FCC Seeks 411 on LTE-U

Making good on the Chairman’s promise, the FCC is looking for input into Unlicensed LTE and LAA.

As we recently reported, when the Commission created the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service which will use the 3.5 GHz band, Chairman Wheeler promised to open a separate docket in which folks could “file their perspectives” on LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) technology. And sure enough, the Office of Engineering and Technology and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau have promptly issued a Public Notice (PN) seeking comment on “current trends” in that technology.

LTE-U/LAA presents one of the most controversial aspects of the future unlicensed use of the 3.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands. That’s because LTE-U/LAA is designed to use some of that same spectrum, spectrum which is viewed by Wi-Fi proponents as vital to handling ever increasing Wi-Fi traffic.   

The PN seeks information on LTE-U/LAA “technologies and the techniques they will implement to share spectrum with existing unlicensed operations and technologies such as Wi-Fi that are widely used by the public.” 

The PN suggests ten topics for comment, including:

Continue Reading...

The FCC Raises the Curtain on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service

Shared use of 3.5 GHz band promises greater efficiency, but much work still needs to be done before operations can begin.

In a move described by the Commissioners as a “significant step forward” (Chairman Wheeler), history-making (Commissioner Rosenworcel), and “excit[ing]” (Commissioner O’Rielly), the FCC has opened up the 3.5 GHz (3550-3700 MHz) band for a wide variety of new uses. The band will now be home to the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). Perhaps most importantly, the new users will share the spectrum with themselves and incumbents through a three-tiered access model that depends on an automated frequency assignment and control database mechanism known as the Spectrum Access System (SAS). A number of details still need to be worked out in a further rulemaking, but the FCC’s action unquestionably reflects an innovative approach to increasing the efficient use of spectrum.

Historically, the 3.5 GHz band has been used by the Department of Defense for radar systems. Radar, of course, is a notoriously difficult technology to share with. A portion of the band has also been used for delivery of commercial broadband service, another sensitive use not ordinarily open to sharing. The Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) is another incumbent which has been pushed around to accommodate the CBRS. Through a system of priorities embodied in the tiering approach, the Commission believes that those incumbent uses can be protected from interference while the band is opened to other users. And those new users will enjoy the flexibility of opting for either priority access when reliability is important (at least in license areas where there is demand), or general access when it is less critical.

Continue Reading...

NAB to FCC: Erase, Replace White Space Database

Citing raft of errors, NAB urges suspension, overhaul of database requirements

The television white space (TVWS) database system, intended to increase the efficient use of TV spectrum, is a mess, according to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Because of that, the NAB has asked the Commission to suspend operation of the system until the “serious design flaws” in the system can be fixed. The FCC is thinking about the NAB’s proposal, and has solicited comments on it.

The TVWS database system has been an ambitious undertaking since Day One. The idea, of course, is that there is some TV spectrum everywhere that is not being used at any one time by any licensed operator. Such spectrum can be put to good use by various low-power unlicensed devices (dubbed TV band devices, or TVBDs). But how is a TVBD user supposed to know where, when and what spectrum can be used? Enter the database.

Continue Reading...

Field Office Phase Out?

FCC Chairman on offensive for proposed Field Office closures – but will "tiger teams" really do the trick?

Word on the street (first reported last month by our friends at Radio World, as far as we can tell) is that the FCC’s Field Offices are on the budgetary chopping block: according to a memo reportedly circulating within the Commission (and co-authored by the Chief of the Enforcement Bureau and the Managing Director), the number of Field Offices would be sliced by two-thirds (from 24 to 8), and staffing would be cut almost in half (from 63 to 33). Field Offices in major cities – think Seattle, Denver, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston – would all be gone.

Ding Dong, the (Enforcement) Witch is Dead! Good news, right?

Not really.

Sure, visions of surprise inspections and write-ups for hypertechnical violations may plague the fevered imaginations of some, but the fact is that Field Offices are, and have long been, the friend of the licensed, street-legal operator. As a practical matter, voluntary inspection programs have largely removed the threat of drive-by, “gotcha” inspections. And while we may all chafe a bit at the occasional citation for a broken tower fence lock or unmown grass at the transmitter, such things tend to be rare, at least for licensees who are reasonably attentive to regulatory compliance.

Continue Reading...

Another Month, Another Spectrum Auction - But This Time, With a Couple of Twists

Coming soon: Innovative auction to dispose of innovative spectrum.

The FCC has announced yet another spectrum auction. Ho-hum, right?

WRONG – this isn’t like any previous auction.

First, there’s the spectrum that’s up for bids. According to the FCC, bidders will be bidding on “newly-discovered” spectrum. It appears that the Commission has had a task force of its best engineers running elaborate tests at the Columbia, Maryland lab. Their quest: any and all spectrum that might have escaped everybody’s attention thus far.

The effort appears to have paid off, in spades, with the first new spectrum unearthed since James Clark Maxwell predicted radio waves in 1867. “It must have been lying there the whole time,” said an FCC engineer who requested confidentiality. “We just happened to look in the right place.”

Sources indicate that the spectrum about to make its debut is being referred to by FCC insiders as the “Bleen Band”, a tongue-in-cheek homage to social commentator George Carlin. The Commission is officially mum (apparently preferring to avoid rampant market speculation and potential legislative or judicial interference). But reports leaking from the Columbia lab say that Bleen Band spectrum has propagation characteristics ideal for a vast range of services, including broadcast, fixed and mobile wireless, radar, Wi-Fi, and those things that unlock your car from across the street. FCC sources say that signals on the Bleen Band “go forever”, “penetrate just about anything”, aren’t susceptible to any known atmospheric conditions, and require very little power.

In the words of one knowledgeable Commission insider, it’s “like El Dorado, the Fountain of Youth, desktop fusion and a perpetual motion machine all rolled into one, with an antenna – and a small antenna at that.” Despite these rave reviews, though, don’t count on any pre-auction guarantees of performance from the FCC. According to more than one Commission rep (all speaking on condition of anonymity), the agency’s usual auction-related disclaimers (“The FCC makes no representations or warranties about the use of this spectrum for particular services, yada yada yada”) will apply, but “just to make the lawyers happy”.

And how better to sell innovative spectrum than with an innovative auction format?

Continue Reading...

Getting Rulemaking Petitions On File Online

 New option allows filing of petitions for rulemaking through ECFS.

 If you’re planning on filing a petition for rulemaking with the FCC but you’re out of paper, or maybe your printer is low on toner and the local Kinko’s is closed, we’ve got good news for you. The Commission has announced that petitions for rulemaking may now be filed electronically!

As we reported last December, the FCC has been tweaking its Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) to accommodate a wide range of electronic filings that previously could be filed only on paper. Thanks to those efforts, ECFS will now accept rulemaking petitions along with the other non-docketed filings we listed in our December post.

The drill for petitions for rulemaking is essentially the same as for other non-docketed filings:

  1. Go to the ECFS home page;
  2. Click on the “Submit a Non-Docketed Filing” link in the list of “ECFS Main Links” (top left corner of the screen);
  3. From the first drop-down menu, select the FCC “inbox” to which your filing is to go – for a rulemaking petition, that would be (unsurprisingly) “Section 1.401 Petition for Rulemaking”; from the “Filing Type” drop-down, pick “Petition for Rulemaking”;
  4. Complete the rest of the form;
  5. Upload the document you want to file;
  6. Click the “Continue” button;
  7. Follow the remaining prompts.

You’ll know that you’ve successfully navigated the maze when you see a confirmation screen with a unique confirmation number. (Practice tip: It’s always a good idea to make and keep a screen grab copy of the confirmation screen, just in case any question ever arises.)

Continue Reading...

Drones Now on NTIA's Radar

Another federal agency is now considering regulation of drones - but it's NOT the FCC.

We have previously reported on the FAA’s regulation – or non-regulation, or proposed regulation – of drones (official bureaucratic name: unmanned aircraft systems or UAS). Most recently, the FAA finally managed to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking at operational rules for drones. Think maximum size and operating height, need for an operator license, requirement that line of sight be maintained – that sort of thing. (Since Congress told the FAA back in 2012 to get rules along these lines in place by 2015, the FAA seems to be a little slow out of the gate here, but that’s a story for another post.)

Now a second federal agency is joining the move to regulate drones. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which of late has been focusing mainly on policies related to broadband, spectrum use and the Internet, has begun a multistakeholder process to address “best practices” for the commercial and private use of drones. (Law enforcement and other noncommercial governmental drone use is not on the table here.) The goal is to look at broader drone-related issues, such as privacy concerns, transparency and accountability.

Continue Reading...

Congress to FCC: Now, Let's Do Something About 10 GHz

Some familiar faces take an alternative approach to trying to get the FCC to open up spectrum for wireless broadband.

Recently, we reported on bills introduced – actually, re-introduced, since proposals with the same language had died during the preceding Congressional session – by several reasonably high-profile Senators and Representatives. Their goal: requiring the FCC to study the possible use of the 5.9 GHz band for Wi-Fi use. Now the same crew is at it again, but they’re using a somewhat gentler approach. Rather than looking to require the Commission to do anything, this time they’re simply offering their support for the FCC’s efforts to “free up additional spectrum for wireless broadband use”. They don’t identify precisely which “efforts” they’re supporting, but they do happen to suggest that the Commission “explore potential sharing opportunities within the 10 GHz band”.

While the letter doesn’t say how this Congressional team happened to hit on the 10 GHz band, we’re guessing it wasn’t an accident.

Continue Reading...

Update: Comment Deadlines Set in 76-81 GHz Proceeding

Last month we reported on a batch of FCC proposals aimed at liberalizing the rules governing operation in the 76-81 GHz band. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has now been published in the Federal Register, so we now know what the deadlines for comments and reply comments are. If you want to file comments, you’ve got until April 6, 2015; reply comments are due by April 20. Comments and replies may be filed through the FCC’s ECFS online filing system; refer to Proceeding Nos. 15-26, 11-90, 10-28 and 11-202.

Congress Steps Back Into Wi-Fi-Related Spectrum Fight

New bills would force the FCC to examine, on an expedited basis, possible Wi-Fi and other unlicensed use of 5.9 GHz band.

As a general rule, the FCC is in the driver’s seat when it comes to spectrum management in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean that Congress can’t, and won’t, occasionally engage in some aggressive backseat driving. And so it is that several members of Congress have reintroduced legislation – S.424 in the Senate, H.R.821 in the House – strongly suggesting the direction the FCC should take with respect to the 5.9 GHz band (i.e., 5850-5925 MHz). The bills would require the FCC to “provide additional unlicensed spectrum in the [5.9 GHz band] under technical rules suitable for the widespread commercial development of unlicensed operations in the band”, provided that the Commission first determines that such use won’t cause harmful interference to existing licensees of that band. The bills also provide detailed specifications, and an accelerated timetable, governing how the FCC must make that determination.

If this sounds familiar, that’s probably because an essentially identical proposal was introduced last year. No action was taken on it then, so it’s been reintroduced.

Under the detailed schedule set out in the bills, the FCC would have to:

  • solicit comments on proposals for “interference-mitigation” techniques and technologies (including potential rechannelization) that could permit the band to accommodate both existing users and “widespread commercial unlicensed operations”. For purposes of the bills, that latter term – which in recent years has been legislative shorthand for “Wi-Fi” – would include outdoor operations with at least one watt of transmitter output power, but would not require use of Dynamic Frequency Selection (i.e., the process in which the device automatically looks for, and then transmits on, available channels);
Continue Reading...

Marriott Checks Out of Declaratory Ruling/Rulemaking Proceeding

Prudent network management or Wi-Fi jamming? The question has been taken off the table … for now.

Last year we reported on a couple of interactions between the FCC and the well-known hotelier, the Marriott Corporation. The news started inauspiciously for Marriott when the Commission wrapped up an investigation (started in 2013) by spanking Marriott with a $600,000 civil penalty. The FCC determined that Marriott had used “containment capability” to prevent guests at the Gaylord Opryland (run by Marriott) from by-passing the hotel’s Wi-Fi system in favor of their own DIY hotspots.

Presumably prodded by that investigation, Marriott (joined by some hotel friends) filed a request for declaratory ruling (or, in the alternative, for rulemaking), essentially asking for a determination that what Marriott had done really was OK. (Specifically, Marriott was asking the Commission to hold that a network operator may “mitigate” threats to the operator’s network, even when doing so results in interference to guests’ WiFi hotspots.)

The FCC dutifully announced the filing of the request for declaratory ruling and invited comments about it. But a month later, it also issued an “Enforcement Advisory” alerting one and all to the fact that preventing one’s Wi-Fi enabled devices from connecting to the Internet constitutes prohibited “jamming”. And a month later, out came another “Enforcement Advisory”. This one was even more pointed. Referring to “a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hotspots on the commercial establishment’s premises”, the advisory declared flatly that “Wi-Fi blocking violates Section 333 of the Communications Act, as amended.”

Not surprisingly, Marriott (and the other requesters) have now withdrawn their request for declaratory ruling (and the FCC has lost no time in officially bidding it adieu).

Continue Reading...

On the 76-81 GHz Screen: More Radar, Less Amateur?

FCC proposes increased radar uses of the band, to the possible detriment of radio astronomers and amateur radio.

Just ten years ago, the upper reaches of the millimeter wave bands – the “nosebleed” spectrum – were mostly empty. There is a lot of potential capacity up there, but technical constraints made it difficult to design equipment capable of operating at those frequencies. Since then, though, a corps of clever engineers have overcome the problems. Applications have proliferated. In addition to point-to-point communications at 71-76, 81-86, and 92-95 GHz, we have several uses of radar: vehicle radars at 76-77 GHz, airport radars at 76-77 GHz (for detecting service vehicles and “foreign object debris,” or FOD, on the runways) and at 78-81 GHz (FOD only), and industrial “level probing” radars at 77-81 GHz.

All of these radar applications are presently unlicensed under Part 15 of the FCC’s rules, except for the airport FOD radars at 78-81 GHz, which require individual licenses under Part 90.

The poor propagation in this frequency range limits radar applications to a few tens of meters, but the short, millimeter-scale wavelengths provide excellent precision – a welcome property if, for example, your car has a radar-based automatic braking system. The limited range also allows the same frequency to be reused just a short distance away. (See this link for an introductory discussion of radar and associated regulatory issues.)

The FCC is now thinking about liberalizing its rules. The proposals include:

Continue Reading...

ANSI C63.17-2013 Now Officially in the FCC Rulebook

Five months ago we reported that, in a bit of regulatory tidying up, the Office of Engineering and Technology had updated the FCC’s rules. The Commission had, in 2012, incorporated by reference into its rules a standard – ANSI C63.17-2006, to be precise – adopted by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The standard governs certain measurement procedures in the 1920-1930 MHz band, used mainly for cordless phones, backstage intercoms, and other voice-quality audio gear.

The specific version referenced in the rules had been developed by ANSI in 2006 – but, wouldn’t you know it, ANSI revised its standard in 2013. So in August, 2014, OET opted to substitute the 2013 version for the 2006 version. As it turns out, though, just because OET said so in August didn’t make it so in August. OET’s order had to be published in the Federal Register for it to take effect. Oddly, that didn’t happen … until now. The order has just been published in the Federal Register, as a result of which the 2013 version of ANSI C63.17 has taken effect as of January 21, 2015.

As we noted last summer, if you’re seriously interested, you can get yourself a copy of ANSI C63.17-2013 here … as long as you’re willing to spend $113.00 for the privilege.

Update: Start-Date for Certain Mandatory ECFS Filings Set

Last month we reported on the FCC’s expansion of the use of its ECFS (short for “Electronic Comment Filing System”) online filing system to permit – and, in five cases, require – certain non-docketed materials to be filed through ECFS. For the five types of filing that must be filed through ECFS, the dates by which that requirement is to take effect had not yet been fixed as of our last report.

For two of those types, we were able to calculate the effective date to be January 12 and, sure enough, the Commission has since confirmed the correctness of our calculatio: January 12 is indeed the date as of which Section 224 pole attachment complaints and formal Section 208 complaints must be filed through ECFS.

And thanks to a notice published in the Federal Register, we know the effective date as of which the remaining three types of filings will have to be filed electronically. .

The following types of filings will have to be submitted electronically as of February 12, 2015 :

  • Network change notifications by incumbent local exchange carriers
  • Domestic Section 214 transfer-of-control applications
  • Domestic Section 214 discontinuance applications

Once accepted through ECFS, each such notice or application will be assigned its own ECFS docket number, so related follow-on submissions should be filed through the conventional, docket-number-based ECFS interface.

FCC Updates Equipment Certification Rules

TCBs will be taking care of business as OET exits equipment certification role and FCC modernizes equipment authorization processes.

The FCC lab is finally getting out of the equipment certification business. After nearly two years of deliberation, the FCC has adopted new rules modifying its equipment certification procedures. Most notably, it is handing over responsibility for all equipment certification grants to Telecommunications Certification Bodies (TCBs), which currently process more than 98% of grants anyway. Otherwise the FCC’s overall equipment authorization process, of which certification is a component, will continue largely as it has in the past, albeit with some important changes.

Most devices that radiate radiofrequency energy, either intentionally or unintentionally, must be tested for compliance prior to marketing in the United States. (Important distinction: the equipment authorization process relates only to the performance of the equipment itself. The goal is to assure that RF devices used in the U.S. comply with applicable FCC-imposed standards – typically power, bandwidth, modulation, out-of-band emissions, RF human exposure limits and, for wireless handsets, hearing aid compatibility. The equipment authorization process does not entail spectrum licensing that may be necessary for the operation of transmitters.)

Under the FCC’s rules, there are three types of equipment authorization. The authorization type required for a particular piece of equipment is set in the FCC rules, determined by (a) the likelihood that that equipment will cause harmful interference and (b) the “significance of the effects of such interference”. The three types of authorization are:

Continue Reading...

Coming Soon to More Screens Near You: FCC Labels!

Thanks to Congress, electronic labeling may be an option for more FCC-authorized RF devices

Most radiofrequency (RF) equipment certified by the FCC is required to carry a physical label listing the FCC ID and making various other FCC-mandated disclosures. Observant users of electronic products will recognize those labels as the ones with a (usually) long ID number, sometimes an FCC logo, and verbiage like: “This device complies with part 15 of the FCC Rules. Operation is subject to the condition that the devices does not cause harmful interference.”

But, thanks to Congress and President Obama, those physical labels may increasingly be a thing of the past – at least for pieces of gear that include screens. The recently enacted E-LABEL Act (that’s short for “Enhance Labeling, Accessing, and Branding of Electronic Licenses Act of 2014”) directs the FCC to provide (through rules or otherwise) that manufacturers of RF devices with electronic displays (i.e., screens) have the option of using electronic labeling, instead of physical labeling, for their equipment.

As those immersed in the FCC’s equipment authorization procedures know, the FCC’s rules already allow for electronic display on software-defined radio products and modular transmitters with user display screens. The rules also already provide for alternative labeling procedures when permanently affixing a label is not “desirable” or “feasible”, like if the item is too small or when etching the notice on the item would damage it. In fact, just last summer the Commission provided guidance for electronic labeling, at least for devices which (a) are subject to certification or Declaration of Conformity requirements and (b) have non-removable display screens. (For those really curious, the FCC’s Knowledge Database – known to the in-crowd as “KDB” – advises that electronic labels must be accessible to users without special codes, lengthy steps, or use of accessories, and that the information included in the label cannot be modified.) The KDB guidance did not, however, extend to equipment subject to “verification”, a third type of FCC equipment authorization requiring that equipment be "uniquely identified".

Continue Reading...

FCC Reminder (Redux): Cell Phone Jammers Are STILL Illegal

Wi-Fi jammers, too!

Having recently spanked Marriott for $600K for interrupting private Wi-Fi use at one of its hotel properties – concern about which presumably prompted Marriott to seek formal guidance about just how far they can go in managing Wi-Fi use at their venues – the Commission has issued another of its ever-popular “Enforcement Advisories” warning against the use of jammers to interfere with cellphone, Wi-Fi or GPS devices. (Similar advisories were issued in 1999, 2005, 2011 and 2012, along with Spanish and Mandarin versions of the 2012 notice.)

The use of jammers is, of course, a very tempting way to control disruptive uses of wireless devices. Prison officials have long wanted to use jammers in prisons, where illegal cellphones are in widespread use by (among others) cell-bound prisoners managing illegal enterprises on the outside. And we have previously reported about one enterprising commuter in Philadelphia who used a pocket-sized jamming device when fellow bus passengers disturbed his ride by talking on their phones too loudly.

There are many other venues where a jammer would come in handy for the average Joe: theaters and concert halls, for instance, where standard pleas at the beginning of a performance to turn cellphones off are often ignored, leading to an annoying cellphone jingle in the middle of a performance. And how about restaurants, which are noisy enough without the person at the next table yapping away on the phone?  

But guess what?

Continue Reading...

ECFS Now Available for Non-Docketed Filings

New “Submit a Non-Docketed Filing” module allows some filers to eschew paper.

In a move presumably designed to make everybody’s lives easier, the Commission has expanded its Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) to accept a wide range of filings that previously could be filed only on paper. That’s good news. But before you take advantage of this new opportunity, be sure you’re familiar with the fine print.

Historically, ECFS has been available only for materials being submitted in docketed proceedings. Since many FCC activities don’t involve such proceedings, paper filings have continued to be the order of the day in many areas. (Two years ago the Media Bureau opened up its CDBS system for pleadings directed at particular applications, but that still left many filings plodding the paper trail.)

Now the Commission has included a new “module” (dubbed, not surprisingly, the “Submit a Non-Docketed Filing” module) in ECFS to accept, electronically, certain non-docketed submissions.

The new module is currently up and running and ready to receive your non-docketed filings, so feel free to use it for the any of the types of filings listed below starting now. Use of the module is voluntary for the time being – so if you want to burn through those last couple of toner cartridges and boxes of copy paper, feel free to stick with hard-copy filings – but note that electronic filing for items so identified in our list below will be mandatory in the near future. (The dates when voluntary turns to mandatory have been set for some types, but remain To Be Determined for others, as indicated below.)

Filings accepted by “Submit a Non-Docketed Filing” module in ECFS: 

Continue Reading...

Update: Two Wireless Mic Proceedings, One Set of Comment Deadline Extensions

A couple of months ago we reported on two proceedings, initiated simultaneously, looking into possible solutions to the problems that the upcoming repack of the spectrum will cause to wireless microphone users and manufacturers as well as various other users of the TV spectrum. While technically separate and distinct dockets, the two proceedings have obviously been linked from Day One. And now the FCC has announced, in a single consolidated order, that the comment deadlines for both proceedings have been extended. As a result, comments in either or both of the dockets may be filed by February 4, 2015; reply comments will be due by February 25. Use Proceeding Numbers 14-166 and 12-268 for the comments in the proceeding dealing primarily with wireless mics; use Proceeding Number 14-165 for the proceeding dealing more generally with unlicensed uses.

