberg Government in November:
Government must play a key role throughout this process by advancing consumer interests with a transition plan guided by core principles. These basic protections will remain government’s responsibility even after the old phone system is shut down:
1. The commitment to universal service must endure. Next-generation high-speed broadband networks and their benefits must be available to every American. As we move beyond the old phone network, we cannot leave anybody behind. Without dictating specific technologies or micro-managing how communications competitors meet their public service obligations, we must push the envelope to ensure that every American can access modern broadband service and enjoy the benefits that come with it. At a minimum, post transition everybody should enjoy service at least as good as they can now receive from copper-wire phone networks.
2. Public safety must be assured. 911 emergency calls must go through—every single time—no matter what technology or services consumers adopt.
3. Services for the hearing-impaired and those with vision problems also must be retained at levels that at least match what consumers enjoy today.
4. Consumer protection must remain at the heart of communications policy. Consumers must know that government has their back; that service providers will deliver on their promises; that spotty service, fraud, or other abuses will not be tolerated. Consumers must have a place to take complaints with confidence that something will be done about them.
5. Establishing a backup plan for power failures should be part of the transition process. The rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy exposed some potential weaknesses in the way our digital technology works today. While fiber-optic-based systems tolerate water damage that can short out copper wires, they are more vulnerable when the electricity at the user’s premises goes out.
6. Special retrofitting and other creative solutions may be required to ensure that modern networks function fully with personal and business equipment such as fax machines, security systems, health monitors, and credit card readers, even though they may not currently be compatible with today’s broadband connections.
While it’s encouraging Chairman Wheeler is taking the plunge when it comes to the IP Transition, in reality it’s just one of the major issues the FCC will face under his watch. As our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman argued in December, outdated regulations could make many of the FCC’s work difficult:
At the FCC, Wheeler inherits a regulatory regime designed decades ago for an earlier era. Voice and video services are regulated under separate provisions of the Communications Act of 1934 (Title II and Title VI, respectively) based on assumptions of a permanent monopoly and massive barriers to entry. The Act and its subsequent amendments fundamentally fail to acknowledge the competitive alternatives created by the technological and marketplace convergence of the broadband age. Today’s FCC-enforced regulatory framework was designed for a world without Netflix Inc., Skype Communications, Google Inc., or iPhones — a world without the Internet. Thus, the agency remains stuck in the past, distinguishing among companies based on the technology they use and their legacy status under the Act. Consumers make no such distinctions.
That Chairman Wheeler and the Commissioners at the FCC are already rolling up their sleeves for the IP Transition should be applauded. But it’s just one of many issues the Commission needs to dive into in the next 12 months.
With this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (also known as CES) now in the rearview mirror, Dan Rowinski of Read Write Web explores a major takeaway from this year’s show:
The first phase of mobile was about turning our cellphones into what are essentially powerful pockets PCs. This posed unique challenges because of the size of the device and data connectivity issues. Over the past seven years (dating from the launch of the first iPhone), engineers worked to make everything smaller and faster while software developers created apps and systems to turn a cellphone into an “everything” device. The second phase will be to take that concept of everything and spread it everywhere. The connected home, the smart car, the television and commerce are all being informed by the advances that have been made in mobile.
“We are in the middle of the inflection point from developing the technology to deploying it,” said CEO of Ericsson Hans Vestberg when describing what he called the second phase of mobile at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.
With mobility increasingly dominating our lives, Rowinski’s takeaway from CES dovetails nicely with two major policy topics at this year’s show: spectrum allocation and the transition to all-IP networks, both of which will be critical for the always-connected future on display at CES to work.
Monday, December 09
In more FCC news, late last week the Commission announced it was delaying its incentive spectrum auction. As Alina Selyukh of Reuters reports:
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, as long predicted, now plans to hold the so-called incentive auction of broadcast airwaves in mid-2015, a year later than originally intended, the agency chairman said on Friday.
The FCC is now drafting rules for the auction that would reshuffle the ownership of valuable frequencies among TV stations, as well as wireless carriers, which are clamoring for faster speeds and better services for their devices.
Thursday, December 05
Speaking of spectrum, Phil Goldstein at Fierce Wireless reports that a big player in the satellite game is planning to participate in an upcoming auction:
Dish Network has officially registered its intent to bid in the FCC’s upcoming 1900 MHz PCS H Block spectrum auction—and it is likely to secure a significant amount of licenses since it is the only major company planning to participate in the auction. If Dish is successful in winning H Block licenses, the company would notably improve its already significant spectrum portfolio.