Update: Effective Date, Comment Deadlines Set in Cell Phone Signal Booster Proceeding

Several weeks ago we reported on the FCC’s order disposing of several petitions for reconsideration that had been filed with respect to its 2013 decision to adopt a new regulatory approach to the use of cell phone signal boosters. In its most recent order the Commission adopted a couple of tweaks to its rules and proposed some further tweaks. All of those actions have now made it into the Federal Register. As a result, we now know when all but one of the newly-revised rules will take effect, and we also know the deadlines for commenting on the proposed additional tweaks.

According to one notice, all the revisions adopted by the Commission last month will take effect on
December 29, 2014 except for Section 20.21(f)(1)(iv)(A)(2), which, because it’s an “information collection”, must first be run past the Office of Management and Budget thanks to the Paperwork Reduction Act.

And according to a separate notice, comments on the newly-proposed tweaks are due by December 29, 2014 and replies are due by January 20, 2015.

Update: Comment Deadlines Set in Two Wireless Mic Proceedings

Last month we reported on a couple of Notices of Proposed Rulemaking looking for possible solutions to the problems that the upcoming repack of the spectrum will cause to wireless microphone users and manufacturers in particular as well as other unlicensed users of the TV spectrum (who may include some wireless mic folks as well as white space device users). Both of those NPRMs have now been published in the Federal Register – here (for the wireless mic item) and here (for the more general item on unlicensed uses). Thanks to that development, we now know the deadlines for comments and reply comments in the two proceedings. For both, the comment deadline is January 5, 2015; replies are due by January 26. Comments can be filed through the FCC's online ECFS filing system. Use Proceeding Numbers. 14-166 and 12-268 for the comments in the proceeding dealing primarily with wireless mics; use Proceeding Number 14-165 for the proceeding dealing more generally with unlicensed uses.

Marriott Wants FCC Guidance on How Far Venues Can Go to Control Their Wi-Fi Networks

Petition for rulemaking follows $600,000 consent decree. Hotels, convention centers, universities, hospitals among those potentially affected.

Last month we reported that the FCC had whacked Marriott Corporation for a cool $600,000 for messing with guests’ Wi-Fi hotspots. (The hotelier had prevented guests at its Opryland resort from using their own hotspots by transmitting disabling signals to private hotspots, forcing them to pay what the FCC felt were exorbitant rates for the resort’s own Wi-Fi service.) The FCC’s theory was that Marriott was violating Section 333 of the Communications Act, which bars interference with lawful communications.

While Marriott appeared to have accepted its come-uppance willingly (by signing onto a Consent Decree), it turns out there was more to the story. While the consent decree was being negotiated, Marriott mustered some reinforcements and took the offensive. Last August, joined by the American Hospitality and Lodging Association and Ryman Hospital Properties, Marriott filed a Petition for Declaratory Ruling or, in the Alternative, for Rulemaking asking the FCC to clarify exactly what operators of large venues may do to protect the security and quality of their own Wi-Fi networks. The petition was filed on August 25, 2014, but it took the FCC nearly three months to invite preliminary comments on it. If you’ve got something to say about this, you’ve got until December 19, 2014 to do so.

The petition raises all kinds of alarms about what will happen if the FCC decides that unlimited operation of private Wi-Fi hotspots must be permitted, even on private property. For example, Bad Guys could set up a private hotspot with the same SSID (network name) used by a hotel network. With that, they could grab traffic from hotel guests and exhibitors who think, wrongly, that they’re attaching to the hotel’s network. From there, it’s a snap for the Bad Guys to snag commercial information, including credit card numbers.

Continue Reading...

Spectrum Auction Recon Update: Corrected Reply Deadline Announced

Last week we reported on the establishment of opposition and reply deadlines with respect to a couple dozen or so petitions seeking reconsideration of the Commission’s spectrum auction Report and Order. According to a follow-up notice in the Federal Register, it turns out that the reply deadline announced by the Commission last week was off by a few days. If you want to file a reply to any oppositions to the recon petitions, you will have until November 24, 2014. That gives you an extra weekend – lucky you!

Death Watch: The Beginning of the End for Multilateration Location and Monitoring Service?

Wireless Bureau sets final deadline for M-LMS build-outs.

Way back before GPS was so widely available, the Commission created the Multilateration Location and Monitoring Service (M-LMS). Its purpose: keeping track of vehicles. Think operators pinpointing the locations of vehicles around a city (or around the country). M-LMS licenses were auctioned (to a handful of players) in 1999 and 2001. But in the decade-plus since, no M-LMS licensee has provided commercial service.

Attentive readers may recall that one licensee, Progeny/NextNav, obtained a waiver to provide non-vehicular location service (e.g.,a cell phone tracking service). And Progeny/NextNav has also announced plans to offer E911 location based service and mobile advertising. But vehicle location? Nada. Readers may also recall that, while the FCC invited comments on proposals to expand permissible uses of the service back in 2006, earlier this year it shut that proceeding down without taking any action.

As initially granted way back when, M-LMS licenses were subject to both interim and end-of-term construction deadlines. Since then, however, the FCC has generously and repeatedly provided extensions of time (at least seven additional years!) for construction, mostly in response to licensees’ assertions that no M-LMS equipment was commercially available.

In August, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau signaled that the days of liberal extensions are now over.

Continue Reading...

176 Questions: 24+ GHz NOI In a Nutshell

Our friend Michael Marcus has been busy. Lucky for us.

We recently reported on a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeking input on the possible use of millimeter wave frequencies (i.e., 24 GHz and north) for mobile communications. Our friend, Michael Marcus, a spectrum-savvy engineer (and former FCC official) who knows a lot more than a thing or two about these things, has delved deeply into the NOI and distilled from it a jaw-dropping list of the questions posed by the Commission. We encourage anyone interested in this proceeding to take a gander at Mike’s handiwork – but it’s not for the faint of heart: running 12 single-spaced pages, it includes 176 separate questions (along with the modestly cautionary disclaimer that “This enumeration is thought to be correct, but is not guaranteed.”).

Elsewhere on his own SpectrumTalk blog, Dr. Marcus calls readers’ attention to a recently published textbook, Millimeter Wave Wireless Communications, by four “major pioneers” in the area. (Those would be Theodore S. Rappaport, Robert W. Heath Jr., Robert C. Daniels and James N. Murdock.) According to Mike, the book ties together information from a variety of sources.Would-be millimeter wave mavens may want to check it out.

Response Dates Set for Spectrum Auction Recons

Meanwhile, back at the ranch …

While the NAB and Sinclair press their appeal of the Commission’s Incentive Spectrum Auction Report and Order (R&O), a number of other folks have expressed their discontent with various aspects of the R&O in petitions for reconsideration that the FCC will have to address and resolve. A list of those petitions has been published in the Federal Register. That notice sets the deadlines for oppositions and replies.  Oppositions to any or all of these petitions must be filed by November 12, 2014; replies to any oppositions are due by November 21.

More than 30 separate petitions have been filed on behalf of:

  • Abacus Television
  • Artemis Networks, LLC
  • GE Healthcare
  • Competitive Carriers Association
  • Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance
  • T-Mobile USA, Inc.
  • Beach TV Properties, Inc.
  • Free Access & Broadcast Telemedia, LLC
  • Bonton Media Group, Inc./Raycom Media, Inc.
  • Block Communications, Inc./FBC Television Affiliates Association,
  • Gannett Co., Inc./Graham Media Group/ICA Broadcasting
  • Qualcomm Incorporated
  • CBS Television Network Affiliates Association/NBC Television Affiliates/ABC Television Affiliates Associates Association/FBC Television Affiliates Association
  • Cohen, Dippell and Everist, P.C.
  • the American Society for Healthcare Engineering of the American Hospital Association (WMTS Coalition)
  • Journal Broadcast Corporation
  • NBC Telemundo License LLC
  • Radio Television Digital News Association
  • LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition
  • Sennheiser Electronic Corporation
  • the Dispatching Printing Company
  • Media General, Inc.
  • the Videohouse
  • Public Broadcasting Service, Inc./Association of Public Television Stations/Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • American Legacy Foundation
  • Signal Above, LLC
  • the Walt Disney Company
  • International Broadcasting Network
  • U.S. Television, LLC
  • Mako Communications, LLC.
  • Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition

You can take a look at the various petitions on ECFS – just go to the ECFS Search page and enter “12-268” in the “Proceeding Number” box and, in the “Type of Filing” box in the “Advanced Options” sections, select “Petition for Reconsideration from the drop-down menu. (Note that the list in the Federal Register does not correspond exactly to the petitions available on ECFS, but it’s reasonably close. One apparent omission: When we performed the ECFS search, it turned up a petition filed on behalf of Sprint that isn’t listed in the Federal Register notice.)

After the FCC has ruled on these petitions, interested parties will have the opportunity to seek judicial review of the FCC's reconsideration order. If (as may reasonably be expected) this leads to more appeals on the spectrum auction front, there's no telling what impact that might have on the start date of the auctions. As we reported last week, the anticipated start has already moved from 2015 to "early 2016" because of (among other things) the already-pending NAB and Sinclair appeals.

Check back here for updates.

Update: Anticipated Spectrum Auction Date Pushed Back

If you picked “mid-2015” in your office pool for the date the FCC’s incentive spectrum auction would be held, we’ve got some bad news for you. While that was probably a pretty good bet up to now (since Commission officials have tenaciously stuck with the “mid-2015” date for some time), it’s not looking so good anymore. According to an item just posted on the FCC’s blog, the current target date is “early 2016”.

Gary Epstein, Chair of the Commission’s Spectrum Auction Task Force, alluding to “undeniable impediments” in the auction’s path, has this to say:

As Chairman Wheeler indicated several weeks ago, the court challenges to the auction rules by some broadcasters have introduced uncertainty.  Earlier this week, the court issued a briefing schedule in which the final briefs are not due until late January 2015.  Oral arguments will follow at a later date yet to be determined, with a decision not likely until mid-2015.  We are confident we will prevail in court, but given the reality of that schedule, the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016. Despite this brief delay, we remain focused on the path to successfully implementing the incentive auction. [Emphasis added]

With briefing wrapping up very late in January, the “court challenges” mentioned – one from the NAB, the other from Sinclair – probably won’t be argued until mid- to late spring, 2015. In our experience, the D.C. Circuit usually takes at least two-three months following oral argument to crank out a decision on relatively easy cases. More complex cases can take significantly longer. (Extreme example: One of my colleagues once had to wait more than three years for a decision following oral argument.)

Continue Reading...

FCC Further Tweaks Signal Booster Rules

Some rules relaxed while measures added to prevent interference to wireless networks 

Back in early 2013, the FCC took steps to help consumers deal with the dreaded cell phone phenomenon of dead spots by allowing the use of private signal boosters. (Readers should recall that boosters receive and re-transmit cell phone signals to improve coverage in their immediate vicinity.) And now, underscoring its interest in encouraging such devices, the Commission has tweaked its rules. But be forewarned, the tweaks are highly technical and unless you’re deeply involved in the manufacturing side of the booster universe, you shouldn’t expect to notice any dramatic changes.

To recap, there are two classes of approved boosters, Consumer and Industrial. Consumer boosters, in turn, come in two flavors, Wideband Consumer Boosters (designed to boost signals of more than one cell provider) and Provider-Specific Consumer Signal Boosters (designed to boost the signals of just a single cell provider). All Consumer Boosters are subject to “Network Protection Standards” (NPS), although those standards differ somewhat between the two different types of Consumer Boosters.

Among the NPS imposed on manufacturers of Wideband Consumer Boosters was a testing requirement – involving downlink noise limits, if you really must know – which proved problematic for manufacturers. (As it turned out, neither the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology nor most Telecommunications Certifying Bodies had the filtering equipment necessary to measure the downlink noise as required, which obviously complicated the testing process.)

So several manufacturers, noting that the downward noise testing element was not included in the NPS as a means of protecting against interference, suggested that it could be tossed. They also suggested that bidirectional capability, which was what the downward noise limit test was designed to help achieve and confirm, could be addressed in other ways (for example, by adding downlink gain limits to the Transmit Power Off Mode requirement – we warned you that the tweaks are highly technical, didn’t we?).

Continue Reading...

Snow Job: Comments Sought on Use of LMS Spectrum for Avalanche Rescues

RECCO asks FCC for waiver of Location and Monitoring Service rules.

The Location and Monitoring Service (LMS), a somewhat obscure service nestled in Subpart M to Part 90 of the FCC’s rules, is back in the news. This could be of considerable interest to you if you’re a skier who prefers avalanche-prone slopes.

LMS was originally envisioned as a service enabling fleet operators to pinpoint the locations of their vehicles around a city. That was 20 years ago. Since then, GPS has provided a more accurate, more cost effective alternative, leaving LMS without much of a market. In 2006, a company called Progeny LMS, LLC proposed that the FCC broaden the range of services possible under an LMS license. The Commission eventually abandoned that proposal, but in the meantime Progeny managed to obtain – over considerable objections from unlicensed users of the 902-928 MHz band – a waiver permitting it to use its LMS licenses for the location of items other than vehicles, like cell phones.

Now the FCC is considering another request for waiver of the LMS rules, and it has invited public comment.

Continue Reading...

FCC Rethinks Wireless Microphones

The steady shrinkage of the TV bands is forcing the FCC to look elsewhere for wireless microphone spectrum.

Having inadvertently threatened a key industry with extinction, the FCC is now trying to reactivate it.

We see wireless microphones used on TV stages, live concerts, and in Broadway and Las Vegas shows. TV and film studios use technically similar equipment. So do backstage personnel for intercom and cueing in all of the above productions. Other uses for wireless microphones include public meetings, political events, school and college classrooms, and live music in bars, garage-band garages, and just about everywhere else.

For decades, wireless microphones have operated successfully in locally vacant TV channels. Three recent FCC developments, though, are making those channels scarce. First, the FCC authorized unlicensed TV White Space (TVWS) operation to provide Wi-Fi-type service in many of the same vacant channels. Second, the transition to digital TV eliminated 18 channels from TV use – and also took them away from TVWS and wireless microphones, which greatly increased pressure on the channels that remain. Third, the upcoming “incentive auction” will reallocate still more TV channels to wireless broadband, leaving insufficient spectrum for wireless microphones.

A thick Notice of Proposed Rulemaking takes a long-term view of the problem.

Continue Reading...

Medical Body Area Networks Expand to Untether More Patients

FCC tweaks two-year-old MBAN rules.

Two years ago the Commission authorized Medical Body Area Network (MBAN) devices to operate in the 2360-2400 MHz region, immediately below the heavily-used unlicensed band that houses Bluetooth, and most Wi-Fi, along with many other applications. (We reported on that here, if you want to refresh your recollection.) MBANs relay information about a medical patient’s condition to data-gathering terminals, allowing patients to get up and move about without dragging wires behind or pushing carts full of equipment in front of them.

In August the FCC acted on petitions for reconsideration of its MBAN rules, making a few tweaks which mostly relaxed restrictions on MBAN use. The Commission also adopted procedures for frequency coordination and selection of an MBAN coordinator. That Second Report and Order has now been published in the Federal Register, so now we know that the tweaks will take effect as of November 5, 2014 except for Section 95.1225(c) (which requires the MBAN frequency coordinator to operate as a nonprofit entity and to provide information on a nondiscriminatory basis and to pass its database along to any eventual successor coordinator). That rule, which was added on reconsideration, must first be run past the Office of Management and Budget pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Continue Reading...

Marriott Whacked for $600,000 for War on Rogue Wi-Fi Hotspots

Enforcement Bureau stretches meaning of “cause interference to” in order to reach the right result.

The Enforcement Bureau has struck a blow for those who prefer to use smartphones to set up their own personal mobile hotspots when they’re on the go – thereby avoiding the pricey wireless Internet access offered by various places, like hotels. In an Order and related Consent Decree, the Bureau has spanked the Marriott Corporation with a $600,000 “civil penalty” for using “containment capability” to prevent guests at the Gaylord Opryland (run by Marriott) from by-passing the hotel’s Wi-Fi system in favor of their own DIY hotspots.

To get to that result, though, the Bureau had to stretch the conventional definition of “interference to radio communications”.

It is, of course, well-known that many smartphone users can use their handsets as mobile hotspots to connect their laptops, tablets, and other Wi-Fi enabled devices to the Internet. When, as occasionally happens, that doesn’t work, users usually chalk it up to network congestion, or to the data network management practices (read – throttling) of their wireless carriers.

Turns out there may be other forces conspiring against the mobile hotspot user.

Continue Reading...

LStelcom Joins the Ranks of Approved Whitespace Database Administrators

And then there were five (or six).

It never rains but what it pours. We went nearly 10 months without any new whitespace database administrators being approved, and now we’ve had the second approval in under a month. The Commission has announced that LStelcom AG has made it over the final hurdle and its system has now been approved for operation.

This brings to six the number of such approvals that have been issued. The others already admitted to the club: Key Bridge Global LLC, Spectrum Bridge, Telcordia Technologies and Google (twice). (Fun factoid: From the fine print of the LStelcom public notice we learn that Telcordia is now referred to as “iconectiv”. We have modified our table below accordingly.)

From our handy table, it looks like the next contestant likely to join the ranks of the approved will be Comsearch. Our guess on that score is based on the facts that: (a) Comsearch wrapped up its testing – i.e., the penultimate step in the approval process – back in June; and (b) none of the other four contenders has even started its testing.

So six down (if you count Google twice), five to go. Check back here for further updates. 

(Fuzzy on the whole white space database administrator question?  Check out this post for some background.)


Test Started

Test Finished; Comments Sought

Coordinator Approved


Feb. 24, 2014

June 23, 2014


Frequency Finder Inc.


Google Inc.

Feb. 27, 2013

May 29, 2013

June 28, 2013

Google Inc. II

June 2, 2014

July 29, 2014

Sept. 10, 2014

LStelcom AG

June 18, 2013

     Nov. 14, 2013

Oct. 1, 2014

Key Bridge Global LLC

March 4, 2013

May 29, 2013

Nov. 19, 2013

Microsoft Corp.


Neustar Inc.


Spectrum Bridge Inc.

Sept. 14, 2011

Nov. 10, 2011

Dec. 22, 2011

iconectiv  (f/k/a Telcordia Technologies)

Dec. 2, 2011

Feb. 1, 2012

March 26, 2012

   WSdb LLC


Update: Last Piece of U-NII Revisions Now In Effect

Back in April we reported on the adoption of new rules intended to beef up Wi-Fi operations across the country. All but one of those rules took effect in early June. The lone exception? Section 15.407(j), which had to be vetted by the Office of Management and Budget because it involves “information collections” that bring the hilariously-named Paperwork Reduction Act into play. According to a notice in the Federal Register, OMB signed off on that section late last month and now, thanks to that notice, Section 15.407(j) has taken effect as of September 24, 2014.

The newly effective rule requires people who deploy more than a thousand outdoor access points in the 5.15-5.25 GHz band to submit a letter to the FCC acknowledging they will have to take corrective action if they cause harmful interference to licensed services. Details are here.

Google Makes It to Finish Line In White Space Coordinator Race, Again

Google joins Key Bridge Global LLC, Spectrum Bridge, Telcordia and, um, Google, in the ranks of “approved” database coordinators.

Add one more (sort of) database coordinator to the “approved” list of white space database coordinators. The Commission has announced that Google has made it to the finish line – it's been approved to coordinate unlicensed “TV white space” devices. This is the second time Google has completed the process. As we have previously reported, Google was first approved in May, 2013. But then last June the Commission announced that Google had come back with a “major modification” to its already approved system – so much of a modification that it needed to go through the approval process again. (While that process chugged on, Google used the also-approved Spectrum Bridge system.) Now that modified Google system has been approved.

Google’s latest success has been included in the appropriate box below.

Five down (if you count Google twice), six to go. Check back here for further updates. 

(Fuzzy on the whole white space database administrator question?  Check out this post for some background.)


Test Started

Test Finished; Comments Sought

Coordinator Approved


Feb. 24, 2014

June 23, 2014


Frequency Finder Inc.


Google Inc.

Feb. 27, 2013

May 29, 2013

June 28, 2013

Google Inc. II

June 2, 2014

July 29, 2014

Sept. 10, 2014

LS telcom AG

June 18, 2013

     Nov. 14, 2013


Key Bridge Global LLC

March 4, 2013

May 29, 2013

 Nov. 19, 2013

Microsoft Corp.


Neustar Inc.


Spectrum Bridge Inc.

Sept. 14, 2011

Nov. 10, 2011

Dec. 22, 2011

Telcordia Technologies

Dec. 2, 2011

Feb. 1, 2012

March 26, 2012

   WSdb LLC



Last Minute Update: Reply Deadline in 5.8 GHz U-NII Proceeding Extended

Last month we reported that the FCC had announced deadlines for oppositions and replies to several petitions for reconsideration that had been filed with respect to recent changes to the rules governing the 5 GHz unlicensed band. The FCC received over 100 filings. The deadline for replies was today, August 25. But, apparently, that didn’t provide quite enough time to plow through the pile of paper, at least according to the Association of Global Automakers, Inc.The Commission agreed, but not until the middle of the afternoon on August 25. This is good news for anybody who had been thinking about filing a reply, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. The rest of you may disregard the extension and continue your end-of-summer activities.

In any event, replies to the oppositions that were filed are now due on September 2, 2014. Have a great Labor Day weekend.

FCC Adopts ANSI C63.1-2013 for 1920-1930 MHz

FCC rule change adopts ANSI update that reflects 2012 FCC rule change.

The FCC continues to mop up the technical rules for Unlicensed Personal Communications Service at 1920-1930 MHz. An order in 2012 simplified those rules. Among other things, the FCC incorporated by reference into its code an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard governing certain measurement procedures in the 1920-1930 MHz band. The ANSI standard adopted by the FCC in 2012 – ANSI C63.17-2006 – has since been superseded by a later and greater version, ANSI C63.17-2013. And now an order from the Office of Engineering and Technology has substituted that later version into the rules in place of the earlier iteration. All the details of ANSI C63.17-2013 aren’t spelled out in the FCC’s rule – but if you’re seriously interested, you can get yourself a copy of ANSI C63.17-2013 here … as long as you’re willing to spend $113.00 for the privilege.

Update: Deadlines for Seeking Reconsideration, Appeal of Spectrum Auction Report and Order Set

Exactly three months after its adoption, the FCC’s Report and Order (R&O) setting the preliminary ground rules to cover the ambitious incentive auction and repacking of the TV band has now been published in the Federal Register. While this does not mean that the auction is imminent – the FCC is still hoping that it will happen next year – the Federal Register publication does set the effective date of some (but not all) of the rules adopted in the R&O. Perhaps more importantly, it starts the clock on a number of important deadlines.

First and foremost, the effective date of some of the new rules is October 14, 2014. But heads up, because that does not apply to §§1.2105(a)(2)(xii) and (c)(6); 1.2204(a), (c), (d)(3), and (d)(5); 1.2205(c) and (d); 1.2209; 2.1033(c)(19)(iii); 15.713(b)(2)(iv); 15.713(h)(10); 27.14(k) and (t)(6); 27.17(c); 27.19(b) and (c); 73.3700(b)(1)(i) through (v), (b)(2)(i) and (ii), (b)(3), (b)(4)(i) and (ii), and (b)(5); 73.3700(c); 73.3700(d); 73.3700(e)(2) through (6); 73.3700(f); 73.3700(g); 73.3700(h)(4) and (6); 74.602(h)(5)(ii) and (iii); and 74.802(b)(2). Those sections all involve “information collections” that must be run past the Office of Management and Budget (thanks to the Paperwork Reduction Act) before they can take effect.

Irrespective of the effective date, the R&O’s appearance in the Register establishes the dates for seeking reconsideration or judicial review.

Continue Reading...

5.8 GHz U-NII Update: Dates Set for Responses to Recon Petitions

A couple of weeks ago we reported that several petitions for reconsideration had been filed relative to last April’s changes to the rules governing the 5 GHz unlicensed band. The FCC’s notice concerning those petitions has now made it into the Federal Register, which means that the deadlines for filing oppositions and replies have now been set. If you’re inclined to oppose any (or all) of the petitions, you’ve got until August 14, 2014. Replies will be due by August 25.

Testing Completed For Seventh White Space Database System

Google wraps up trials on its modified system; FCC invites comments

Looks like it’s time to fill yet another white space in on our white space grid. According to the FCC, hot on the heels of Comsearch (which wrapped up its testing just last month), Google has completed the testing of its modified white space database system. With the report of those tests now on file, the Commission is soliciting comments on the report and on Google’s tests generally. Comments are due by August 13, 2014; replies are due by August 19.

As our handy-dandy white space chart indicates, of the 11 database systems proposed thus far, only four have made it through the FCC’s gantlet to achieve approval so far – and it’s been that way since last November. But with the completion of Comsearch’s testing last month and Google II’s now, we may be looking at a couple more approvals in the not too distant future. Check back here for updates.

(Fuzzy on the whole white space database administrator question?  Check out this post for some background.)


Test Started

Test Finished; Comments Sought

Coordinator Approved


Feb. 24, 2014

June 23, 2014


Frequency Finder Inc.


Google Inc.

Feb. 27, 2013

May 29, 2013

June 28, 2013

Google Inc. II

June 2, 2014

July 29, 2014


LS telcom AG

June 18, 2013

     Nov. 14, 2013


Key Bridge Global LLC

March 4, 2013

May 29, 2013

 Nov. 19, 2013

Microsoft Corp.


Neustar Inc.


Spectrum Bridge Inc.

Sept. 14, 2011

Nov. 10, 2011

Dec. 22, 2011

Telcordia Technologies

Dec. 2, 2011

Feb. 1, 2012

March 26, 2012

   WSdb LLC


Update: 3550-3650 MHz Replies Extended to August 15

No need to read the post; the headline says it all.

A recent item in in our series of posts on the FCC’s novel spectrum-management proposals for the 3550-3650 MHz band (and possibly 3650-6700 MHz as well) told you the reply comment date was … well, it doesn’t matter what we told you, because the FCC has now extended the reply comment date to August 15.

Resume your vacation.

Congress Contemplates Cohabitation at 5.85-5.925 GHz

Bill would set timetable for unlicensed operation, deferred by FCC in April.

The crack electrical engineers and spectrum policy experts elected to the U.S. Congress are considering a bill called the Wi-Fi Innovation Act.

Readers may recall that the FCC proposed to add rules for Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) operation on 5.85-5.925 GHz at one watt output power. (U-NII overlaps with Wi-Fi and serves many of the same purposes.) The proposed use would share spectrum with “Dedicated Short Range Communications” (DSRC), authorized in 2004 for automatic communications among vehicles and between vehicles and roadside points, to facilitate safety and the movement of traffic. Although interest in DSRC remains high among vehicle manufacturers, widespread deployment does not appear imminent.

Some who support DSRC opposed the new U-NII rules in the 5.85-5.925 GHz band, fearing interference. The FCC’s First Report and Order in the proceeding did not resolve the issue, deferring action on it pending the completion of ongoing technical analyses.

If enacted, the Wi-Fi Innovation Act would take over the FCC’s deliberations. The FCC would have to: (a) consider “interference mitigation techniques and technologies” that would enable the proposed U-NII service at 5.85-5.925 GHz while protecting DSRC; (b) conduct tests of those technologies, and (c) adopt U-NII rules (or not) based on the outcome of those tests – all within two years.

In addition to imposing particular deadlines for FCC action, the bill would require actual interference testing. Parties to a proceeding often submit test results, and the FCC has sometimes done its own testing (in the TV white space proceeding, for example), but this is not part of the FCC’s usual routine.

Continue Reading...

Parties Seek Reconsideration of 5.8 GHz Unlicensed Rules

Petitions address out-of-band emissions, set-top boxes, and vehicle communications.

We reported back in April on rule changes in the 5 GHz unlicensed band. Seven Petitions for Reconsideration recently appeared on public notice. Comments will be due 15 days after the public notice appears in the Federal Register, which will probably happen in late July or early August. Because the comment period will be short, we are giving you a heads-up now so you can begin to prepare your filings.

Four of the petitions question the stringent out-of-band emissions limits in the higher-powered 5.8 GHz region of the band. (The former rules had an option that entailed more lenient limits.) Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, JAB Wireless, and Cambium Networks Ltd., all seek a return to the earlier limits. Mimosa Networks, Inc. asks for limits that increase for more directional antennas. The Association of Global Automakers, Inc. has a different concern, that out-of-band emissions from 5.8 GHz might cause interference to vehicle operations in the immediately adjacent band at 5.9 GHz.

On other issues, Motorola requests that manufacture, marketing, sale, and importation under the old rules at 5.8 GHz be permitted to continue beyond the presently-allowed two years, preferably for five years, while EchoStar Technologies LLC wants a clarification relating to set-top boxes.

We will let you know the deadline for comments, as soon as the folks at the Federal Register tell us.

CORRECTION: New Kinds of Experimental Licenses Not Yet Approved

A recent Federal Register notice governed only limited pre-approval marketing.

This is to correct our item of a few days ago that wrongly announced the approval of certain new categories of experimental license – obviously a product of wishful thinking.

The Federal Register notice we cited there approved only Section 2.803(c)(2), which permits limited marketing of not-yet-approved devices, including evaluation kits, and requires certain information to customers and labeling.

Approval of the three new categories of “Program,” “Medical Testing,” and “Compliance Testing” licenses is still probably several months away.

We regret the error.

Update: All FCC Experimental Licensing Rules Now in Effect

Formal notice of OMB’s approval has finalized authorization of “Program,” “Medical Testing,” and “Compliance Testing” experimental licenses.

The FCC’s overhaul of its experimental licensing rules took effect back on May 29, 2013, except for certain rules relating to the new three new forms of experimental license – “Program,” “Medical Testing,” and “Compliance Testing” licenses – and a few others. Because these entail new collection of information, they required separate approval by the Office of Management and Budget.

According to a notice in the Federal Register, that approval is now in hand, so the entire experimental licensing regime has taken effect as of July 11, 2014. Click here for a complete and current set of the rules.

Oh, the Irony: Parking Meter Company Fined for Poor Timing

Although its wireless parking meters were FCC compliant, the company marketed first and certified only afterward.

IPS Group, Inc. (motto: “Smarter parking for smart cities”), manufactures wireless parking meters. (The wireless feature enables credit card authorization, among other functions.) Like most small wireless devices, the meters are subject to detailed FCC technical rules and require certification for compliance with those rules.

The IPS meters complied with the technical rules and were duly certified. But ironically (since the purpose of its products is keeping careful track of time), there was a problem with IPS’s timing.

The FCC rules specify that devices requiring certification must have completed the FCC’s certification procedure before the devices are marketed. For FCC purposes, “marketing” includes “sale or lease, or offering for sale or lease, including advertising for sale or lease, or importation, shipment, or distribution for the purpose of selling or leasing or offering for sale or lease.” IPS had its meters certified only after, not before, undertaking some of these activities.

The slip-up resulted in a consent decree that cost IPS a $14,000 civil fine and some administrative headaches.

We hope other manufacturers will take the case as a warning: make sure the marketing people and the compliance people stay in touch and work from the same calendar.

There is another warning here as well: the FCC knew about the violation because a competitor of IPS’s turned them in. This is how the FCC learns about many, perhaps most, equipment violations. If you have a competitor, the FCC has a free-lance enforcement agent watching you.

Sixth White Space Coordinator Completes Tests

Comsearch wraps up tests, FCC invites comments.

The FCC has asked for comment on white space database tests recently conducted by Comsearch.  Comsearch’s test report can be found here.

It’s been about three and a half years since Comsearch (and eight other database administrator wannabes) got the initial nod from the FCC. But things have moved slowly since then. The original group of nine was eventually expanded to ten when Microsoft arrived late to the party, and most recently to 11 when Google tossed in a "major modification" to its previously-approved system. Before any administrator can be finally approved, its proposed system has to be tested, and the test results must be made available for public comment. Only four of the 11 systems have made it all the way through to final approval thus far. One other (LS telcom AG) has finished its testing but still hasn’t gotten the FCC thumbs up.

Our CommLawBlog entry reporting the commencement of Comsearch’s tests may be found here.

Comments on the Comsearch test report are due by July 8, 2014 and reply comments by July 15.

For background on the databases and what they do, see this article.


Test Started

Test Finished; Comments Sought

Coordinator Approved


Feb. 24, 2014

June 23, 2014


Frequency Finder Inc.




Google Inc.

Feb. 27, 2013

May 29, 2013

June 28, 2013

Google Inc. II

June 2, 2014



LS telcom AG

June 18, 2013

     Nov. 14, 2013


Key Bridge Global LLC

March 4, 2013

May 29, 2013

  Nov. 19, 2013

Microsoft Corp.




Neustar Inc.




Spectrum Bridge Inc.

Sept. 14, 2011

Nov. 10, 2011

Dec. 22, 2011

Telcordia Technologies

Dec. 2, 2011

Feb. 1, 2012

March 26, 2012

   WSdb LLC




FCC Rejects an Unlicensed Spectrum Etiquette - Again

The chaotic record in this proceeding failed to persuade the FCC a spectrum etiquette is needed.

It has been almost 30 years since the FCC first allowed unlicensed devices to operate at relatively high power in the 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz “unlicensed bands.” The initiative, although widely opposed at first, proved to be a great success, ultimately giving rise to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, U-NII, ZigBee, and untold millions of devices in other, less-known categories. Behind every good idea is a smart person, who in this case was our friend Michael Marcus, then at the FCC and largely responsible for dreaming up the idea and getting it into the Code of Federal Regulations.

Over the decades the FCC has repeatedly tinkered with the rules for these bands, mostly in the direction of affording manufacturers and users greater flexibility. When it proposed one such set of technical adjustments in 2003, the FCC in passing asked if it should consider adopting a “spectrum etiquette” to improve sharing among unlicensed users. The term “etiquette” here is roughly synonymous with “protocol,” and generally addresses how devices would interact with one another to promote fair access to the spectrum. The FCC did not suggest any specifics. The ensuing 2004 Report and Order adopted most of the proposed technical tweaks, but noted opposition to a spectrum etiquette and announced the FCC was dropping the idea.

Cellnet Technologies, which provides automated meter reading in the 902-928 MHz band, asked the FCC to reconsider. In 2007, the FCC dismissed the Cellnet petition for being inadequately specific, but in the same document nevertheless formally proposed a spectrum etiquette for the 902-928 MHz band, and further, asked if should consider one for 2.4 and 5.8 GHz as well. Elements of the proposal included a listen-before-talk requirement, limitations on duty cycle for higher-powered devices, and a ban on synchronization among multiple devices.

Seven years went by.

Continue Reading...

Same Old Status Quo at 902-928 MHz

The FCC has abandoned Location and Monitoring Service rules proposed in 2006.

It took eight years, but the FCC has walked away from a 2006 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that laid out possible new rules for the 902-928 MHz band. Among others sharing this heavily-used frequency range are Part 15 unlicensed operations, including many millions of consumer, commercial, and industrial devices, and the Part 90 Location and Monitoring Service (LMS), launched before the days of inexpensive GPS as a way of locating fleet vehicles.

The now-abandoned NPRM would have broadened the range of services possible under an LMS license. The proposals raised alarm among Part 15 manufacturers and users, who feared the changes would bring increased interference into their devices. LMS and Part 15 interests between them sent the FCC some 225 filings, the large majority dating back to 2006-07.

The FCC, without getting into the specifics, has now determined that the existing LMS rules are adequate, and accordingly has decided against adopting the 2006 proposals.

Wireless Microphone Users Face Worsening Spectrum Shortage

The upcoming incentive auction process will further squeeze an industry already short of needed capacity.

Wireless microphone users are fighting for spectrum. Here is why – and what the FCC is doing about it.

Anyone who watches TV or attends live shows knows about wireless microphones: those black or silver things the performer holds, plus a lot more equipment backstage. Until recently, few people gave these devices much thought – not even the FCC. Not until the 2009 digital TV transition that transferred 108 MHz of TV spectrum to other uses.

Most wireless microphones operate in vacant TV channels. The old analog TV rules required certain TV stations to be spaced far apart – not just those on the same or adjacent channels, but also some that operated many channels apart. That left plenty of room for microphones. But digital TV stations can safely be squeezed more closely together. That made possible the 2009 TV spectrum repacking, which cut the numbers of empty channels and left microphone users scrambling for spectrum, especially in microphone-dense areas like the Broadway theater district, while manufacturers struggled to squeeze more microphones into less spectrum.

The FCC added a complication by allowing unlicensed “TV white space” (TVWS) data devices into most of the same vacant TV channels that wireless microphones use. Until the digital repacking there would have been room for both, but the subsequent shortage set off acrimonious disputes at the FCC.

Continue Reading...

U-NII Waiver Requests Due in 30 Days

Waivers will allow retuning older U-NII-3 band systems to operate in U-NII-1.

The new U-NII rules, which take effect June 2, increase the power limits for the U-NII-1 band (5.15-5.25 GHz) and allow outdoor operation. Devices certified for the higher-powered U-NII-3 band (5.725-5.825 GHz) can be retuned for use in U-NII-1, but older systems may not comply with the new rules. Users or providers of those older systems have 30 days – until July 2 – to apply for waivers to allow their operation in U-NII-1. The FCC expects to quickly approve any such requests that seek to operate within the U-NII-1 band with up to 250 mW of conducted power and a PSD of 11 dBm/MHz with a 6 dBi gain antenna. This does not automatically rule out requests for higher power that come within the old rules for U-NII-3 (i.e., the ones that were in effect before June 2) or under the former version of Section 15.247, but the FCC may take longer to consider these.

If the above makes no sense to you, no need to worry – this post probably doesn’t affect you. Just ignore it.

Update: Comment Deadlines Set in 3.6 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service Proceeding

Back in April we reported on a sweeping Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) on the evolving creation of a Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3.5 GHz band. The proposal incorporates a new approach to how the world might handle spectrum use, including on-the-fly frequency coordination with priority up for sale via auction. The FNPRM has now been published in the Federal Register. As a result, we know the deadlines for comments and reply comments directed to the FCC’s proposals. Comments are due by July 14, 2014 and replies by August 1. Anyone wishing to comment now may do so by uploading their submissions in Proceeding No. 12-354 at the FCC’s ECFS filing site.

Lawyer Responds to Amateur Radio

An FHH attorney explains why he sometimes works in opposition to ARRL and individual amateurs.

[Blogmeister’s Note: A post last year by our colleague, Mitchell Lazarus, has attracted considerable recent comment from folks sympathetic to amateur radio. To help further dialog among differing points of view, we present Mitchell’s response. The views here are, of course, Mitchell’s own, not necessarily shared by other FHH lawyers or clients of the firm.]

A recent Reddit posting on an amateur radio “subreddit” called me a “lawyer hostile to amateur radio.” Other comments directed both to my blog piece linked on Reddit and to other of my blog postings take a similar view (or worse). So have some amateur websites over the years.

My response: the charge of “hostility” is unwarranted and contrary to the facts.

I have great respect for the work of amateurs, particularly in emergency communications and in advancing radio technology over the decades. I have enjoyed long friendships with amateur licensees, including (I hope) some reading this post. I have blogged in support of amateur positions.

But, yes, I have crossed swords with some amateurs.

Part of my job involves seeking FCC approval for new radio technologies. The process can include proposing a frequency band for a new kind of device, and then working with the manufacturer to minimize the risk of interference to incumbents in the band. This is not only good spectrum citizenship, but it also recognizes that the FCC will disallow a technology it thinks will cause undue interference.

Continue Reading...

White Space Database Update: Google v.2 Now in Beta

There’s been some movement on the white space database administrator front – but it’s hard to call it progress. Readers will recall that Google got its database system approved nearly a year ago. But now comes word from the Office of Engineering and Technology that Google has come up with a “new registration system” which is a “major modification” to the Google system previously approved. That means that the new version will have to be run through the same hoops as the original. Accordingly, for a 45-day test period beginning on June 2, 2014, Google’s new system will be available for public trials. Interested folks can give it the once-over, kick the tires, take it for a spin and see if it does what it’s supposed to.

When the test wraps up – on July 17, or maybe later if the FCC decides more testing is called for – we’ll see the usual drill: Google will have to file a report on the test, public comment on the report will be invited and, if everything works out Google’s way, the FCC will eventually re-approve it as a coordinator. If and when that happens, Google’s new system will rejoin the others already approved.

OET’s public notice indicates that Google is currently relying on Spectrum Bridge (another already-approved coordinator) to manage registration of protected entities on Google’s behalf. Google’s new system is intended to “replace [Google’s] use of the Spectrum Bridge procedures”. What precisely has become of Google’s originally approved system is not clear.

Four other candidates have still not reached the testing phase, so check back here for updates.

In keeping with our white space database SOP, we have updated our handy-dandy table charting the progress of each of the would-be administrators by inserting a new row (for “Google Inc. II”) to track the progress of the latest test process:

Continue Reading...

Update: Effective Date Set for New Bulked-up Wi-Fi Rules

Early last month we reported on the adoption of new rules intended to beef up Wi-Fi operations across the country. Thanks to a notice in the Federal Register, we now know that those new rules (with one exception) will take effect on June 2, 2014. That starts a 12-month transition period (beginning with the June 2 effective date) by the end of which applications for certification of 5 GHz devices must meet the new and modified rules. IMPORTANT: Equipment manufacturers and operators who, prior to the effective date, installed outdoor U-NII-3 band systems that don’t comply with the new EIRP limits have until July 2, 2014 to file waiver requests. Not a big deal – the FCC has signaled it intends to grant these.

The one aspect of the new rules that is not subject to the effective date is Section 15.407(j). That section requires anybody “deploying an aggregate total of more than one thousand outdoor access points within the 5.15-5.25 GHz band” to first submit a letter to the Commission acknowledging that they will have to take corrective action should harmful interference to licensed services in the band occur. Since that submission requirement is, in the parlance of the hilariously-named Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), an “information collection”, it must first be run past the Office of Management and Budget. That process, which generally takes four-six months or so, has also been initiated by a separate Federal Register notice.

PRA notices often contain curious nuggets, and this one is no exception. Again, Section 15.407(j) requires the preparation of a letter acknowledging responsibility for correcting interference. That’s what, maybe two-three paragraphs long, at most. And while we are loath to discourage the creative spirit, this type of letter appears ideal for a totally mechanistic, boilerplate approach. But the FCC’s “estimated time per response” for each respondent is a staggering 32 hours – that’s four full eight-hour days. Anyone charging by the hour for the preparation of such letters may want to make note of that estimate for future billing purposes.

Section 15.407(j) won’t take effect until OMB has signed off on it and the FCC has published a follow-up notice reporting on that. Check back here for updates.

FCC Proposes New Approach to Spectrum Management

Out for comment: The Citizens Broadband Radio Service for the 3550-3650 MHz band, featuring multiple priority levels, an annual auction, and an unprecedented Spectrum Access System.

As we have known for years, the FCC – and the rest of us – face a daunting problem: too many spectrum users and not enough spectrum. Even the most ambitious reallocation (and associated re-packing) plans offer at most limited and impermanent responses to the problem. Now the FCC has a new idea that could completely remake how the world handles spectrum and, in the process, dramatically increase the efficiency with which spectrum is used.

But the FCC’s plan to create a new “Citizens Broadband Radio Service” (CBRS) in the 3.5 GHz band sure has a lot of moving parts.

The plan is, in a way, simplicity itself: it calls for spectrum users to take turns. But while the basic concept may be kindergarten simple, its implementation is not, by a long shot. After all, not all users’ communications are equally urgent or important. Is there a way to get the more urgent and important stuff through first, and still give everybody else a fair shot?

After a year and a half, a previous Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, a follow-up public notice, hundreds of comments, two full-scale workshops, and too many meetings to count, the FCC has come up with a highly promising approach that is almost ready to test.

Continue Reading...

Another Big Audio Manufacturer Makes Another Big Settlement

Peavey Electronics ponies up $225,000 for digital device violations.

Are there no music lovers at the FCC?

Perhaps not in the Enforcement Bureau, which over the last few years has singled out audio and music companies for large fines relating to the FCC’s digital device rules. Those rules require manufacturers of equipment having digital circuitry – that’s pretty much everything, these days – to test stray radio-frequency emissions for compliance with FCC limits. The manufacturer (or importer) must also place specified warnings in the instruction manual and, for consumer equipment, apply certain labels and provide additional paperwork.

The last few years have seen substantial penalties and settlements against audio manufacturers for violating these rules: Rane ($61,500); guitar-maker Fender ($265,000); American Music and Sound ($72,000); PreSonus ($125,000) and the biggest fine of all, levied against Behringer ($1,000,000).

Most recently in the crosshairs is Peavey Electronics Corporation, which is handing over $225,000 to settle charges that it violated the digital device rules. (We take a personal interest in this one; our own Blogmeister has long used Peavey gear, pictured above in the CommLawBlog bunker sound studio.)

Continue Reading...

Wi-Fi Bulks Up

New technical rules for unlicensed 5 GHz will yield better device performance.

We hear a lot about the shortage of spectrum that wireless carriers need for delivering silly cat videos to our smartphones and tablets. Also in short supply, although it gets less attention, is spectrum used by “unlicensed” services like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Access to this spectrum is free: no multi-billion-dollar auctions. The chips that use it are inexpensive, despite sometimes being housed in pricey tablets. There are no monthly charges. These frequency bands carry far more data every day than do carrier-provided 3G and 4G data services.

Older forms of Wi-Fi used only a band at 5.8 GHz band or, much more commonly, a band at 2.4 GHz. Some newer Wi-Fi protocols can use either or both, or other sub-bands in the 5 GHz range – whatever gives the best performance at a particular time and place. These technologies are amazingly good at working around interference, but still, can tolerate only so much congestion. A mathematical theorem sets the limit. As more of our devices send and receive more data, everybody’s performance gets worse.

A recent FCC order will help.

Continue Reading...

Good Day Sunshine: "The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2014"

Rob Schill shares his views on the latest Congressional effort to bid “good day” to the Sunshine Act.

[Blogmeister’s Note: The House recently passed H.R. 3675, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2014. If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, this bill would require the FCC to set certain deadlines and time limits for some of its activities, and also prepare some extra routine reports and the like. We’d go into greater detail on these nitty-gritty points if the bill were likely to get through the Senate, but the smart money currently says that that’s not going to happen, so we won’t bother our readers with unnecessary information. If the smart money turns out to have been wrong, for sure we’ll be reporting on the final bill.