The FCC released a list of bidders for the H Block on Wednesday; the auction is scheduled to start Jan. 22. The commission said 14 bidders entered complete applications and an additional 20 bidders submitted incomplete applications that they can correct by Dec. 18.
DISH has long made it known that it wishes to get into the highly competitive wireless business, so their jumping into the auctions isn’t really surprising.
According to Brendan Sasso of The Hill, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will be holding a hearing on the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auction on December 10. Expected to be discussed will be a nationwide public safety network and whether limitations should be imposed on the auctions, which many lawmakers and industry groups warn would severely diminish returns from the auctions.
Thursday, November 14
Today’s letter from a handful of organizations that asks the FCC to set spectrum-auction aggregation limits puts whipped cream on a mud pie. The FCC should follow Congress’ clear goals of getting more spectrum out into the marketplace for all willing investors and maximizing revenue to fix the debt, rather than siding with some competitors over others. We should be finding more spectrum for all carriers rather than barriers to hold some back. The suggested limits would reduce auction revenue, make broadcasters less likely to participate and reduce the pace of broadband investment.
Wednesday, October 30
Late yesterday, the Senate unanimously approved the appointments of Tom Wheeler and Michael O’Rielly to the FCC. Upon joining the FCC this week, Wheeler and O’Reilly will now bring the Commission to full strength.
The new members join the FCC at a critical time. As my colleague Jamal Simmons wrote back in May (such is the pace of Washington these days), two of the very top issues the Commission faces are the modernization and upgrade of our existing telephone networks and the ever-pressing need to free up more spectrum to meet the increasing demand for wireless broadband by America’s consumers.
To bring next-generation broadband networks to the entire nation, the FCC should approve demonstration tests in several markets, similar to the trails set up by the FCC preceding the conversion to digital television, in order for this major network upgrade to be as smooth as possible. For spectrum, the Commission should move quickly on holding open incentive auctions, rapidly approve secondary market transactions, and work with NTIA in the repurposing of federal spectrum so it can be put to use for consumers.
And the FCC should move rapidly on the ConnectEd initiative, to help ensure access to high-speed broadband for our nation’s students at school and at home. Making that program a reality, along with the two agenda items listed above, will help the FCC make a lasting and highly positive impact on the lives of consumers and the economy as a whole.
On behalf of all of us at IIA, congratulations to Wheeler and O’Rielly on their confirmations, and also congratulations to Acting Chairwoman Clyburn for her steady leadership during the past few months. Now it’s time to roll up sleeves and get to work.
Tuesday, October 29
Today’s Wall Street Journal has a short piece that packs a big tech wallop.
Penned by Charles Townsend, “Smartphones to Monitor Insulin and Smell Flowers” argues that the devices we now carry are only at the beginning of the potential. For example, Townsend writes:
Ten years from now, you won’t need to carry your Visa or MasterCard because your cellphone will function as a credit card. You will place your phone on a scanner at a restaurant and your purchase will either be charged directly to your cellular bill or to your credit card. The phone will verify that it is you by checking your thumb print. Wireless companies will have become mobile banks.
Other highlights from Townsend’s piece: A new wireless camera being developed by Qualcomm that transmit pictures to your doctor’s smartphone(!); a smartphone that translates languages for you in real-time(!); and a phone that, as Townsend puts it, is “able to smell a strange odor in your home and tell you that tomatoes are rotting(!).”
Townsend’s article isn’t all future-cool, though, as he pivots into territory we at IIA have long tread in — having enough spectrum available to handle the coming deluge of data on wireless networks. As he writes:
If all goes as planned, the FCC may be able to come up with about half of the necessary new wireless spectrum by 2020, leaving a 250 MHz shortfall. Hopefully, the FCC can convince a number of federal agencies to give up significant additional spectrum. Otherwise, wireless engineers will have to come up with a better way to use the finite amount of spectrum they already have. If they don’t, soon enough your smartphone will remind you of the dial-up speeds of the 1990s—and it will be years, if not decades, before we realize the full potential of these devices.
Agreed on all points.
Thursday, October 17
Now that the federal government is up and running again, things are expected to heat up on the tech policy front. Case in point, as Brendan Sasso of The Hill reports:
The Senate could confirm President Obama’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission as early as Wednesday night.
Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s pick for FCC chairman, and Michael O’Rielly, a nominee for a Republican commission seat, have been placed on a fast track for Senate approval, according to a document circulated on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Terrell McSweeny, a Democratic FTC nominee, and Kathryn Sullivan, nominated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could also be approved.
With hot issues like spectrum auctions and the transition to advanced networks on the table, it’s good to see the government back to work, and that the FCC could finally have a new Chairman ASAP.