One aspect of the House bill did attract our attention: a provision that would permit FCC Commissioners to meet in nonpublic sessions to discuss business. The longstanding Government in the Government in the Sunshine Act (the Sunshine Act) would ordinarily prohibit such closed door meetings, but the House is nevertheless apparently OK with letting the FCC bar the doors and shutter the windows. A nearly identical proposal was introduced in 2013. Our colleague, Kevin Goldberg, wrote – somewhat disparagingly – about it back then. In the interest of fairness and balance, this time around we’re offering a different take on the matter from our colleague, Rob Schill.]

The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2014 (the 2014 Reform Act) raises the same essential question my friend and colleague Kevin Goldberg addressed last year: Is it conducive to “good government” to create an exception to the Sunshine Act that would allow more than two commissioners to meet privately when a few key transparency safeguards are included? Kevin and I reach different answers to that question.

The 2014 Reform Act seeks the happy medium between the competing needs of openness and administrative efficiency. The bill looks to provide for transparency and accountability while acknowledging the reality that the FCC often does not move at a pace consistent with the changing technology world it is tasked to oversee. The fact that the bill has bipartisan Congressional support, as well as the support of FCC members and industry representatives, suggests that perhaps Congress is onto something here. 

Continue Reading...

Update: Effective Date Set for New Level Probing Radar Rules

In January we reported on the adoption of new rules governing the use of level probing radar. The FCC’s Report and Order has now made it into the Federal Register, which establishes the effective date of the new rules. That date is April 7, 2014.

FCC Proposal Intrudes on Unlicensed Spectrum

Mobile-satellite tower operations would share part of the same band used for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and many more unlicensed devices.

My colleague Don Evans ably posted an earlier report on the FCC’s proposal to allow Mobile-Satellite Service (MSS) tower-based operations to move into the adjacent 2.4 GHz unlicensed band – home to Bluetooth, the most-used forms of Wi-Fi, and countless other kinds of devices.

This follow-up post drills down on how the proposal might affect unlicensed users.

Globalstar has long been licensed for MSS operations at 2483.5-2495 MHz, immediately above the unlicensed band at 2400-2483.5 MHz. See the diagram. Until now, Globalstar’s license has allowed only satellite downlinks.

Continue Reading...

Out for Comment: Globalstar Proposal to Expand ATC Operation

Shared use of adjacent 2473-2483.5 MHz unlicensed band could raise objections.

Last November, at the urging of Globalstar, Inc., the FCC proposed to modify the Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) of the rules governing the Mobile-Satellite Service (MSS) system operating in the Big Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) S band. Now, after an inexplicable three-month delay, that proposal has made it into the Federal Register, so comment and reply comment deadlines have been set.

Globalstar is the licensee of a Big LEO S band MSS system. It proposes ATC use of its licensed 2483.5-2495 MHz spectrum for a low power broadband network. That is not especially controversial because use of satellite spectrum for ATC service has been approved by the FCC for more than a decade as a way of expanding the use of satellite spectrum for terrestrial communications while maintaining the primary usage for satellite service.

The quirk in Globalstar’s proposal is that it would incorporate the adjacent 2473-2483.5 MHz segment of the 2.4 GHz unlicensed band into its operation. While the 2.4 GHz unlicensed band as a whole is widely used for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, this particular segment at the upper end is unused by standard Wi-Fi operations in the U.S. because of the need to protect Globalstar’s adjacent satellite operations. Globalstar figured it could appropriate, in a practical sense, that 11.5 MHz in order to give it an effective full 22 MHz of bandwidth for its terrestrial operations.

But there are some complications.

Continue Reading...

White Space Database Update: Comsearch System Ready for Testing

 After a three-month period of inactivity, there’s a sign of life on the white space database administrator front. Finally breaking out of the starting blocks, Comsearch’s TV Band Database System is now ready for public testing. According to a public notice from the Office of Engineering and Technology, that system will get a 45-day test run beginning on February 24, 2014, followed by the well-established drill: Comsearch will have to file a report on the test, public comment on the report will be invited and, if everything works out Comsearch’s way, the FCC will eventually approve it as a coordinator. If and when that happens, Comsearch will join the four others already approved. (For those of you may have lost track, those would be Google, Inc., Key Bridge Global LLC, Spectrum Bridge Inc. and Telcordia Technologies.)

Four other candidates have still not reached the testing phase, so check back here for updates.

In keeping with our white space database SOP, we have updated our handy-dandy table charting the progress of each of the would-be administrators: 


Test Started

Test Finished; Comments Sought

Coordinator Approved


 Feb. 24, 2014    

Frequency Finder Inc.


Google Inc.

Feb. 27, 2013

May 29, 2013

June 28, 2013

LS telecom AG

June 18, 2013

     Nov. 14, 2013


Key Bridge Global LLC

March 4, 2013

May 29, 2013

   Nov. 19, 2013

Microsoft Corp.


Neustar Inc.


Spectrum Bridge Inc.

Sept. 14, 2011

Nov. 10, 2011

Dec. 22, 2011

Telcordia Technologies

Dec. 2, 2011

Feb. 1, 2012

March 26, 2012



Accessibility Rules Waived for Some E-Readers

FCC makes a nuanced call on accessibility requirements for devices having advanced but non-essential functions.

It’s not easy being the FCC. Just when you think you’ve managed to put various devices into their appropriate regulatory pigeonholes, somebody comes along to argue that some device ought to be excepted out of one pigeonhole and placed in another.

Case in point: e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook. The FCC requires that all Advanced Communications Services (ACS) – VoIP, email, Instant Messaging, SMS text messaging, video chat, and the like – and all devices used for ACS be accessible to individuals with disabilities.  Many, possibly most, e-readers include ACS capabilities, so they must be accessible to persons with disabilities, right?

Not necessarily.  That requirement may be waived if a device is “designed primarily” for other purposes. And now the FCC has decided that, at least for the time being, some e-readers will not be required to comply with the accessibility rules.

Specifically, for the next year (until January 28, 2015) certain of the ACS accessibility rules – in particular, Sections 14.20, 14.21 and 14.31 of the FCC’s rules – have been waived for “basic e-readers”. The universe of e-readers falling into that “basic” category consists of devices that: 

  1. have no LCD screen;
  2. have no camera;
  3. are not offered or shipped to consumers with built-in ACS client applications (and the manufacturer doesn’t develop such applications for the devices in question); and
  4. are marketed and promoted as reading devices without touting ACS capability.

How the FCC analyzed the issues and defined the boundaries and duration of the waiver show some elegant solutions to dealing with the complex and ever-changing world of consumer devices.

Continue Reading...

It's Official! Radar Can Now Speak Volumes . . . and Hit Heights

Level probing radars can use the 5.925-7.25, 24.05-29, and 75-85 GHz bands without an FCC license.

The FCC has adopted rules that allow unlicensed use of the “level probing radars” (LPRs) used for measuring the levels of liquids in big tanks, the heights of piles of rock and wood chips at industrial sites, and water levels at treatment plants and nuclear reactors.

Traditional radars use a single frequency at relatively high power. Their signal looks much like that from an ordinary radio transmitter, and has long fit easily into the FCC’s regulatory scheme.

LPRs are different. To achieve high precision over a short range, they emit a sequence of very narrow pulses. For reasons familiar to every electrical engineering student, narrow pulses distribute energy over a relatively wide range of spectrum, while placing relatively low power on any one frequency. This broad spectrum occupancy, combined with the “peaky” nature of the pulsed signal and certain quirks in the FCC rules, had long disqualified LPRs from routine approval. Still, understanding the need for the devices, the FCC has worked with manufacturers on various rule waivers. Twenty months ago, it proposed new rules that would allow the approval of LPRs in the ordinary course.

Those rules have now been adopted, allowing LPRs to use the 5.925-7.25, 24.05-29, and 75-85 GHz bands without an FCC license. Although all of these bands have other users, few objected to the prospect of LPRs. The FCC carefully reviewed the interference concerns and concluded that the low power and industrial locations of LPRs pose little risk.

In many respects the new rules parallel those in effect in Europe. That simplifies manufacture for companies that market products globally.

Continue Reading...

Comm Act Overhaul Underway . . . Sort of

Commerce, Communications Committee chairmen seek public input on fundamental questions about federal regulation of communications

It’s generally acknowledged that the Communications Act – first enacted four score years ago and not substantially updated in nearly 20 years – is ill-suited for regulation of the 21st Century communications landscape. And now two well-placed members of Congress have announced the start of an effort to update the Act and perhaps restructure the FCC itself.

Given the prominence of the folks making that announcement, anyone subject to the FCC’s regulatory reach should pay attention. But before you get overcome with visions of sweeping change just around the corner, it’s important to temper your expectations with a healthy splash of reality: any significant change to the Act that may occur isn’t likely to happen in the immediate future, if at all.

The two gentlemen responsible for the latest initiative are Fred Upton (R-MI) and Greg Walden (R-OR), the Chairs of, respectively, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and that Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee. You can see them explain their plans in a 13-minute video posted on the Committee’s website. To summarize: Noting that (a) the FCC first opened its doors in the Great Depression and (b) the last time the Act was amended, 56 kb/s by dial-up modem was the state of the art, Upton and Walden sensibly feel that it’s time to talk about an update.

The emphasis, though, is more on the “talk” part than the “update” part.

Continue Reading...

Update: Final Elements of Medical Body Area Network Rules Now in Effect

Back in May 2012, the FCC authorized Medical Body Area Networks (MBANs) to operate in the 2360-2400 MHz region – immediately below the heavily-used unlicensed band that houses Bluetooth and most Wi-Fi. An MBAN, as envisioned by the FCC, is a little like a cellular wireless system in miniature, worn on a patient’s body. Sensors around the body monitor various functions, depending on the patient’s needs, and communicate their data to a central hub, worn by the patient or located close by. The hub aggregates data from the various sensors, and transmits those data using the health care facility’s network (possibly over Wi-Fi or Ethernet) to a central control point, from where the data are made available to the professional staff for interpretation and appropriate response.

Thanks to the hilariously-named Paperwork Reduction Act, a number of the regulatory details needed separate approval by the Office of Management and Budget. This had still not happened more than 19 months after FCC approval.

But that has now changed. With a public notice in the Federal Register, the FCC has announced that OMB signed off on Sections 95.1215(c), 95.1217(a)(3), 95.1223 and 95.1225 of the MBAN rules back in October. (Time does not seem to be of the essence as far as the FCC is concerned.) With the Federal Register notice now in print, those rules took effect as of December 27, 2013.

Fine Print Not Fine Enough: Another Audio Company Settles with the FCC

Alleged violations involving labels and text in instruction manuals prove costly.

No doubt the FCC staff has its share of music lovers. But they still keep audio-equipment manufacturers on a short leash.

The biggest FCC fine in recent memory for an equipment violation – an even $1 million – came down against a company that marketed digital audio devices. Another company that distributes professional audio equipment settled with the FCC for $125,000. Still another company that makes professional gear settled for $72,000. The iconic guitar-maker Fender agreed to pay an impressive $265,000.

Now yet another professional audio company called Rane, which supplies both DJs and contractors, has agreed to hand over $61,500 because some of its gear (and the associated instruction manuals) did not contain certain fine print disclosures required by the FCC.

Continue Reading...

FCC Calls for Technical Papers on 3550-3650 MHz

Public is invited to help design a novel, on-the-fly frequency coordination system.

The FCC wants your help in designing its on-the-fly frequency coordination system for the 3550-3650 MHz band – a concept that has the potential to remake spectrum management for many other bands as well.

The central idea is to establish priorities among user groups that a “spectrum access system” enforces automatically in real time.

The FCC first floated the idea in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking almost a year ago, and more recently refined its ideas in a highly detailed public notice. It announced (and then rescheduled) a workshop to discuss the public notice, now set for January 14.

And it has now issued a call for technical papers to be discussed at the workshop.

The request for papers is detailed and specific. We urge interested persons to consult it directly.

The deadline for papers to be considered in connection with the workshop is January 3, 2014. File submissions in GN Docket No. 12-354.  (You can do that through ECFS.) The FCC has promised to release an agenda prior to the workshop.

The requested papers, the workshop, and comments on the above-mentioned public notice will all help to form the basis of a forthcoming Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. But don’t count on waiting till then to change the FCC’s direction. If you have ideas on how it should proceed, submit them now.

Key Bridge Global LLC Becomes Fourth "White Space" Coordinator to Win Approval

Key Bridge Global LLC joins Google, Spectrum Bridge and Telcordia in the ranks of “approved” database coordinators.

Our handy-dandy table for tracking the progress of would-be white space database administrators is getting a work-out. Just last week we noted the completion of
L S Telcom’s testing
, and now it’s Key Bridge Global LLC’s turn. The Commission has announced the Key Bridge has made it to the finish line – it has been approved to provide service to certified unlicensed devices operating in the TV white spaces. This latest notice has been included in the appropriate box below.

Four down, six to go. Check back here for further updates. 

(Fuzzy on the whole white space database administrator question?  Check out this post for some background.)


Test Started

Test Finished; Comments Sought

Coordinator Approved



Frequency Finder Inc.


Google Inc.

Feb. 27, 2013

May 29, 2013

June 28, 2013

LS telecom AG

June 18, 2013

     Nov. 14, 2013


Key Bridge Global LLC

March 4, 2013

May 29, 2013

   Nov. 19, 2013

Microsoft Corp.


Neustar Inc.


Spectrum Bridge Inc.

Sept. 14, 2011

Nov. 10, 2011

Dec. 22, 2011

Telcordia Technologies

Dec. 2, 2011

Feb. 1, 2012

March 26, 2012




Fifth White Space Coordinator Completes Tests

The FCC requests comment on white space database tests recently conducted by LS telcom AG.

The FCC has asked for comment on white space database tests recently conducted by LS telcom AG.  The test report can be found here. Mark your scorecards: LS telcom is the fifth would-be administrator to complete its testing. Five down, five to go.

Our CommLawBlog entry reporting the commencement of LS telcom’s tests may be found here.

Comments on the test report are due by November 29, 2013 and reply comments by December 6.

For background on the databases and what they do, see this article.


Test Started

Test Finished; Comments Sought

Coordinator Approved



Frequency Finder Inc.


Google Inc.

Feb. 27, 2013

May 29, 2013

June 28, 2013

LS telcom AG

June 18, 2013

      Nov. 14, 2013


Key Bridge Global LLC

March 4, 2013

May 29, 2013


Microsoft Corp.


Neustar Inc.


Spectrum Bridge Inc.

Sept. 14, 2011

Nov. 10, 2011

Dec. 22, 2011

Telcordia Technologies

Dec. 2, 2011

Feb. 1, 2012

March 26, 2012







New Date for FCC Workshop on 3550-3650 MHz

Event is rescheduled to January 14.

The FCC has rescheduled a workshop on proposed technical requirements, architecture, and operational parameters for the 3550-3650 MHz band. Originally set for December 11, the event is now on for January 14.

We originally posted on the workshop here, giving the old date. Now that the FCC has released a public notice that considerably revises and expands its original proposals, the workshop should take on added interest for those interested in the band.

Update: FCC Seeks Further Comment on 3550-3650 MHz

Public notice lays out ideas based on industry responses so far.

We reported a year ago on the FCC’s novel proposals for spectrum management in the 3550-3650 MHz band.

Following the receipt of comments and a workshop, the FCC is rethinking the details. Its evolving ideas, on which the FCC requests comment, are set out in a public notice.

Ordinarily at this point in a blog piece, we would summarize the public notice. Not this time. It runs to 18 single-spaced pages and is dense with information; an accurate summary would be almost as long as the document itself. We recommend that interested persons consult the public notice directly.

This is not the last word. The FCC has signaled that the next stage will be a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, before it proceeds to adopt rules. Usually, this sequence means the FNPRM will be largely a formality, setting out whatever rules the FCC expects to adopt. Those who want to affect the course of the proceeding should consider submitting their views in response to the public notice.

Comments are due by December 5, 2013 and reply comments by December 20. File in GN Docket No. 12-354.

Expert Group Seeks Expedited FCC Handling of Radio Technologies above 95 GHz

IEEE wants the FCC to declare that innovations in this frequency range are “new technologies” requiring a “public interest” determination within one year.

The history of radio is the history of a push to ever-higher frequencies. In the 1930s, “short wave” at 30 MHz (then called 30 “megacycles”) was near the upper limit. The post-war years saw a rapid push into single-digit gigahertz. Today there is off-the-shelf equipment at pretty much all frequencies up to 95 GHz.

But no higher, because that is where the FCC rules stop. The FCC has assigned uses to frequencies up to 275 GHz, and it claims jurisdiction up to 3,000 GHz. (Beyond 3,000 GHz, signals stop being radio waves and become infrared.)

But above 95 GHz, there are no rules to regulate any service. The FCC will not authorize the marketing of a device that transmits above 95 GHz. FCC approvals in this range can be obtained only on an experimental basis.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which includes the top experts in this area, expects frequencies above 95 GHz soon to be ripe for commercial exploitation. But the group sees the lack of FCC rules as a barrier. In addition to regulatory uncertainty, innovators will face what the IEEE delicately calls “an expected regulatory delay that is difficult to quantify.” We can be more blunt: with just one or two recent exceptions, the FCC has been notoriously slow in approving new technologies.

The IEEE filed a Petition for Declaratory Ruling that seeks to address the problem. It relies on a 1983 statute, called “Section 7,” that says, in part:

Continue Reading...

FCC Releases Details on Workshop about Unlicensed Spectrum Issues

Workshop to take place November 8 at FCC headquarters.

The FCC has announced the topics and panel participants for its November 8 workshop on unlicensed spectrum issues related to the spectrum incentive auction. Details are here.

Meet the New Boss(es) . . .

. . . same as the old bosses? Wheeler, O’Rielly finally confirmed.

OK, readers, how about a big “welcome aboard” to the two newest arrivals on the Eighth Floor?

The Senate has confirmed Tom Wheeler and Michael O’Rielly as Chairman and Commissioner, respectively, of the Federal Communications Commission. They are expected to be sworn in as soon as possible. The confirmations return the FCC to a full complement of five commissioners. 

For those keeping score, Wheeler will be the third Democrat commissioner (joining Commissioners Mignon Clyburn – previously the Acting Chairwoman – and Jessica Rosenworcel) while O’Rielly will be the second Republican (along with Commissioner Ajit Pai).

The confirmations were delayed briefly when Senator Ted Cruz placed a procedural hold on them because of concerns about possible changes in FCC policy to expand mandatory disclosures relative to television political advertisements. Wheeler and Cruz had a sit-down chat about the matter, during which Wheeler advised Cruz that imposing such disclosure requirements was “not a priority”. Cruz was apparently satisfied, and he lifted his hold.

With that, the normally creaky Congressional wheels suddenly began to spin with impressive ease. During the last two minutes of the Senate session immediately following Cruz’s announcement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked for unanimous consent that the nominees be confirmed. No objection was voiced, and that was that. 

The record will reflect that, also in those last two minutes, the Senate unanimously approved the designation of November 2, 2013, as National Bison Day. And, just in time (since the month was already pretty much gone), it approved the annual designation of October as National Work and Family Month.

Continue Reading...

Yeah, Who DOES Need the FCC?

A counterpoint to Mitchell Lazarus’s similarly-titled, but philosophically different, post.

[Blogmeister’s Note: When we posted Mitchell Lazarus’s item concerning the need for the FCC, we anticipated push-back. And sure enough, our colleague Jon Markman has stepped up. The views expressed in the post below are Jon’s alone. As was the case with Mitchell’s post, others here at FHH may share some or all of Jon’s views; some may not. Ditto for our readers. We again encourage anyone who agrees or disagrees with Jon to let us know by sending along a comment.]

In a recent post here on CommLawBlog, my colleague Mitchell Lazarus addressed some core functions of the FCC that make it “not only valuable, but indispensable to how we live”. With all due respect to Mitchell – who has forgotten more about the FCC, spectrum, and telecom law in the last month than I could hope to learn in a decade – I would like to offer a different take.

The government shutdown prompts a conversation on just what are the “essential” tasks of the Federal government (keeping in mind that the Federal government is just one of the many levels of government we have in the U.S.).

In his post, Mitchell alluded to some of the extreme posturing inspired by the government shutdown, such as claims that the shutdown demonstrated the irrelevance of the Federal government and proved that smaller government is good and no government is even better. I tend to believe that this was mostly rhetoric used by one side to rally their base and/or strengthen their bargaining position in the budget negotiations; I suspect that the speakers in fact support much of what the Federal government does. But insofar as they were representative of honest beliefs, they are indicative of a far more extreme position than the norm.

Continue Reading...

Who Needs the FCC?

The operation of our culture and commerce depends on at least three of the FCC’s functions.

[Blogmeister’s Note: Despite Blogger Mitchell Lazarus’s use of the editorial “we”, the views expressed in this post are his alone. Others here at FHH may share some or all of his views; some may not. Ditto for our readers. We encourage anyone who agrees or disagrees with Mitchell to let us know by sending along a comment.]

The recent government shutdown was applauded by some who believe that small government is better, and so, by extension, that no government at all must be better still.

That got us to thinking. Not about the whole government, just the piece we know best: the FCC. Suppose the FCC closed for good. Would anybody notice? (Other than us; we’d have to find another line of work.)

In other words: How essential is the FCC to a functioning society?

A lot of what the FCC does has social value, in the eyes of many. But set that aside. Are any of the FCC’s responsibilities not only valuable, but indispensable to how we live?

We wouldn’t ask the question unless we had an answer.

Continue Reading...

FCC Announces Workshop on 3.5 GHz Proposal

Session will explore technologies to govern interactions between and among devices.

Those interested in the FCC’s novel, on-the-fly spectrum management system proposed for the 3.5 GHz band may be interested in an FCC workshop, scheduled for December 11, on the technical requirements, architecture, and operational parameters of the system. Details are here.

Buddy, Gonna Shut You Down (Reprise)

Tach it up! Tach it up! For the second time in two and a half years, FCC moves to DefCon1 in anticipation of government shutdown.

We posted a heads-up alert last week about the possible shutdown of the federal government and the effect that that could have on licensees. Now the FCC itself is getting into the act. It has just posted on its website a “Plan for Orderly Shutdown Due to Lapse of Congressional Appropriations”. The Commission’s plan allots a total of four hours to complete “orderly” shutdown procedures.  They’re figuring that, of a total of about 1,750 agency employees, only 38 will be manning the battle stations during the shutdown; everybody else will have to go home and shelter in place . . . but only after they have completed their orderly shutdown procedures. (Comforting factoid: All three Commissioners will stay on board through the shutdown.)

Unfortunately, the Plan doesn’t shed any light on practical questions of importance to us out here in the Real World. For instance, will the Commission’s various e-filing portals remain open and operational? We don’t expect that anything that might get filed during the shutdown (assuming that any of those portals do stay up and running) would be given a file number or be processed in any way during the shutdown, but it would still be a relief to be able to file applications, etc., even if they remain untouched by any bureaucratic hand for the duration.

[UPDATE: Since we first posted the above item we have been informally advised by a member of the Media Bureau’s staff that no FCC systems will be available for any purpose during the shutdown. From this it’s probably reasonable to conclude that CDBS, ULS and the Commission’s other online filing systems are going to be shut down for the shutdown. It’s not entirely clear why that should be the case, since the Commission routinely closes up shop – every weekend, for instance, and all federal holidays – without feeling the need to seal off its e-filing portals. But we don’t make the news here, we just report it – and the word we’re getting is that uploading of materials through the Commission’s online systems will not be a happening thing during the shutdown.]

Effective Date Set for New Rules Governing Unlicensed Use at 57-64 GHz

Last month we reported on a huge power increase for unlicensed 57-64 GHz transmitters using very directional antennas.  The Commission’s Report and Order has now been published in the Federal Register.  As a result, the new rules will become effective on October 30, 2013.

Accrediting the Accreditors: Company Seeks Authority to Accredit Test Labs

Request coincides with proposal for expanded use of accredited labs

The FCC procedure for authorizing consumer digital devices, among other things, requires that the devices be tested by an accredited laboratory. A proposal now on the street would extend that requirement to most unlicensed, portable, and mobile transmitters.

But who accredits the laboratories?

A company self-referentially (and aspirationally, at least as far as the FCC is concerned) calling itself “Laboratory Accreditation Bureau” (LAB) has asked the FCC to recognize it as an accreditation body qualified to accredit test laboratories. The FCC seeks comment on the request.

If the request succeeds, the FCC in effect will accredit LAB, which in turn will accredit the local test lab down the street. In the other direction, the FCC is accredited by the U.S. Congress, which is established under the U.S. Constitution, which was ordained and established by Us the People. Who spend our days staring at electronic devices that were successfully tested by the lab down the street. Thus answering at last the question posed by the first-century poet Juvenal: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Comments are due by September 23, 2013 and reply comments by October 7. In English, please.

Update: Ultra-wideband Waiver Modified

 One of the problems of developing technology is that it, um, develops, which means that it can be a constant effort to keep up with it, even if you’re the one doing the developing. Case in point: an ultra-wideband ground-penetrating radar (GPR) device developed by Curtiss-Wright Controls, Inc. As we reported about 18 months ago, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) had granted Curtiss-Wright’s request for a waiver to operate a particular GRP device. The waiver was tailored to the specs of the device as Curtiss-Wright had described them in its request.

But as it turned out, Curtiss-Wright wasn’t tickled pink with the waiver because, between the times the waiver was requested (in June, 2010) and the waiver was granted (in January, 2012), the company had modified the GPR design some. Curtiss-Wright had apparently not expected that, in acting on its waiver request, the Commission would focus so narrowly on the details as described in the request.  Needless to say, the waiver as granted would not permit operation of the device as modified.  

So despite the fact that it had been granted what it had asked for, Curtiss-Wright promptly sought reconsideration or clarification, seeking to loosen the waiver up enough to accommodate the modified designed. And now, after taking a close look at the modifications, OET has granted that request. As a result, Curtiss-Wright’s modified GPR device should be good to go. The details of the modified waiver are set out in the decision.

(Interesting semantic point: OET technically denies Curtiss-Wright’s petition for reconsideration/clarification because, as OET correctly observes, its 2012 decision was completely correct, based on the information that Curtiss-Wright had theretofore filed. As far as OET is concerned, Curtiss-Wright’s petition was based on new information not previously presented to the Commission, so the petition amounted essentially to a request for a new waiver – which OET was happy to grant.)

Watts Up, Doc! FCC Grants Huge Power Increase for Some (But Not All) Unlicensed Use at 57-64 GHz

This band needs high power to overcome poor propagation through air.

If you work in this business long enough, radio bands start taking on individual personalities. The 57-64 GHz band is the cantankerous child genius: underdeveloped, enormously promising, and hard to work with.

This band, which stretches across 7 GHz, has the widest swath of spectrum anywhere in the FCC rules. The cell carriers fight over 10 MHz at a time; this band is 700 times bigger. Back in 2008, carriers paid $19 billion at auction for a mere 52 MHz of the 700 MHz band; at those same prices, the 57-64 GHz band would go for 2.6 quadrillion dollars – about 30 times the total economy of the world.

But operations in the band are unlicensed, so the spectrum is free – and that looks like a bargain. But the band has its downsides. All frequencies in these upper reaches of the spectrum propagate poorly. The 57-64 GHz region is worse than most, due to the pesky laws of physics. Much like a playground swing goes back and forth at a steady rate, several times a minute, oxygen molecules in the atmosphere vibrate at their own steady rate, about 60 billion times each second. Much like the playground swing, which absorbs energy from the parent pushing at the high point of each swing, oxygen molecules absorb energy from passing radio waves that happen to hit them at the right frequency: about 60 GHz.

Transmitted energy that goes into pushing oxygen molecules never gets to the receiver. That’s why, at these frequencies, it takes (relatively) a lot of power to move a signal any reasonable distance.

Previously, the FCC’s rules governing unlicensed operations in this band allowed about 10 watts of power. That’s high, by unlicensed standards, but in most applications would reach only several tens of meters. You could link nearby buildings on a campus, or closely neighboring cell towers, but not much else.

An industry group asked for a power increase to help combat the oxygen fog. That was in 2004. The FCC thought about it for three years and issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2007. Now, six years later still, it has finally acted on the request.

Continue Reading...

FCC Works its Will on the WISP

Wireless Internet provider fined $202,000 for interference to airport radar.

An FCC enforcement official once let us in on a bit of internal policy: “We keep jacking up the fines till we get their attention,” he said. At $202,000, we suspect the FCC has Towerstream’s attention.

The case is one more in a series of 5 GHz unlicensed transmitters causing interference to airport Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) systems. In the past, the FCC has cracked down on illegally modified transmitters, as here, but when the interference comes from lawful transmitters, it has acted more gently. This case adds a third category: severe treatment for a repeat offender, albeit using lawful equipment.

Towerstream Corporation, according to its website, is a wireless Internet service provider (WISP) catering to business customers. At least some of its facilities use the 5 GHz unlicensed “U-NII” band, of which a segment is shared with TDWRs. Back in 2009, the FCC notified Towerstream it was causing interference to TDWRs at six different airports variously serving the New York City area, Chicago, and the Florida east coast. Towerstream subsequently assured the FCC in detail that it had fixed the problem.

The FCC found otherwise. In 2012 it notified Towerstream of interference from multiple devices to TDWRs at the JFK, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale airports.

Continue Reading...

Man Fined for Jamming Airport Navigation Gear

Use of illegal device was intended to block employer’s tracking device.

Tip for today: don’t fire up your GPS jammer next to an airport. Gary P. Bojczak did, and it’s going to cost him $31,875.

Mr. Bojczak’s work entailed driving a truck – a red Ford F-150 pickup, to be precise, supplied by his employer. Also supplied by the employer was a GPS tracking device installed in the truck. Typically these report back on the employee’s route, thus discouraging unauthorized detours, and may also note the duration of lunch stops, speed limit violations, etc. Mr. Bojczak, apparently preferring to deny his employer this kind of information, purchased an illegal GPS jamming device and operated it in the truck.

Presumably Mr. Bojczak successfully prevented the tracking device from doing its job. It does not take much; GPS signals arriving at the Earth’s surface are weak, having traveled some 13,000 miles through space. Unfortunately, Mr. Bojczak also successfully jammed a GPS system being tested for aircraft operations at Newark Liberty International Airport. The FCC investigated; airport police and security personnel stopped Mr. Bojczak adjacent to the airport, where he surrendered the jammer.

The FCC found three offenses: operating without a license; use of unauthorized equipment; and interfering with authorized communications. (The operating-without-a-license item strikes us as specious, as the FCC would never have issued a license for the jammer; see our previous rant on this topic, and also this one.) The base fines for the offenses add up to $22,000. The FCC adjusted upward to $42,500, to reflect the added culpability of deliberate jamming, and then came down 25% in acknowledgement of Mr. Bojczak’s having given up the jammer without a fight.

Many GPS jammers go undetected in part because they can operate successfully at low power. But airport navigation equipment is sensitive, and the FCC enforces vigorously when public safety is at stake. If you have a jammer, our best advice is to turn it off. Especially near an airport. All of us air travelers will thank you.

"What to Do When the FCC Says No"

FHH expert on new technologies slated to give webinar.

You’ve read his blog posts – now you can hear him in person, sort of. Our colleague (and CommLawBlog regular) Mitchell Lazarus will be sharing his expertise on seeking FCC approval for new radio-based technologies in a September 25 webinar. Titled “What to Do When the FCC Says No”, it’s billed as a webinar for wireless device developers confronting the question, “What should technology companies do when developing a new device to assure it can be placed on the market legally?” The affair is sponsored by Washington Laboratories, Ltd.  It’s not free ($149 per person; site license also available), but technology companies should find it well worthwhile.

The Financial Side of EBS Spectrum Leasing

A timely review of financial factors to consider when you lease your EBS spectrum

Now that Softbank has acquired Sprint Corporation, and Clearwire has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sprint, we can expect Clearwire and other wireless companies interested in using 2.6 GHz wireless spectrum to bring their 2.6 GHz spectrum leasing activity from a near idle to an active and robust pursuit of this spectrum. The 2.6 GHz band is allocated by the FCC to two radio services: the Broadband Radio Service and the Educational Broadband Service or “EBS”. The focus of this article is EBS leasing – specifically, matters relating to the financial side of the transaction. With renewed interest in EBS leasing, now appears to be a good time for EBS licensees to review some of the more prominent compensation-related factors involved in the process. 

How is the value of a lease of EBS channels determined?

There is no set formula for valuing EBS channels, nor is there (at present) a sufficient volume of EBS transactions with payment information publicly available to derive a market price for EBS channels or to make a quantifiable determination of the impact of different variables on market price. Even though standard “comps” may be in short supply, factors likely to influence valuation are readily identifiable – such as  population density, the demand for channel capacity (including competition for channel capacity), and the specific needs of the wireless companies that desire the use of the channel.

Continue Reading...

Update: Effective Date Set for FOD-Detecting Radar Rules

A couple of weeks ago we reported on the opening up of the 78-81 GHz band for a limited radar application on a strictly licensed basis. The limited application? Detection of “foreign object debris” (known to the cognoscenti as “FOD") on airport runways. The Commission’s decision has now been published in the Federal Register, so we know that the new rules will take effect on August 26, 2013 just in time for the end-of-summer travel season!

Update: Reply Comment Deadline Extended in Equipment Certification Overhaul Proceeding

Last February we reported on a Commission proposal to overhaul its equipment certification procedure.  If you’re thinking about filing reply comments in response to any (or all) of the 20 or so comments that have already been filed in response to that proposal, you’re in luck.In response to a request by the American National Standards Institute Accredited Standards Committee C63 – which has concluded that it needs more time to prepare its own reply – the FCC has announced a two-week extension of the reply comment deadline.  Replies are now due no later than July 31, 2013.

Project Runway: FCC Authorizes Radar for Detecting Foreign Objects on Airport Runways

Possible future sharing of the band will limit technical parameters, at least for now.

The FCC has authorized radars for the detection of “foreign object debris” on runways – FOD, in airport-speak.  Typical FOD includes parts that fell off prior aircraft, misplaced tools, equipment and supplies, rocks and pavement fragments, luggage, and wildlife. (So that’s what happened to our missing suitcase.)

The Commission proposed to open the 78-81 GHz band to FOD-detecting radar two years ago.  This frequency band has long been allocated for radar, along with radio astronomy and a few other uses, but had not been listed in the FCC rules as being available for non-federal radiolocation operations (such as FOD detection technology). Now it is.

The impetus for this change was a proposal from a company called Trex Enterprises Corporation, which had developed FOD-detecting radar for the 78-81 GHz band.  Three years ago Trex requested a rule change to permit use of its technology.  The FCC asked for comments on whether the rules should be amended to expressly permit such use, and if so, whether on a licensed or unlicensed basis.  It also asked whether radar use of the band should be limited to FOD detection. The FCC granted Trex a waiver to deploy its equipment pending the rulemaking.

The answers: the 78-81 GHz will be available for radiolocation, but for FOD only, and only on a licensed basis.  (In a separate proceeding the FCC will continue to consider whether to authorize unlicensed radar operations for other applications in a number of bands, including this band.)

Continue Reading...

Update: Comment Deadlines Set in Government/Private Sector Spectrum Sharing Proceeding

In May we reported on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) looking to alter the way in which certain spectrum is to be shared between the government and private users. The NPRM has made it into the Federal Register, so we now know what the comment deadlines are. Comments may be filed by August 30, 2013, and replies by September 30.

Update: Deadlines Set for Reponses to Reconsideration Petitions in Experimental Licensing Proceeding

Several weeks ago we reported on the filing of several petitions seeking reconsideration of the FCC’s order from last January expanding the scope of experimental licenses. The public notice announcing those petitions has now appeared in the Federal Register, so we know the deadlines for oppositions (that would be July 16, 2013) and replies (that would be July 26) relative to any or all of those petitions.

Google Becomes Third "White Space" Coordinator to Win Approval

Google joins Spectrum Bridge and Telcordia in the ranks of “approved” database coordinators.

Providing us with the first test of our recently announced approach to further developments on the white space database administrator front, the FCC has approved Google’s system.  We have updated our table accordingly. 


Test Started

Test Finished; Comments Sought

Coordinator Approved



Frequency Finder Inc.


Google Inc.

Feb. 27, 2013

May 29, 2013

June 28, 2013

LS telecom AG

June 18, 2013


Key Bridge Global LLC

March 4, 2013

May 29, 2013


Microsoft Corp.


Neustar Inc.


Spectrum Bridge Inc.

Sept. 14, 2011

Nov. 10, 2011

Dec. 22, 2011

Telcordia Technologies

Dec. 2, 2011

Feb. 1, 2012

March 26, 2012



Fifth "White Space" Coordinator Begins Tests

LS telcom AG seeks to join the two coordinators operating and two others awaiting approval.

TV “white space” devices operate on TV channels that are vacant in a given area. (On a map of frequency usage, these areas show up in white; hence the name.)

These devices must avoid causing interference to active TV stations, certain wireless microphones, and certain TV reception sites. To accomplish this, most are required to consult a complex and changing database that shows where they can safely operate.

The FCC has identified ten administrators for the database, expected to operate competitively. Before receiving FCC approval, each candidate must run a live test of its operations, submit test reports to the FCC, and survive public comment.

We here in the CommLawBlog bunker have covered developments on the white space database coordination front for several years. Most recently, those developments have been somewhat repetitive and our posts were all starting to look the same. We tried to mix things up a bit with poetry (limericks! a haiku!) . . . but soon found the limit to our poetic abilities.

So here’s what we plan to do going forward.

Continue Reading...

Critical Infrastructure Proponents Seek Review of 14 GHz Turndown

Pleading asks full Commission to reverse decision of three bureaus.

We reported in May that three of the FCC’s bureaus turned down, after five years, a Petition for Rulemaking from the Utilities Telecom Council and Winchester Cator, LLC that asked the FCC to open the 14.0-14.5 GHz band for terrestrial point-to-point and point-to-multipoint critical infrastructure communications. It is probably not a coincidence that the FCC, just a few days before the rejection, had proposed use of this same band for air-ground broadband systems to facilitate Internet service for airplane passengers.

UTC and Winchester Cator have now filed an Application for Review asking the full Commission to reverse the bureaus’ decision. Comments are due on July 1, 2013 and reply comments on July 11.

5 GHz Reply Date Extended

Reply comments in the proceeding on 5 GHz unlicensed operation are now due July 24.

In February we reported on an FCC proposal that would not only add new 5 GHz frequencies but also overhaul – maybe even simplify – a confusing stretch of the rules. One possible upshot would be the opening up of 195 MHz of spectrum for Wi-Fi-type operation.

Comments were filed on May 28. The FCC has extended the date for reply comments, originally June 24, to July 24.

Raisin' Defenses at the FCC

A Supreme Court case offers a possible route to appealing a forfeiture without having to pay it first.

A pair of California raisin farmers might have made it easier to challenge an FCC forfeiture.

A party dinged with a forfeiture that it thinks is unfair now has two options under the Communications Act. One is to challenge the forfeiture order directly in the Court of Appeals. The problem with that approach is that, as a condition to getting into the Court of Appeals, the challenger must first pay the forfeiture. Since forfeitures can reach up into six and seven figures and, let’s face it, not everyone has that much spare cash lying around, that condition poses a serious disincentive to direct appeals.

The other option is to not pay the forfeiture and wait for the FCC (assisted by their friends from the Department of Justice) to bring suit in your nearest federal District Court. In that case, the burden is on the government to prove that you are in fact really liable for the forfeiture, which gives you an arguable advantage going in. But at least one appellate court has held that a party choosing this option is not allowed to raise the full panoply of defenses that might normally be available in challenging the forfeiture.

What does this have to do with raisins?

Continue Reading...

Update: Reconsideration Sought in Experimental Licensing Order

Three petitions seek minor adjustments to rules.

The FCC’s order from last January expanding the scope of experimental licenses has drawn three petitions for reconsideration. Considering the broad reach of the order, the fact that only three were filed is a testament to the FCC’s foresight.

Sirius XM Radio and EchoStar Technologies, which provide satellite services to the public, seek a clarification and expansion of the term “emergency notifications,” the bands for which receive special protection from experimental licensees.

Medtronic, Inc., which develops medical devices, wants expanded eligibility for Medical Testing Experimental Radio Licenses to include all sponsors and sponsor-investigators as defined by the FDA, and requests a clarification that cost reimbursement for clinical trials is not a violation of the equipment marketing rules.

Our friend Michael Marcus of Marcus Spectrum Solutions LLC wants the “passive bands,” including those used for radio astronomy, made available to experimental licensees at frequencies above 100 GHz.

The FCC has put these on public notice. Comment due dates must await publication in the Federal Register. Watch this space.

Effective Date of Revised "Auditory Assistance Device" Rules Set

Last month we reported on an FCC decision to allow the use of Auditory Assistance Devices for simultaneous language translation. That decision – which involved some technical rule changes as well as the expansion of permissible uses to include translation – has now been published in the Federal Register, which means that the effective date of the new rules has been established. That effective date is July 11, 2013.  Use of 72-76 MHz band devices for language translation will be permitted as of that date.  The technical rule changes -- which require compliance with tighter out-of-band emission limits -- will apply to new equipment certification applications filed on or after January 11, 2015, and to importation, marketing and installation on or after July 11, 2016.

Update: Comment Periods in Receiver Standards Inquiry Extended

Last month we noted that the FCC (through its Office of Engineering and Technology) had requested comment on a white paper concerning technical standards for radio receivers, produced by its Technological Advisory Committee and entitled “Interference Limits Policy: The use of harm claim thresholds to improve the interference tolerance of wireless systems.” The basic idea is to add flexibility to the notion of “interference” from a nearby band.

The questions posed in the white paper are a matter of potentially major consequence. Probably because of that, three entities that have occasionally found themselves at odds on a number of substantive regulatory issues found common ground here, at least with respect to the need for more time to respond to the FCC’s invitation for comments: the National Association of Broadcasters, the Consumer Electronics Association, and the GPS Innovation Alliance filed a joint request for more time. 

That request has been granted. As a result, comments are now due by July 22, 2013 and reply comments by August 7.

FCC Authorizes Progeny over Part 15 Objections

Location service company is deemed to have satisfied the requirement that it not cause unacceptable interference to unlicensed devices.

The FCC has authorized Progeny LMS, LLC to begin commercial operation of its Location and Monitoring Service (LMS) network. Progeny’s system uses part of the 902-928 MHz band, which is heavily occupied by unlicensed devices regulated under Part 15 of the FCC rules. The FCC action came over vigorous objection from the companies that make and use Part 15 equipment.

“So what?” knowledgeable readers will ask. After all, unlicensed devices always have to accept interference from licensed services like LMS.

Not quite always. When the FCC authorized LMS back in 1995, the 902-928 MHz band was already home to a very large array of unlicensed devices serving both consumers and industry. (Their number, variety, and importance have increased many-fold in the years since.) To ensure that LMS did not obliterate unlicensed usage, the FCC adopted a unique rule: certain LMS licenses are “conditioned upon the licensee’s ability to demonstrate through actual field tests that their systems do not cause unacceptable levels of interference to [Part 15] devices.”

Fast forward to 2011, when LMS licensee Progeny requested and was granted a waiver that permitted one-way service and the location of assets other than vehicles. The waiver grant re-triggered the field testing requirement. Progeny conducted four sets of tests and submitted the results to the FCC, which then duly requested comments about the results. Providers of unlicensed wireless Internet service and manufacturers of unlicensed automatic meter reading equipment – both of which require reliable operation – challenged the conclusions. They claimed the tests used too few unlicensed devices, non-representative devices, and conditions artificially rigged to understate interference.

Continue Reading...

Health Effects of Radio Waves: Effective Date of New Rules Set, Also Comment Deadlines

Back in April we reported on the FCC’s most recent foray into the thorny issue of health effects of radio waves. The FCC adopted minor tweaks to its existing rules, proposed further tweaks, and sought comments on broader issues, including the controversial question of whether the current radio-frequency exposure limits are safe, and if not, what they should be.

The document has now been published in the Federal Register, in two separate parts. The first part sets out the newly adopted rules; the second part poses the questions on which the Commission has requested comment.

Publication in the Federal Register establishes both (a) the effective date of the rule changes that were adopted and (b) the deadlines for comments on the out-for-comment questions. The adopted changes will become effective on August 5, 2013. Comments will be due on September 3, 2013, and reply comments on November 1.

FCC Bars Transfer of New Kinds of Experimental License

The task of ascertaining eligibility is sufficiently complex that the FCC would rather start fresh with an application for a new license.

Last February, when the FCC overhauled its rules to create new kinds of experimental licenses, it omitted mention of whether the licenses could be transferred to another party, as by assignment or transfer of control. Now the FCC has spoken. The answer is no.

The February order set up three new categories:

  • "program experimental licenses" for certain colleges and universities, research laboratories, manufacturers, and health care institutions;
  • "compliance testing licenses" for FCC-recognized test labs; and
  • "medical testing licenses" for health care facilities conducting clinical trials of wireless medical technologies.

Each of these categories has its own stringent standards for eligibility. None has yet taken effect, pending approval by the Office of Management and Budget. (The FCC left unchanged the current species of experimental license, which is available to pretty much anyone.)

The FCC has now decided that licenses in the three new categories may not be assigned or transferred. The task of ascertaining eligibility is sufficiently complex that the FCC would rather start fresh with an application for a new license.

The ruling sets up a potentially deadly trap for companies that acquire others, or that transfer technology-related assets. Ordinarily the two companies’ lawyers go through a well-worn routine of filing requests to assign or transfer two-way radio licenses, FCC certifications, and various other commonplace authorizations. (Transactions involving broadcast, satellite, and some wireless licenses are more complex.) Now, though the acquiring company may have to take on the additional step of applying anew for its own program experimental, compliance testing, or medical testing license. Processing at the FCC may take time. Worse, we can foresee situations in which the acquiring company may not qualify for the license.

Our best advice: plan ahead.

LoPo TV Warning: White Space Devices Are Coming - Have You Updated Your CDBS Information?

Special CDBS website unveiled as FCC tries to help rebroadcasting low power stations secure the protection to which they’re entitled.

If you’re the licensee of an LPTV or a TV Translator or a Class A TV station – collectively for our purposes here, “low power stations” – that rebroadcasts the over-the-air signal of another station, the FCC’s trying to help you out.   In the near future, TV white space devices will take to the air, creating a potential source of interference to your ability to receive the signals you rebroadcast. As the FCC proceeds with tests of databases to control those white space devices, it has simplified the steps necessary to ensure the protection to which you are entitled from those devices.

White space devices, as we hope you know by now, operate in locally vacant TV channels. They are required to protect not only household TV reception but also various other facilities, including some (but not all) low power stations that rebroadcast the signals of other TV stations. These stations receive two kinds of protection. White space devices (except for those at very low power) are not permitted to operate inside or close to the stations’ service contours – a matter not at issue here. Also protected, and the subject of this post, are the receivers these stations use to pick up the signal of the originating station for rebroadcast.

White space devices will have to consult a special database to identify available channels. That database in turn will draw on CDBS to identify low-power stations whose receivers are entitled to protection.

A public notice announces a special web page at which qualifying stations can register their receiver channels into the FCC’s CDBS system.

For protection purposes, low power stations fall into one of three distinct situations:

Continue Reading...

White Space Database Update

The FCC requests comment on white space database tests recently conducted by Google, Inc. and Key Bridge Global LLC.

In separate public notices, the FCC has asked for comment on white space database tests recently conducted by Google, Inc. and Key Bridge Global LLC. (The FCC paperwork misidentifies the second company as "Keybridge Global Inc.") Their respective test reports are here and here. Mark your scorecards: once approved, these will be database managers numbers 3 and 4.

Prior CommLawBlog entries on these tests are here and here.

Comments on both tests are due on June 13, 2013 and reply comments in June 20.

For background on the databases and what they do, see this article.

[Blogmeister’s Note: In keeping with the practice we introduced with our last white space database post, we have sought to capture the essence of these recent developments poetically:

An FCC Haiku to the Public

Key Bridge and Google
filed database test reports.
Comments?  We’re all ears.]

The FCC Asks: Should Government and Private Users Share Radio Facilities?

Proposals for satellite and space operations call for new commingling of spectrum operations.

This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) looks to alter the way in which certain spectrum is to be shared between the government and private users.  At first glance it is about as tedious and picky as anything coming out of the FCC. But it may signal the beginning of the end of a basic tenet of U.S. spectrum management.

Radio spectrum is allocated separately for federal and non-federal use. Take a look at the official Table of Frequency Allocations (or type a frequency into this unofficial but easier-to-use version). Notice the separate federal and non-federal entries. Federal spectrum is regulated by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) through its Office of Spectrum Management. Non-federal spectrum, also called “private” or “commercial,” comes under the jurisdiction of the FCC. To be sure, some spectrum is allocated jointly for federal and private use, regulated by the two agencies acting cooperatively. But even then, NTIA manages federal users operating federal equipment, while the FCC oversees private users working with private equipment.

The federal-private distinction, basic to the statutory scheme of U.S. communications law, has worked successfully for decades. Now, though, it is starting to come unglued.

Continue Reading...

FCC Turns Down Use of 14.0-14.5 GHz for Critical Infrastructure Communications

Rulemaking petition denied on grounds relating to auction, interference and frequency coordination.

The Wireless and International Bureaus and the Office of Engineering and Technology (Bureaus) have denied a 2008 petition by the Utilities Telecom Council and Winchester Cator, LLC that asked the Commission to open the 14.0-14.5 GHz band for terrestrial point-to-point and point-to-multipoint communications. The requested allocation would have served critical infrastructure industries, including electric utilities and emergency responders. Other services would have been permitted on a preemptible basis.

The Bureaus disagreed with the petition’s argument that the band could be licensed without an auction. They also had concerns about interference into fixed satellite uplinks, which are primary in the band, and expressed doubts as to whether the proposed single-entity frequency coordinator could identify and resolve any interference issues that occurred. The Bureaus pointed out many bands the utilities industry could use instead, and also noted its access to “an extensive physical network” that could support wired infrastructure.

Based on these considerations, the Bureaus concluded that the petition “plainly [does] not warrant consideration by the Commission.” That strikes us as little harsh. Had the Bureaus wanted to move forward, they plausibly could have raised each objection instead as a question in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Not mentioned in the turn-down is another possible reason for its issuance: a recently proposed use of this same band for air-ground broadband systems to facilitate Internet service for airplane passengers. We mentioned earlier that the air-ground proposal could put the kibosh on critical infrastructure communications. Perhaps the FCC judged that the two systems could not coexist, and has now made its choice between them.

FCC Seeks Comment on Receiver Standards - Again

Request reopens matter laid to rest just six years ago.

The FCC has reopened the difficult question of technical standards for radio receivers.

Everyone agrees that poor receivers impair efficient use of spectrum. In particular, receivers that respond to a wider swath of frequencies than necessary can receive interference from unwanted signals close by the intended signal. Just ask LightSquared, whose plans to use mobile satellite frequencies on terrestrial towers failed because its signal was close enough to GPS frequencies to overpower some GPS receivers.

Less selective, more interference-prone receivers are cheaper to manufacture. Market forces are not much help because a more selective (and hence more expensive) receiver is rarely of immediate benefit to the purchaser. The improved receiver does benefit other users seeking to operate on frequencies nearby, as better GPS receivers would have benefited LightSquared. But the manufacturer gains no competitive advantage to offset the higher price. So manufacturers, especially of consumer equipment, tend to supply the least selective (and least expensive) receivers that will work in the current spectrum environment.

A situation like this, where market forces act against the public good, is a classic set-up for regulation.

The FCC tried. Just over ten years ago it issued a Notice of Inquiry on whether to include “receiver interference immunity performance specifications” in its rules. After sifting through sixty-odd comments, and then waiting a few years, the FCC terminated the proceeding in a terse one-pager.

Now the issue is back.

Continue Reading...

Help for the Language-Impaired

Definition of  “Auditory Assistance Device” expanded to permit equipment for language translation.

Back in September of 2011, we posted about a proposed change to the FCC’s rules to allow the use of unlicensed auditory assistance devices  (AADs) for simultaneous language translation. The FCC has now implemented that change, and more.

AADs allow hard-of-hearing people to participate in events together with people with normal hearing in settings like classrooms, theaters, and houses of worship. A low-power radio transmitter sends sound to the user’s receiver, which amplifies the sound and delivers it to headphones without disturbing non-users in the room. Sound quality is much better than with a conventional hearing aid because the microphone is closer to the source. In some venues, AADs are required by disability laws. Personal systems are also permitted for those who want and can afford them.

AADs operate in the 72-76 MHz band under Part 15 of the Commission’s rules, which means they do not need an FCC license. The relevant definition has heretofore limited them to applications for providing auditory assistance to “handicapped persons.” But no longer.

Continue Reading...

Update: Equipment Certification Overhaul Comment Deadlines Set

In February we reported on the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to revamp its equipment certification process. That notice has now hit the Federal Register. As a result, we now have the deadlines for comments and reply comments in response to the notice. Comments are due by June 17, 2013, and replies by July 17.

Update: Effective Date Set for New Experimental Radio Rules

A couple of months ago we reported on the FCC’s overhaul of its experimental radio rules. The Report and Order detailing that overhaul has now appeared in the Federal Register, which means that many, but not all, of the new rules will take effect on May 29, 2013. As indicated in our initial post, though, a bunch of the new rules involve “information collections” which will have to be run past the Office of Management and Budget for its approval before they can take effect. (Which sections are OMB-bound? Many of the ones that really matter: Sections 2.803(c)(2), 5.59, 5.61, 5.63, 5.64, 5.65, 5.73, 5.79, 5.81, 5.107, 5.115, 5.121, 5.123, 5.205, 5.207, 5.217(b), 5.307, 5.308, 5.309, 5.311, 5.404, 5.405, 5.406, 5.504, and 5.602.) OMB approval usually takes a few months. Check back here for updates.

FCC Enforces Against Owner of a Well Pump

Non-radio device causes interference to amateur radio communications.

The FCC has cited the owner of a “well pump” for causing harmful interference to radio communications.

Wait – a well pump? A machine that brings up water from a well? What makes the FCC think it has jurisdiction over pumps? Next, they’ll be regulating the bathroom fixtures.

The truth is, some of the greatest interference threats to radio communications come not from radio equipment, but from electrical devices such as elevator motors, photocopy machines, vehicle ignitions, and even fluorescent lighting. The FCC closely regulates radio transmitters and digital devices to limit the interference they can cause. You would think the FCC would also regulate the more important sources of interference.

It turns out they do. Just not very often.

The FCC rules lay out three categories of unlicensed devices: 

  • “intentional radiators,” which intentionally generate and emit radio signals – the things most people call “transmitters”;
  • “unintentional radiators,” which intentionally generate radio-frequency energy for use within the device, but do not intentionally emit that energy – including all digital devices and most kinds of receivers; and
  • of interest here, “incidental radiators,” which generate and emit radio-frequency energy, although not intended to do either – such as the examples listed above.

This last category is subject to two FCC rules. One requires manufacturers to use “good engineering practices” to minimize the risk of causing harmful interference to radio communications. This rule is widely ignored. The other rule says that operation of any unlicensed device, including an incidental radiator, may not cause harmful interference to an authorized radio service. As to incidental radiators, this rule is also widely ignored. Just ask Ruben D. Lopez, Jr. of Pomona Park, FL, who ignored it at his peril.

Continue Reading...

FCC Reaffirms Broadband-over-Power-Line Rules

New order ends long-running FCC proceeding – we think.

The FCC has denied ARRL’s request for reconsideration of the Broadband-over-Power-Line (BPL) rules.

We can hear you asking, “What, again?”

ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio, has opposed BPL since its inception ten years ago. The FCC has ruled against ARRL and for BPL at every opportunity.

As you might expect from the name, BPL is a technology for moving broadband signals over electric power lines. Its operation entails putting radio-frequency signals on the overhead or underground wires that deliver electric service. Some of that energy leaks off the overhead wires, or connections to underground wires, in the form of radio waves. Depending on the BPL provider, some of the leaked energy may fall in the amateur radio bands. The amateurs claim this leakage has the potential to cause massive, city-wide interference of amateur communications. BPL providers counter that conditions the FCC has imposed on BPL, unprecedented elsewhere in the FCC rules, are more than adequate to protect amateur radio against any realistic risk of interference.

The FCC has consistently refused to impose the condition the amateur want most: a requirement that BPL providers “notch,” or turn down, the power by a factor of 300 in all of the amateur bands, all of the time.

Continue Reading...

Update: Comment Deadlines Set in U-NII 5 GHz Rulemaking

In February we reported on an FCC proposal that would not only add new 5 GHz frequencies but also overhaul – maybe even simplify – a particularly confusing stretch of the rules. One possible upshot would be the opening up of 195 MHz of spectrum for Wi-Fi-type operation.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) has now been published in the Federal Register which, as our regular readers know, establishes the relevant filing deadlines. Comments in response to the NPRM are due to be filed by May 28, 2013, and replies by June 24.

Update: New "Grantee Codes" to be Issued as of May 1, 2013

In June of last year, we reported that the FCC had decided to begin using five-character “grantee codes” in connection with its equipment certifications. (The problem was that the Commission was running out of the three-character codes it had historically used.) It took a couple of months for that decision to become technically “effective”. And, apparently, it has taken yet another eight months actually to implement the new format.

We know that because the Commission’s Office of Engineering and Technology, which is in charge of the equipment certification program, has announced that it’s going to start issuing five-character grantee codes as of May 1, 2013. From that date on, grantee codes – also known as FCC identifiers or FCC ID’s – will consist of “an Arabic numeral between two and nine followed by four alphanumeric characters (capital letters or Arabic numerals between two and nine).” Check out our post from last June for more information.

FCC Looks at Health Effects of Radio Waves

In a Notice of Inquiry, the FCC proposes to reopen the controversial question of radiofrequency exposure limits.

Do cell phones cause cancer?

Those on both sides of the question will carefully parse the FCC’s 201-page “First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making and Notice Of Inquiry,” as the agency wades again into one of its murkiest controversies: what effect do radio waves have on health?

The FCC has had rules limiting RF (radiofrequency) exposure for decades. Other bodies recommend numerical exposure limits, that being outside the FCC’s expertise. The FCC nevertheless decides which recommendations to adopt, what kinds of transmitters must be tested for compliance, and how those tests are to be carried out.

The proper limits for safe exposure are a matter of considerable debate – a debate that helped to prompt the FCC’s current action. The question is controversial in part because of disagreement over how radio waves affect bodily tissue.

Continue Reading...

FCC Announces Restoration of Media Bureau

The Media Bureau is back! Did YOU miss it? WE did.

Looks like the successful hack of the FCC’s computer network in September, 2011 – which we reported on back in February – may have been more intrusive than the government has let on so far. In an unusual public notice, the FCC has acknowledged that the entire Media Bureau apparently went missing sometime in the late summer/early fall of 2011. The agency’s internal computer records reflect that, as of October 1, 2011, all traces of the Media Bureau – historically one of the hardest working and most productive operations within the agency – had been purged from all Commission systems.

As a result, there have been no references to the Bureau on the FCC’s website for the last 18 months or so. The disappearance was apparently not noticed by visitors to the website. We’re guessing that that’s because, thanks to the redesign of the site, those seeking the Media Bureau pages generally gave up in frustration, assuming that the Bureau’s pages (a) were there somewhere, but (b) had been buried so deeply behind various blogs, dashboards, consumer notices and other higher priority matters that they could not, as a practical matter, be located through routine search techniques. (Vestigial cached versions of Bureau materials, including some CDBS records, apparently remained accessible from some computers external to the FCC’s systems, creating the comfortable illusion within the private sector that all systems were still go and things were still Business As Usual within the Bureau.)

While the Commission’s notice stops short of explaining exactly what happened, there’s plenty of solid information from which we might cobble together a reasonable theory.

Continue Reading...

Fourth "White Space" Database Coordinator Tees Up Tests

Next up is Key Bridge Global LLC.

Add Key Bridge Global LLC to the list of TV “white space” database coordinators ready for testing. White space systems, we all know, operate in locally vacant TV spectrum; most must consult a database of other users to avoid causing interference. Of the ten FCC-approved coordinators eligible to provide access to the database, Spectrum Bridge, Inc. and Telcordia Technologies, Inc. have successfully completed their tests and are authorized to support white space devices nationwide, while Google and now Key Bridge Global are in the test preparation phase.

We will keep on keeping track.

[Blogmeister’s Note: As much as we here at CommLawBlog enjoy keeping everybody up-to-date on doings at the FCC, there are limits. Since the FCC started implementing its white space database coordination process, we’ve reported on the appointments of nine -- and then a tenth -- database administrators, three test launches, two requests for public comment on test results, and two final approvals. This post marks the fourth test launch. They are all starting to look the same.

We’re happy to keep reporting as we have done but, frankly, the repetition gets a bit tedious. So we offer here an alternative approach: limericks! 

Here are some examples. We encourage our readers to try their hand, too – submit them as comments. (Nothing X-rated, please.) We’ll post them without criticism. Honest.

Key Bridge Global Authorized to Test

Said the FCC Chief Engineer
To Key Bridge: "Do your test, do you hear?
Just prove you comply --
No, there’s no second try.
Get it right, or you’re out on your rear."

Summary of the White Space Coordination Program To Date

The FCC said to the nation:
We’ve settled on this delegation –
Just ten firms – no more –
That will take on the chore
Of inputting white space co’rdination.

Spectrum Bridge, Inc. became number one.
Telcordia’s next in the sun,
And then Google was blessed
With permission to test . . .
But the FCC still wasn’t done.

Next in line: Key Bridge LLC Global
Coordinates fixed and, yes, mobile
Devices that choose
Just what spectrum to use
And with no interference – that’s no bull.

The Commission has clearly mandated
That each of the firms designated
Will assure straightaway
That white spaces will stay
Non-color co-ordinated.]

TV "White Space" Devices Go Nationwide

New action follows December roll-out to eastern states.

TV “white space” devices, which operate on an unlicensed basis in locally vacant TV spectrum, are now authorized nationwide. This is pretty fast, by Government standards; just last December the FCC okayed the first large-scale roll-out to seven eastern states plus Washington, D.C. The class of approved coordinators for the database these devices rely on to find open channels is growing much more slowly. Also growing slowly is the number of FCC-approved devices that can use the service; we count just five so far.

Update: Reply Deadline Extended in 3.5 GHz Proceeding

Postponement allows time after March 13 workshop.

Last December we reported on a proceeding that proposes novel spectrum management techniques to accommodate small cell operation in the 3.55-3.65 GHz band.

The FCC has moved back the due date for reply comments until April 5. This will allow time for reflection following the FCC’s public workshop on the 3.5 GHz issues to be held on March 13.

Third "White Space" Database Coordinator to Begin Tests

Google is up next; seven more to come.

Unlicensed “white space” devices, which operate in locally vacant TV spectrum, rely on a database of other users to avoid causing interference. The FCC has approved ten coordinators to provide access to the database, and has completed tests on two: Spectrum Bridge, Inc. and Telcordia Technologies, Inc. The FCC subsequently authorized white space operation over much of the eastern United States.

Now the FCC has announced tests of a third provider, a relative unknown called Google Inc. The 45-day public trial will begin on March 4. Details are here. We will let you know the results.

Seven more to go.

FCC Proposes to Simplify and Expand Unlicensed 5 GHz Use

Suggested rules would combine and harmonize the rules for various sub-bands, and open another 195 MHz for Wi-Fi-type operation

Blame it all on Congress. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, best known for extending the since-expired payroll tax cuts, took just a few lines for that task, but continued on for another hundred pages of unrelated legislation. The statute has been good for CommLawBlog; we reported on incentive auctions, microwave issues, 911 implementation, and lots more. Now the FCC has responded to yet another mandate in the act: to expand unlicensed operations in the 5 GHz band.

But the FCC is doing more: it has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking  (NPRM) that would not only add new 5 GHz frequencies but also overhaul and (we hope) simplify a particularly confusing stretch of the rules. We will touch on that first, and then take up the proposed expansion.

It is hard to overstate the importance of having enough unlicensed spectrum. The vast majority of radio transmitters in use today are unlicensed. We would be hard pressed to get along without Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cordless phones, nursery monitors, automatic toll payment, automatic braking in cars, and myriad other such consumer conveniences. Industry as well relies on unlicensed communications and, increasingly, on unlicensed radar. Equally important, though less often mentioned, is the importance of unlicensed spectrum as a technology test bed. Licensed frequencies, if auctioned, are usually too expensive to risk on untried technology, while non-auctioned, site-licensed spectrum is governed by technical rules so restrictive as to preclude experimentation. Much innovation benefits from the technical flexibility inherent in the FCC’s unlicensed rules.

Continue Reading...

Ain't No Sunshine: Introducing "The Federal Communications Commission Collaboration Act of 2013"

[Blogmeister’s prologue: Kevin Goldberg has a second-to-none track record when it comes to defending the First Amendment and Open Government. Named the outstanding constitutional law student in his graduating class at the George Washington University Law School, he has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the District of Columbia Open Government Coalition, a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the National Press Foundation, a member of the Board of Directors of the Public Participation Project and the Chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the Media Law Resource Center. In 2006, Kevin was inducted into the National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame for his continued and superlative service in pursuit of open government. He is the youngest of the current 56 members in the Hall. When he has something to say about the public’s right to know, we listen. Kevin has something to say about the proposed “Federal Communications Commission Collaboration Act of 2013”.

We expect some of our readers may disagree with Kevin’s views, and we expressly invite those who do disagree to share their views with us in comments, or possibly even in a guest post.]

Nearly 50 years ago, Congress passed the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), giving all of us citizens access to the records of every executive branch agency (subject to nine very narrowly-construed exceptions). The FOIA embodies the fundamental premise that the public has a right to know how the government does the public’s business.

A decade later, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Congress passed the Government in the Sunshine Act (a/k/a the Sunshine Act), again seeking to ensure the public’s right to know. (In Congress’s words, “Government is and should be the servant of the people, and it should be fully accountable to them for the actions which it supposedly takes on their behalf.”) The Sunshine Act gives us all access to the meetings of certain executive branch agencies, much as the FOIA give us access to those agencies’ written records.

Maybe not for long, though, at least as far as the FCC is concerned.

Bills proposing the “Federal Communications Commission Collaboration Act of 2013” have been introduced in Congress – as S. 245 by Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and Dean Heller (R-NV) and H.R. 539 by Representatives  Anna Eshoo (D-CA), John Shimkus (R-IL), and Mike Doyle (D-PA). Under the bills’ provisions, FCC Commissioners would be allowed to engage in a significant amount of regulatory activity outside of the public’s view.

Continue Reading...

FCC Proposes to Overhaul Equipment Certification Procedure

Changes would require accreditation of test labs, expand role for TCBs.

This item will interest only a small fraction of our audience – but it will interest those people a great deal. If you test products for FCC compliance, or are responsible for having products tested, keep reading. Otherwise, you might enjoy this site instead.

The FCC’s extensive technical rules try to ensure, among other goals, that devices emitting radio-frequency energy do not cause interference to one another. The FCC enforces these rules through a set of “equipment authorization” procedures designed to confirm compliance before a covered device can be imported into or marketed in the United States. For the past quarter-century, the FCC has periodically streamlined the procedures and handed off authority to commercial providers. A new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking continues that trend.

The proposed changes would affect the “certification” procedure required for most mobile, portable, and unlicensed transmitters, LPFM transmitters, and a few other devices. As things stand today, a manufacturer or importer can have its product tested for compliance at any lab, subject only to the requirement that the lab have listed its facilities with the FCC. Some large companies maintain their own labs; most others rely on the hundreds of commercial labs worldwide. Compliance test results, along with photographs and specified technical information, go either to the FCC or to an FCC-authorized Telecommunications Certification Body (TCB). If all is in order, the FCC issues a certification, or the TCB does so on the FCC’s behalf.

Continue Reading...

FCC Overhauls Experimental Radio Rules

Offering more flexibility, the new rules are better suited to the current research and manufacturing environment.

The FCC is friendly to anyone who works on new radio technologies, whether a Ph.D. corporate researcher or a teenager making solder burns in his parents’ furniture. (A lot of the FCC engineers, we suspect, were once those teenagers.) The FCC carefully regulates radio equipment available for sale, but it also lets people build their own gear, either homebrew or from kits, with almost no regulation, and it encourages tinkering with new ideas.

Innovators who develop new radio-based products, even those ultimately meant to conform to the FCC’s technical rules, usually have to power up early models and prototypes that may not yet comply. In order to keep an eye on such activities, while still maximizing freedom in the lab, the FCC long ago set up the Experimental Radio Service. An inventor – or anyone – simply fills out a form with the location, the frequencies to be used, the power, and a few other details, and explains the purpose in a short paragraph. A few weeks later, the FCC sends a license.

The FCC has now rewritten these rules. The old form of experimental license remains available, but some new options appear as well. (Caution: the new rules depart substantially from those the FCC proposed back in 2010.) Among other changes, the new rules gather together the experimental provisions from other rule parts, including the Experimental Broadcast Stations formerly authorized under Part 74.

Continue Reading...

Brave New Spectrum World: Proposal Would Accommodate Many More Users in a Sensitive Band

The FCC has proposed an innovation that might vastly increase the ability of multiple users to share the same band.

The FCC has proposed a set of rules that look innocuous enough, and would apply only to a single, underused band. But they may herald a new way of managing spectrum – a suite of techniques having the potential to vastly increase the number of users that can share a given range of frequencies.

All of the radio spectrum is occupied – at least, all of the most useful parts, below about 60 gigahertz. But the demand for spectrum continues to increase. What the FCC needs most is a way to squeeze new users into spectrum that is already in use, without causing interference to either the incumbents or the newcomers.

Current spectrum management relies on “allocating” each band of frequencies to (usually) several categories of users. Those categories, in turn, come in three different priorities. Those designated as “secondary” may not cause harmful interference to, and must accept all interference from, those called “primary.” Unlicensed users, permitted in most bands, must protect all other users (except each other) from interference, and must accept all interference that comes their way. A few bands, like that used for GPS reception, have only one active user category; a few have as many as seven or eight. Three to five is about typical.

Yet even supposedly occupied spectrum is quiet in most places, for much of the time. Some services, like those using two-way radios, occupy their frequencies only sporadically; others, like some types of satellite earth stations, operate only at wide separated locations. All such users, however, vigorously resist letting others into their bands. A police officer at the scene of an accident, picking up his microphone to request an ambulance, hopes to find an empty channel to make the call. The satellite operator may want the option of installing earth stations at new locations, without interference from other kinds of transmitters nearby.

As we explain below, the FCC thinks it can fully protect all such users while still letting new entrants share the same frequencies.

Continue Reading...

FCC Approves "White Space" Devices in Eastern U.S.

New systems must protect many other services from interference.

Fully four years after adopting rules for unlicensed TV Band Devices (TVBDs), also called “white space” systems, the FCC has authorized roll-out beyond the two small test areas previously approved. Touted by advocates as “Wi-Fi on steroids,” TVBDs can now boot up in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, and North Carolina.

The FCC expects to extend authorization nationwide by mid-January.

TVBDs are required to avoid causing interference to multiple services: broadcast TV; fixed broadcast auxiliary service links; receive sites for TV translators, low power TVs, Class A TVs, and multichannel video programming distributors; public safety and private land mobile; offshore radio telephone; radio astronomy; and “low power auxiliary service,” which includes licensed (and some unlicensed) wireless microphones. 

The complexity of the TVBD rules results from the need to ensure that all of these services can operate unharmed. In many metropolitan areas having multiple TV channels and heavy use of wireless microphones, vacant spectrum for TVBDs is already scarce. The FCC’s ongoing plans to consolidate TV broadcasters onto fewer channels, so as to free up more spectrum for wireless use, will only make things worse.

Simultaneously with the spread of TVBDs into the Middle Atlantic states, the FCC expanded its registration program for wireless microphones from those same states out to the rest of the country, keeping the wireless mic registrations a step ahead of the TVBD roll-out.

FCC Launches Nationwide Registration of Wireless Microphones

Registration is needed to protect qualifying events from interference caused by TV Band Devices

The FCC has expanded its registration program for wireless microphones from the Middle Atlantic states to the rest of the country.   Registration helps to protect qualifying wireless microphones that operate in vacant TV channels from interference caused by TV Band Devices (TVBDs), also called “white space” systems, that likewise use vacant TV slots.

When the FCC established rules for TVBDs, it required those devices to avoid interfering not only with TV stations, but also with several other categories of equipment operating on TV frequencies. The most populous of those, by far, are the wireless microphones that are ubiquitous in TV, stage, and film production.

Most wireless microphones used in TV and films are licensed by the FCC.  Most others – including those used in stage shows, churches, and the FCC meeting room – operated illegally until January 2010, when the FCC authorized low-power models on an unlicensed basis by waiver. (As it considers whether to make those rules permanent, the FCC recently sought to update the record on wireless microphone issues generally.)

Two TV channels in every market are closed to TVBDs, so as to leave room for wireless microphones. Licensed wireless microphones needing additional channels are entitled to interference protection from TVBDs. So are unlicensed microphones on other channels, but only if used for major sporting events, live theatrical productions and shows, and similar occasions that require more microphones than the set-aside channels can accommodate.

To implement protection, qualified events must register in the database that controls which frequencies TVBDs can use at each location. The FCC has authorized the operation of TVBDs in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, and North Carolina, and expects nationwide authorization by mid-January. Those who distribute or use wireless microphones should make sure any needed registrations are in place before TVBDs are deployed in their vicinity.

The details of the registration process are available here. The conditions and procedures are complex; and the FCC cautions that most uses of unlicensed wireless microphone do not qualify for registration. We recommend planning ahead.

Update: Wireless Mic Comment Deadlines Extended Again

Not surprisingly, the FCC has extended the comment deadlines in the wireless microphone proceeding again. In that proceeding, of course, the Commission is looking into how best to accommodate wireless mics in the face of the dwindling amount of vacant television spectrum space on which those mics have historically been allowed to operate. We reported on the last extension just a couple of weeks ago. The goal of that first extension was to sync up the comment deadlines in the wireless mic proceeding with those in the Incentive Auction proceeding, since the latter is likely to have a significant impact on the former. 

But since then the Commission extended the comment periods in the Incentive Auction docket. To maintain the synchronicity between those deadlines and the wireless mic deadlines, the Commission has, on its own motion, moved the wireless mic deadlines as well. Comments are now due by January 25, 2013, and replies by March 12, 2013.

Update: Progeny vs. Unlicensed Users - Comment Periods Extended

We recently reported that the FCC had invited comments (and reply comments) with respect to test results that may show interference from Progeny LMS, LLC, a licensed provider in the 902-928 MHz band, into some of the myriad unlicensed devices in that same band. The invitation was issued on November 20, and provided that initial comments were to be filed by December 11, a scant three weeks later (with the long Thanksgiving weekend taking up a significant chunk of those three weeks).

The FCC has now extended the comment periods, but not by much. Progeny opposed any extension, but the Commission was persuaded that at least some additional time was warranted. As a result, comments are now due on December 21, 2012 (a whopping ten extra days) and reply comments on January 11, 2013. That latter date is curious because, in the text of the order, the Commission says that it’s “provid[ing] ten additional days for filing reply comments”. But since the original reply deadline was December 21, an extra ten days should have landed the deadline – if our math is correct – on December 31. Despite that, the order clearly specifies January 11 as the new reply deadline, which seems to constitute (again, if our math is correct) a 21-day extension. Let’s just assume that the Commission threw in the extra time in view of the intervening year-end holidays and leave it at that..

Update: Incentive Auction Comment Deadlines Extended

Overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of the Incentive Auction NPRM (which it took us six – count ‘em, six) separate posts to summarize)? No problem. Thanks to the NAB and CTIA-The Wireless Association®, who jointly requested more time, the FCC has extended the deadlines for comments on the NPRM. Mark your calendars: comments are now due by January 25, 2013, and reply comments are due by March 12.

Inside the Incentive Auction NPRM (Part 6): Reconfiguration for Wireless - The Final Step

[Blogmeister’s Note: This is the last in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series by clicking here. Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]

Once the “reverse” and “forward” auctions have both been completed and TV licenses have all been tucked away in their newly-compacted space, the fun will really begin for the Commission.

Once the “reverse” and “forward” auctions have been completed and the broadcast TV industry has been repacked, the FCC will finally be able to reconfigure the vacated UHF spectrum for mobile. But determining, now, precisely how that reconfiguration will ultimately look, then, poses a unique challenge in view of the number of unknowns currently in play.

Until the “reverse” auction is completed, questions will remain regarding the amount of spectrum that will be available for reconfiguration, the particular frequencies comprising that available spectrum, and the geographic locations covered by that spectrum. Therefore, the band plan described in the Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is more of a “framework” based on the expectation of cleared frequencies. In admirable bureaucratese, the NPRM describes its goal as “a band plan that balances flexibility with certainty.” 

The certainty includes proposing a fixed amount of downlink spectrum nationwide with uplink spectrum possibly varying in different geographic areas. The idea is to best utilize what are expected to be varying amounts of cleared spectrum in different geographic areas. By providing uniform downlink spectrum throughout all geographical areas, the Commission hopes to assure a more interoperable universe at the device level, where each mobile device can use the same receive filters while the carriers’ base stations can be modified to allow for multiple uplink spectrum signals. A level of interoperability at the device level is expected to lead to lower device costs while allowing for greater economies of scale. 

Consistent with the uncertainties surrounding the final reconfiguration process, the Commission advises that its general “focus” is on five “key policy goals”, to wit: utility, certainty, interchangeability, quantity, and interoperability.

Continue Reading...

Inside the Incentive Auction NPRM (Part 5): The "Forward" Auction

[Blogmeister’s Note: This is another in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series by clicking here.Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]

The “forward” auction to be used to dole out reconfigured spectrum to wireless operators may seem traditional, but watch out. 

If the “reverse” auction designed to clear TV broadcasters out of large chunks of their current spectrum isn’t complicated enough, consider the “forward” auction. That’s the component of the Incentive Auctions in which hopeful wireless licensees will bid on the to-be-vacated spectrum sight unseen at the same time that the spectrum is being cleared. Because the availability of wireless licenses is dependent upon the results of the reverse auction in different geographic areas, wireless bidders won’t know exactly which spectrum band they’re bidding on or even whether any band will actually be available when the reverse auction is over. 

This double helix of descending bids on spectrum simultaneously coupled in sequential stages with parallel ascending bids on that same spectrum is audacious. But it is theoretically an efficient and quick way of re-assigning a precious resource.

Complexity in the computer age is not necessarily a deal breaker, but human (and computer) fallibility gives us some pause about this plan. Through the Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the Commission is still looking for input on its plan, so we can expect experts from the world of Academia to chime in knowledgeably on the concept. 

In the meantime, we lay out here the Commission’s preliminary thoughts. The three basic auction design elements are: bid collection procedures, assignment procedures, and pricing.

Continue Reading...

Inside the Incentive Auction NPRM (Part 4): TV Repacking - The Practical Side

[Blogmeister’s Note: This is another in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series by clicking here. Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]

Once the final participants in the repacking of the TV band have been identified through the "reverse" auction process, the shuffling of stations necessary to accomplish the repacking will raise a number of practical considerations and conundrums. 

Once the auctions have been completed, the Commission and the TV industry will have to grapple with the practical implementation of repacking: who gets what channels, how will stations moving from one channel to another effectuate that transition, what (if any) reimbursement of transition costs will be available, and to whom. This phase of the process will affect all TV broadcasters, whether or not they opted to participate in the “reverse” auction.

 Initially, the post-transition channels to which full power and Class A station will be assigned will be determined by the FCC, without input from licensees. The Commission will use a software program to figure out the optimal way to squeeze the TV industry into the portion of the current TV band that will remain, post-auction, available for TV operations.   Although stations are not to be involuntarily moved from UHF to VHF, almost any other move will be fair game as long as it’s consistent with the auction results.  Licensees unhappy with whatever “new” channel they are assigned to will have very limited recourse: the Spectrum Act denies stations the right to protest modifications of their licenses (i.e, channel changes)imposed by the Commission to accomplish the repacking.

Re-licensing ProceduresOnce the Commission announces its repacked TV band, a number of procedural steps will have to be taken: as we all learned from the transition to DTV several years ago, it’s one thing for the FCC to specify where stations are supposed to operate on the spectrum; it’s an entirely different thing to get those stations up and running on the appointed channels.

Continue Reading...

FCC and GAO Back Current Licensing for Fixed Microwave

In separate reports to Congress, both agencies found high spectrum efficiency.

With all the work Congress has to do in averting fiscal cliffs, raising debt ceilings, and naming post offices, we were surprised they found time to look into whether fixed microwave spectrum is being used efficiently. Apparently no concern of national interest, no matter how obscure, escapes the attention of our lawmakers.

In passing the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, back in February, Congress tacked on questions to the FCC and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) about use of the 11, 18, and 23 GHz fixed microwave bands. Congress asked the FCC for the “rejection rate” in these bands – “rejection rate” being defined as the number and percentage of common carrier applications that are rejected due to spectrum congestion. Congress asked GAO whether current rules provide adequate incentive for efficient use of the spectrum, and whether the Government could maximize revenue by auctioning the bands.

We reported earlier on the statute, and subsequently, on the FCC’s public notice seeking advice on what to tell Congress.

Both agencies have now issued their reports.

Continue Reading...

Inside the Incentive Auction NPRM (Part 3): Doing More with Less - Repacking the TV Band

[Blogmeister’s Note: This is another in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series by clicking here. Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]

Whether or not you plan to participate in the “reverse” auction, if you’re a TV licensee, you should be aware of what the FCC has in mind for the spectrum around you.

It’s important to understand that the Incentive Auction program is merely a device designed to facilitate the “repacking” of the spectrum. That is, the FCC is dead-set on freeing up space for mobile broadband use in spectrum currently occupied by TV broadcast stations. In other words, many TV licensees can be expected to be moved off their current channels, whether voluntarily (through the “reverse” auction process) or by forced relocation. So while TV licensees not planning on participating in the “reverse” auction” may not be terribly concerned with the mechanics of submitting bids, all TV broadcasters need to pay attention to the FCC’s proposed approach to repacking the spectrum. 

Under the Spectrum Act, when the Commission relocates TV stations in its repacking efforts, it must take “all reasonable efforts” to preserve the “coverage area” and “population served” of every surviving full power or Class A station. For these purposes, “coverage area” and “population served” are to be determined using the methods set out by the Office of Engineering and Technology’s Bulletin No. 69 (OET-69). LPTV and translators station will receive no protection during the repacking process and will be subject to displacement by any relocated full power or Class A station, although the NPRM does request comment on some measures designed to help LPTV and translator stations survive in a post-auction world. 

As for full power and Class A stations, the Commission in the Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is looking to determine just what “coverage area” and “population” must be protected. Under OET-69, the term “coverage area” is not defined, but it is used synonymously with “service area” as that latter term is defined in Section 73.622(e) of the rules. While “coverage area” (or “service area”) does not account for interference from other stations, OET-69’s measurement of “population served” does, counting only population that is both within the “coverage area” and where the signal is not masked by interference.

Continue Reading...

Inside the Incentive Auction NPRM (Part 2): Who's Eligible for the "Reverse" Broadcast Auction?

[Blogmeister’s Note: This is another in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series by clicking here. Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]

Hint: Maybe fewer folks than you might have thought.

Who will be eligible to participate in the “reverse” spectrum auction? Not, it would appear, everybody who might want to.

As required by Congress in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (which the FCC prefers to refer to as the “Spectrum Act”), in its Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the Commission proposes significant eligibility limitations as far as the “reverse” auction goes.

First and probably most important, the only folks who could participate in the “reverse” auction would be licensees of full power and Class A television stations, both commercial and noncommercial. That automatically eliminates LPTV licensees and TV translator licensees.

But Class A licensees should not necessarily be breathing easily, particularly in light of the Commission’s recent attempts to downgrade a number of Class A stations to LPTV status.   The NPRM proposes that any station whose Class A status has been revoked by the Commission would not be eligible to participate in the auction, even if the order downgrading the station has not become final by the time of the auction. (Licensees who get downgraded can seek reconsideration or review of the decision to downgrade, thus avoiding finality and keeping alive – or so they hope – the possibility that the decision might be reversed during the appeals process. Under the FCC’s proposed eligibility criteria for the reverse auction, however, any effort to reverse a downgrade might be pointless if the auction, and consequent repacking, occurs before the downgraded station could be restored to Class A status.) 

There are some potential limiting considerations for full power licensees, too.

Continue Reading...

Inside the Incentive Auction NPRM (Part 1): The Overall Auction Design

[Blogmeister’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts describing the FCC’s Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can find all installments in this series as they are posted by clicking here. Contributors to this series include Dan Kirkpatrick, Rob Schill, Don Evans and Harry Cole.]

An overview of the FCC’s proposed approach to spectrum-clearing/spectrum-repopulating incentive auctions and some of the myriad factors at play in that process.

The Incentive Auctions are coming. No doubt about it. TV and Class A licensees will be given the opportunity to cash in in return for making some or all of their spectrum available for repurposing (the beneficiaries of the repurposing being wireless broadband operators). The innovative concept floated out two years ago in the National Broadband Plan is now targeted for implementation in 2014 . . . if about a million different moving parts all happen to align just right. 

Recently, Commission officials (including Commissioner Rosenworcel and Incentive Auction Task Force co-leader Gary Epstein) have emphasized the importance of making the auction process understandable and easy to participate in. As Rosenworcel put it, “[s]implicity is key . . . [A]t every structural juncture [of the auction design], a bias toward simplicity is crucial”. 

Perhaps. But that brings us to the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in which it lays out – over 140 pages of single-spaced text plus 26 pages of proposed rules plus 22 pages of additional appendices plus 15 pages of separate statements by the Commissioners plus a 20-page “Incentive Auction Rules Option and Discussion” – the agency’s thoughts on the Incentive Auctions’ design.

“Ease” and “simplicity” do not spring to mind as the reader slogs through the dense, highly technical NPRM.

Continue Reading...

Update: Progeny vs. Unlicensed Users - FCC Invites Public Comment

Potentially at stake: the utility of the 902-928 MHz band for unlicensed operations

We recently reported on test results that may show interference from Progeny LMS, LLC, a licensed provider in the 902-928 MHz band, into some of the myriad unlicensed devices in that same band.

The FCC has now asked for public comment on those test results.

Comments are due on December 11, 2012 and reply comments on December 21.

Update: Wireless Mic Comment Deadlines Extended

The comment deadlines have been extended in the FCC’s inquiry about how best to accommodate wireless microphones in the face of the dwindling amount of vacant television spectrum space on which those mics have historically been allowed to operate. The original comment deadline was the day before Thanksgiving, but that date has now been pushed back 30 days.  The extension was granted at the request of a number of parties who want to coordinate (a) their comments in the wireless mic proceeding with (b) their comments in the separate Incentive Auctions proceeding, which will have an impact on (among other things) accommodation of wireless mics in the repacked spectrum contemplated by the Incentive Auctions proposals.  Comments are now due by December 21, 2012, and replies by February 19, 2013 (the same deadlines as in the Incentive Auction proceeding).

FCC Upholds Surveillance Robots over Amateur Radio - Again

Order reaffirms right of police and fire departments to license robots.

Surveillance robot maker ReconRobotics, Inc. continues to prevail over the best efforts of the amateur radio community. Most recently, the FCC ruled against the amateurs in reaffirming the right of police and fire departments to license ReconRobotics’s robots for operational use.

Read here about the device, which runs around under remote control and sends video back to the operator. (We’d love to have one to play with here in the office.) It operates under an FCC waiver, granted over the objections of ARRL, the national association for amateur radio, and several individual amateur licensees. The amateurs had concerns about interference from the robot’s radio into their communications, and feared also they might be blamed if their operations cause interference to a robot. Having failed to block the waiver the first time, the amateurs asked the FCC to reconsider the grant, which the FCC declined to do.

Meanwhile, ARRL and one James Edwin Whedbee, an amateur licensee, asked the FCC to reject  a batch of several dozen license applications filed by police and fire departments for use of the robots. Their petitions recycled many of the same grounds on which ARRL had opposed the waiver. The FCC turned them down. ARRL and Whedbee both demanded reconsideration of that decision, while Whedbee went on alone to challenge a second batch of applications.

Some months later, Whedbee commendably reported to the FCC that, contrary to his earlier suspicions, in fact he had detected no interference from robot operations. He accordingly moved to withdraw all of his objections.

The FCC has now granted Whedbee’s requests to withdraw, and in the same order, turned down ARRL’s most recent request for reconsideration.

Is the saga over? Will first responders around the country now be able to use these life-saving devices without having to battle the amateurs every step of the way? Will CommLawBlog finally have to find something else to write about? We’ll let you know.

(Disclosure: FHH represents ReconRobotics, Inc. in these proceedings.)

LightSquared's Plan B, Out for Comment

LightSquared proposes to move its cell-type service away from GPS frequencies . . . and into a Weather Satellite Band.

The FCC has requested comment on a Petition for Rulemaking filed by LightSquared Subsidiary LLC seeking a new co-primary allocation permitting non-Federal terrestrial mobile use of the 1675-1680 MHz band.

You remember LightSquared – the company that wanted to deploy a tower-based wireless broadband network in the 1545-1555 MHz satellite downlink portion of the L Band, close to GPS frequencies. GPS users objected, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) which administers federal spectrum, decided GPS interference concerns could not be overcome, whereupon the FCC pulled LightSquared’s tentative authorization.

With its recent Petition for Rulemaking (and other documents filed in late September), LightSquared seeks a work-around to its GPS headache (and possibly a Hail Mary to resurrect the company, which is now in bankruptcy).

Continue Reading...

Tests Show Threat to 900 MHz Unlicensed Band . . . Or Do They?

Licensed provider and unlicensed users disagree on meaning of joint test results.

Most of us rely on multiple unlicensed radio transmitters around our home and office. In fact, most us carry several on our person: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on our phone, wireless earphones for the music player, the gizmo that unlocks our car from across the street, a building security card . . . All of these, plus the dozens more in most homes and offices, operate under stringent FCC rules. One of those rules says these devices must accept any radio-frequency interference that comes their way. The engineers who design the products know that, and are good at working around other transmitters in the same frequency range.

There is one exception to this rule: one kind of licensed transmitter is required to protect unlicensed devices against interference. These transmitters operate in the “Location and Monitoring Service” (LMS), which uses large parts of the 902-928 MHz band. That same band is also home to a vast array of unlicensed devices that are convenient around the home (like cordless phones and baby monitors), and vital to commerce and industry (like retail inventory systems and remote controls for construction cranes). LMS providers are uniquely required to show through field tests that their equipment will not cause “unacceptable levels of interference” to unlicensed operation. This special rule reflects the FCC’s judgment that unconstrained LMS poses an exceptional threat of interference to unlicensed devices.

Late last year the FCC granted a waiver to an LMS licensee, Progeny LMS, LLC, that eased back two of the LMS rules. As a condition of the waiver, the FCC required Progeny to test for interference into unlicensed devices. It then sought public comment on the test results. Progeny claimed the results showed little or no interference into unlicensed devices, but commercial users of those devices vehemently disagreed.

In response to an informal request from the FCC, Progeny has now conducted additional tests jointly with three major users of unlicensed equipment in the 902-928 MHz band: the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), whose members provide wireless Internet access, and Landis+Gyr and Itron, which both conduct automatic meter reading. (Links in the preceding sentence go to test reports filed with the FCC.)

As often happens in these cases, the parties disagree on how to interpret the data. 

Continue Reading...

Update: Comment Dates Set in Wireless Mic Inquiry

 We recently reported on the FCC’s inquiry about how best to accommodate wireless microphones in the face of the dwindling amount of vacant television spectrum space on which those mics have historically been allowed to operate. The Commission’s request for comments has now made it into the Federal Register, which as we all know by now establishes the relevant filing deadlines. Comments in response to the FCC’s request are due by November 21, 2012, and reply comments are due by December 12, 2012.

FCC Moves Against More Vendors of Cell Phone Jammers

New “jammer tip line” invites the public to turn in users and sellers of these devices.

Yes, we know you want a cell phone jammer.  We all do.  But you can’t have one.  They’re illegal.  One reason:  their range is difficult to control.  You want a jammer just to shut down the inane conversation next to you at Starbucks or on the bus.  But thanks to your jammer, a heart attack victim across the street, desperately trying to call for help on his cell phone, may get a screen saying, “No Service.”

The FCC worked hard to shut down dedicated websites that sell phone jammers.  Now it has turned its attention to sellers who try for a less conspicuous profile by selling through multi-purpose sites, particularly craigslist.com.  The rules bar the FCC from imposing a fine on a retailer, among other categories, without first issuing an official notice called a “citation” that describes the prohibited behavior, after which the retailer must re-offend before it becomes subject to the fine.  The FCC has taken that first step against 23 craigslist vendors by issuing citations to each.  Here is an example.  The full list is available here; scroll down.

The FCC also instituted a “jammer tip line” the public can use to turn in users and sellers of these devices.  Call 1-855-55-NOJAM or email to jammerinfo@fcc.gov.  And the FCC reissued an “Enforcement Advisory” that explains exactly what jamming equipment is illegal, and why.

So when the person next you in Starbucks or on the bus pulls out a cell phone and starts a long and pointless conversation, using a jammer is not a good option.  Instead, we recommend a long and angry glare.  Repeat as necessary.

FOIA Request Turns Up Info on Non-FCC-Compliant Transmitters.

Persistent sleuth Michael Marcus obtains, posts document shedding light on recurring interference to airport weather radars.

In our recent blog post about an AT&T wireless Internet service causing interference to an airport weather radar in Puerto Rico, we asked whether the FCC had charged AT&T with the wrong offense. Because the transmitter operated outside its FCC-certified frequency range (among other problems), the FCC determined it did not qualify for unlicensed operation, and so fined AT&T for not having a license – even though AT&T could not have obtained a license for that service.

Our friend Michael Marcus, a spectrum-savvy engineer (and former FCC official), asked a different question: how did the transmitter get to be operating on a non-certified frequency? Where most of us would be content to mull this over in our idle hours (if it occurred to us at all), Marcus is made of different stuff. He not only took the question to the highest reaches of the FCC, but managed to get some answers.

Modern radio transmitters, like most other modern devices, are controlled by software. The FCC recognizes a category of transmitters called “software defined radios,” or SDRs, which can be legally updated or modified by software changes, including those downloaded over the air. But most transmitters do not qualify as SDRs. Once certified by the FCC, their properties have to be locked in. The software is supposed to be secure against changes, particularly those that would take the transmitter out of compliance and lead to, say, interference to airport radar.

AT&T’s Puerto Rico transmitter was certified for operation over 5735-5840 MHz, but it was being operated at a frequency outside that range. Moreover, the transmitter lacked the required capability to listen for weather radar signals, and if it found them, to avoid the frequencies on which they occur – a feature called “dynamic frequency selection,” or DFS.

The transmitter was manufactured by Motorola, which knows how to comply with FCC technical rules. But the transmitter was non-compliant when FCC inspectors found it in operation – on a non-certified frequency and lacking DFS – in AT&T’s Puerto Rico system. Moreover, the FCC has identified other non-compliant transmitters operating in the same band. In every case we know of, the transmitter was made by Motorola, and all came from the same “Canopy” product line. 

What went wrong?

Continue Reading...

AT&T Fined for Not Having Unobtainable License

FCC action follows interference to airport weather radar.

The FCC has confirmed a fine of $25,000 against AT&T for operating a Wi-Fi-type device that caused interference to a weather radar at a Puerto Rico airport. Yes, it appears that AT&T slipped up. But we think the FCC fined it for the wrong offense.

The problem stems – as do many FCC problems – from the fact of an overcrowded spectrum. Almost every useful frequency is shared by multiple users. Part of the FCC’s job is to set priorities among them.

One such choke point occurs in the band at 5470-5725 MHz. Since 1998, the FCC has allowed relatively high-powered devices to use highly directional antennas in this region, all without a license. The band is popular among companies – called “wireless Internet service providers,” or WISPs – that provide Internet service to locations not easily reached by other broadband facilities.

A 2003 expansion of the band produced an overlap with frequencies also used for radars that detect “wind shear” near airports. This condition is potentially dangerous to aircraft flying close to the ground, as when approaching the runway to land, so the radars are important to flight safety. They operate at 5600-5650 MHz, squarely within the 5470-5725 MHz WISP band. The initial rules for WISPs (and other unlicensed users of the band) required devices to (a) sniff the air for radar signals, and (b) if those signals are found, to avoid the frequencies on which they occur  – a capability the FCC calls Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS). After interference occurred anyway, the FCC worked with device manufacturers and radar operators to clarify the rules. When some interference persisted, the FCC refrained from shutting down the WISPs, as it had a right to do, and instead sought the WISPs’ cooperation in heading off the problem.

Then came the AT&T event.

Continue Reading...

Wireless Mic Users - Listen Up!

The FCC wants help in squeezing more wireless microphones into ever-shrinking spectrum.

Traditional wireless microphones – the kind you see on TV, big stage shows, and in lecture halls and churches – operate on locally vacant TV channels. But those channels are becoming scarce. The FCC has asked for comment on how to accommodate these microphones in the future.

In the old days of analog TV, there were a lot of TV channels, and the shortcomings of analog receivers meant a lot of those channels in each market could not be used for TV. That left plenty of room for wireless microphones. The picture began to change in 2009, when the last full-power analog stations went off the air. Because digital TV stations can be packed more tightly than analog stations, the FCC was able to free up 18 channels for other uses, which left fewer empty channels for wireless microphones. Then, a year ago, the FCC approved the first operation of “white space” devices that provide Wi-Fi-like service in some of the remaining vacant TV channels. The FCC reserved two channels in every market for wireless microphones, and provided for additional channels where needed in a complicated set of regulations; but there is no getting around the fact that a lot more devices will be trying to operate in a lot less spectrum. Then, last month, the FCC proposed “incentive auctions” designed to encourage broadcasters to give up still more channels.

Continue Reading...

Update: Effective Date Set for Some Medical Body Area Network Rules

 Last May we reported on the release of a Report and Order in which the FCC authorized Medical Body Area Network (MBAN) devices that will operate in the 2360-2400 MHz region, immediately below the heavily-used unlicensed band that houses Bluetooth, and most Wi-Fi, along with many other applications. For some reason, though, that Report and Order didn’t make it into the Federal Register, so the new rules haven’t taken effect . . . but some will next month.

We are pleased to let you know that the Commission’s magnum MBAN opus from last May has at long last found its way into the Federal Register. That in turn establishes the effective date of many (but not all) of the rules. The effective date will be October 11, 2012 ]. But several of the revised rules – §§95.1215(c), 95.1217(a)(3), 95.1223 and 95.1225, to be precise – still won’t kick in as of that date. That’s because they involve “information collections” subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act, so they have to be run past the Office of Management and Budget. Check back here for updates on that front.

FAA Rethinks Personal Electronic Devices on Airplanes

A feature of modern air travel is the ritual shutting down of electronic gadgets before take-off and landing. The FAA is taking another look at whether this is really necessary.

A little-loved feature of modern air travel, along with security lines, cramped legroom, and overstuffed overheads, is the pre-takeoff ritual where the flight attendant says, “You must now turn off all personal electronic devices. Anything with an on/off switch must be in the off position.” And the same thing again as the plane is preparing to land.

The FAA is taking another look at whether this procedure is really necessary.

Current FAA rules prohibit the operation of all personal electronic devices (PEDs) at all times during the flight, except for hearing aids and heart pacemakers (understandable) and also electric shavers and portable voice recorders (less so). The FAA rule is here. Individual airlines can authorize departures from the rule; most have followed an FAA recommendation to allow use of a PED without an active transmitter at altitudes above 10,000 feet – about five minutes after takeoff and fifteen minutes before landing. Most airlines prohibit transmitters throughout the flight (this includes cell phones, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, except to use airline-provided Wi-Fi services), and still require all devices to be turned off below 10,000 feet.

These rules date back to the mid-1960s, when the FAA’s main concerns were electrical interference into the aircraft’s communications and navigation gear. Since then, as aircraft have become increasingly computerized and electronic displays proliferated in the cockpit, the possible on-board targets of interference have increased. Over the same time period, passengers’ gadgets have likewise become computerized and have proliferated. And passenger complaints about being cut off from their devices have steadily mounted.

The FAA has now launched a comprehensive review of PEDs and their actual risk to aircraft safety.

We hope the FAA will address some of the present inconsistencies.

Continue Reading...

FCC Consent Decree Puts Whammy on Fender

Not to be strung along, FCC shreds instrument maker’s apparently faulty paperwork. 

The FCC regulates most digital devices, which nowadays include almost anything having an on/off switch. Non-compliance can have unpleasant consequences. Latest to find itself center stage in the FCC’s spotlight: the iconic guitar maker Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, which makes the Stratocaster, Telecaster, and other instruments and electronic gear that have dominated pop, rock, and jazz for generations.

Audio manufacturers in particular have recently been targets of FCC enforcement, including this case and this one. Fender signed a consent decree in which it did not admit guilt, so details of its alleged offense are sparse. But it fretted enough to pay $265,000 to settle the matter, which apparently involved faulty paperwork connected with the importation of bass amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, tuners, audio mixers, and wireless microphones, packaged either separately or with musical instruments. Fender may also have slipped up in providing required labels and information in its instruction manuals.

So far as we can tell, the FCC did not allege that any of the devices involved actually failed to meet required technical standards. The shortcomings appear to consist entirely of omissions in documentation and labeling. Which is a shame, because the underlying rules are just not that hard to follow. Fender's problems should strike a chord with any company that manufactures or imports any kind of digital equipment.

Overall Backhaul Overhaul II: Further Fine Tuning For Fixed Microwave Rules

The FCC follows up on last summer’s overhaul by taking further steps to make life easier for Fixed Service wireless operators.

August must be unofficial “wireless backhaul” month over at the FCC. Following up on last summer’s “overall backhaul overhaul,” the FCC has now taken further steps to make life easier for Fixed Service wireless operators.

Fixed wireless is a low-profile yet indispensable component of the nation’s communications infrastructure, serving a wide variety of entities and industries. It helps to balance the electrical grid, coordinate the movements of railroad trains, and transmit emergency calls to local police and fire personnel. It moves business data for companies with dispersed locations, such as financial companies, chain stores, restaurants, hotels, airlines, and car rental companies.

Increasingly, fixed wireless links are used as “backhaul” for mobile communications, carrying signals between central network facilities and cell towers, particularly where wireline is impractical, as across rough terrain or dense urban buildup. In other words, wireless backhaul helps get that cat video to your smartphone or tablet. Anyone who doubts the ubiquity of fixed microwave need only note the vast numbers of sideways-facing dishes and domes on radio towers, water towers, and buildings.

As important as Fixed Service links are, however, we suspect that the technical minutiae of the FCC’s latest action is of interest to relatively few readers. Therefore, we are providing just the highlights. (If you want to know more, you can read all the details here.)

Continue Reading...

Update: Effective Date Set for Safety-Related Radar Rule Relaxations

Last month we reported on an FCC decision that wrapped up a couple of proceedings relating to three types of specialized radar devices in the 76-77 GHz band: one for vehicle radars, which function as part of automatic braking systems in cars; one for detecting “foreign object debris,” or FOD, on airport runways; and one for tracking aircraft and service vehicles around airport runways and ramp areas.  We noted that the Commission’s order curiously, and uncharacteristically, didn’t announce an effective date for the rule changes.

No problem. According to a notice in the Federal Register, those changes will take effect on September 12, 2012.

More Comments on Medical Body Area Networks Due in September

But rules adopted back in May have not yet taken effect.

The Federal Register has still not published rules on Medical Body Area Networks that the FCC adopted back in May, so there is still no telling when these rules might take effect.  But the Federal Register has published the FCC’s request for additional comment on frequency coordination for these devices.  Those comments are due by September 10, 2012, and reply comments by September 28. For details on the whole MBAN thing, see our post from last May.  And check back here for updates on when the rules become effective.

Effective Date Set for New Grantee Codes

Rules that vastly increase numbers of available codes take effect on August 24.

The expansion of “grantee codes” (issued by the FCC in connection with equipment certifications) will take effect on August 24, 2012, according to a notice published in the Federal Register. This will have no effect on any current regulatees – it’s more of an internal housekeeping matter for the FCC, designed to give the Commission a greater resource of codes to issue in the future. (As we previously reported, thanks in no small measure to the success of the wireless device industry in the U.S., the FCC foresees running out of grantee codes.) So if you happen to receive a grantee code after August 24 and it looks different from the codes you’re used to seeing (because it has more characters and starts with a numeral), don’t fret – it’s just the new system kicking in.

Update: Effective Date Set for New Unlicensed PCS Rules

Action affects devices in the 1920-30 MHz band.

A rule change the FCC adopted (and we reported on) last March, to simplify the technical rules for unlicensed PCS devices in the 1920-30 MHz band, has finally hit the Federal Register. The new rules take effect on August 22.


FCC Relaxes Limits for Some Safety-Related Radars

Applications include vehicle braking systems and airport use.

The FCC has wrapped up a couple of proceedings relating to three types of specialized radar devices in the 76-77 GHz band: one for vehicle radars, which function as part of automatic braking systems in cars; one for detecting “foreign object debris,” or FOD, on airport runways; and one for tracking aircraft and service vehicles around airport runways and ramp areas. All of these applications are approved for unlicensed use.

The 76-77 GHz frequencies are among the very highest that the FCC has authorized for any purpose. They are particularly well suited to short-range radar applications. Outgoing signals tend to form tight beams, even from antennas just a few inches across; and the signals tend not to travel far, as almost any kind of matter will block them.

The current vehicle radar rules are complicated, as we explained last year, with power limits that depend both on (a) whether the vehicle is stopped or moving, and (b) whether the radar is aimed forward or in some other direction. Adopted back in 1995, those rules tried to limit the amount of radio-frequency energy to which pedestrians would be exposed – due, for example, to idling cars at stoplights. The following year, the FCC modified its RF exposure rules, relaxing the exposure limits in some bands (including frequencies above 1500 MHz) and thereby permitting increased power. 

It took the FCC until now to get back to the vehicle radars, but manufacturers may decide the wait was worth it.

Continue Reading...

Amateurs Challenge Broadband-over-Power-Line Rules

For an FCC blog, that’s a little like saying “dog bites man” – not really news.

You have to admire their persistence. ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio, has yet again challenged the FCC’s rules for Broadband-over-Power-Line (BPL), just as it has at every opportunity since the FCC first proposed BPL back in 2003.

As you would expect from the name, BPL transmits broadband over the same lines that carry electric power along the street, siphoning off signals to houses and apartments along the way. Its proponents once hailed BPL as the “third wire” into the home for broadband service, the other two being the cable TV and telephone (or FIOS) connections. But in recent years BPL providers have scaled back their ambitions. Now they mostly help out electric utilities with internal communications for meter reading, load management, and the like. Few consumers receive their Internet service via BPL.

But ARRL has not scaled back its opposition.

Continue Reading...

Congress Wants to Hear from the FCC, Which Wants to Hear from You

FCC to report on frequency congestion in the 11, 18, and 23 GHz microwave bands.

Chances are you have forgotten about the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, passed back in February, ostensibly to extend a cut in payroll taxes. But the FCC hasn’t forgotten. Because the 250+ pages of the Act unrelated to extending tax cuts include a provision telling the FCC to report to Congress next October on a topic that, frankly, we didn’t know Congress cared about: common carrier point-to-point microwave applications in the 11, 18, and 23 GHz bands that fail to make it through frequency coordination. Read the details here.

The FCC has now released a public notice inviting input on that subject. And it may indeed need help.

The FCC’s first problem: Congress has ordered it to report on the application “rejection rate”, which Congress defines as

the number and percent of applications (whether made to the Commission or to a third-party coordinator) for common carrier use of spectrum that were not granted because of lack of availability of such spectrum or interference concerns of existing licensees.

But applications go only to the FCC, not to frequency coordinators. And by FCC rule, they reach the FCC only after successful coordination. So the rejection rate, as defined by Congress, is necessarily zero.

Rather than just tell that to Congress and get back to its real work, the FCC obligingly broadened the question to one that perhaps Congress meant to ask: the numbers of requests to frequency coordinators that could not be accommodated, and the reasons why.

Continue Reading...

From the FCC Police Blotter: Misrep Lite - When Thinking You're Being Honest Just Isn't Enough

Texas AM whacked $25K for statement that might have been inaccurate.

One of the most fundamental axioms of communications law: correctness is essential, whether you’re filling out an application, filing a pleading, responding to an FCC inquiry, or whatever. When you tell the Commission something, you had better be right. We’re not talking about affirmatively lying to the Commission. That, of course, is even higher up on the list of mortal sins in the FCC’s catechism. But nowadays, any inaccuracy in what you tell the agency – even if it’s not an intentional inaccuracy – can land you in hot water, unless you can show that you had a “reasonable basis” for your statement. The FCC enforcement folks, whose contributions to the government's coffers have increased dramatically in recent years, have recently driven this point home with considerable vigor.

As we have previously observed, Section 1.17(b) of the Commission’s rules prohibits what we have referred to as “misrepresentation lite”. As my colleague Mitchell Lazarus described it, the misconduct prohibited by the rule

does not involve “misrepresentation” – what many of us know as “lying” – because that requires some element of deceit. No showing of deceit is necessary to trigger Section 1.17. All it takes is the filing of “incorrect” information “without a reasonable basis for believing” that the information is, in fact, correct. This seems to say that any mistake in an application could subject the applicant to a very substantial penalty, even if the mistake is purely unintentional.

An AM licensee in Texas found out about this the hard way.

Continue Reading...

Update: Comment Deadlines Set in DACA Inquiry

Last month we reported on an Inquiry initiated by the FCC with respect to implementation of Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture (DACA) techniques. Those techniques include use of small unmanned aerial vehicles, weather balloons or high altitude long distance unmanned vehicles to restore communications capabilities in disaster situations. The Notice of Inquiry has now been published in the Federal Register, as a result of which the comment deadlines have been set. Comments are due by July 25, 2012, and replies are due by August 14.

FCC Expands Certification "Grantee Codes"

The need for a change reflects the very large number of players in the U.S. wireless device market.

We’ve been hearing for years about the growth of wireless technologies into every facet of our lives. Now we have proof, of a sort.

Every U.S. consumer product that contains a radio transmitter – a universe that includes car keys, Wi-Fi tablets, Bluetooth earpieces, cell phones, baby monitors, and much more – must be labeled with an “FCC ID,” a string of usually random-looking letters and numerals. This signifies the device has been certified as complying with FCC technical standards. The same certification is also required for most non-consumer radio-based devices that are mobile, portable, or unlicensed. (You can find the FCC ID on the underside of a wireless mouse or laptop, the lower back of an iPad or iPhone, or under the battery of an Android phone. Once you have it, you can pull up a lot of technical information at this web page.)

The FCC ID has two parts. The first three characters, called the “grantee code,” identify the company that obtained FCC certification, usually the manufacturer. Current grantee codes must start with a letter. Apple, for example, has code BCG; Microsoft has C3K. There are over 33,000 possible combinations. The rest of the characters, up to 14 of them, are chosen by the company, usually to denote a particular model of device.

The FCC is running out of grantee codes.

Continue Reading...

Fixed Microwave Group Makes Case for Putting More Spectrum to Work

Coalition asks FCC to adopt service rules at 41-42.5 GHz.

The Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition wants the FCC to adopt new rules for fixed microwave service in the 41-42.5 GHz band.

Almost every new service nowadays involves some degree of sharing, and this band is no exception. The 41-42 GHz segment is allocated not only to the Fixed Service – spectrum-speak for point-to-point microwave links – but also for Fixed Satellite Service downlinks, plus broadcast satellite and a few additional services. The adjacent 42-42.5 GHz region has no Fixed Satellite Service allocation, but does have the same allocations for the Fixed Service, broadcast satellite, and others. To date there has been no actual licensing in either part of the band.

Fixed Service users are willing to share the lower part of the band with satellite interests, according to the FWCC. It points out that sharing arrangements between the satellite and fixed microwave services are highly asymmetrical, tipped strongly in the satellite industry’s favor, so that sharing will have relatively little impact on satellite operations. In both parts of the band, though, the FWCC asks the FCC to follow through on an earlier proposal to delete the broadcast satellite allocation, on the ground that its continued presence would make sharing impractical.

Continue Reading...

FCC Floats a Novel Way of Allocating Spectrum

Going beyond ordinary auctions, an FCC working paper proposes a new approach based on mathematical game theory.

The FCC is looking at a new way of allocating radio frequencies.

One of the FCC’s most difficult jobs is squeezing an ever-growing number of users into a fixed amount of spectrum. The variety of radio-based applications keeps growing, but the amount of spectrum suitable for each application is more or less fixed. True, engineering advances keep opening ever-higher frequencies, but the physics of radio waves limits those very high frequencies to a relatively narrow set of applications. Most new spectrum users must fit in and around the incumbents.

The parts of the spectrum best suited to most applications, very roughly from 30 MHz to 30 GHz, are complexly occupied. A band in this region may have primary and secondary allocations, under which secondary users are obliged to protect the primary users from interference, and must accept interference from the primary users. There may be multiple co-primary and/or co-secondary services, with those at the same level required to protect one another. The band may also have one or more types of unlicensed users, who must protect everybody else except each other, and must accept whatever interference comes their way. Much of the FCC-regulated spectrum is also shared with the U.S. government, which adds further layers of complexity.

Continue Reading...

Can Less Be Too Much? FCC Rejects Hearing Aid Maker's Request to Use Narrower Bandwidth

Uncharacteristically for the FCC, the technical reasoning does not stand up to close study.

The FCC has turned down a request to use a narrower bandwidth than the rules require.

Narrower bandwidth? No, it’s not a typo.

The decision turns on what may be the single most-used section in the entire five-volume FCC rulebook. The lawyers and engineers call it Section 15.247, but most people know it by the vast range of unlicensed products this rule has made possible: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, modern cordless phones and nursery monitors, self-reading electric meters, ZigBee industrial equipment, wireless headphones and speakers, remote-control helicopters . . . the list is very long.

As originally adopted in 1985, Section 15.247 authorized “spread spectrum” devices. These, by design, disperse a signal over more bandwidth than the signal might otherwise require. The technique offers several advantages: less interference to other users than the equivalent narrowband signal; lower susceptibility to received interference; and encryption-like properties that make the signal difficult to intercept. Initially, Section 15.247 allowed two forms of modulation: “direct sequence” spread spectrum, similar to the CDMA modulation used by Verizon and Sprint for cell phone service, and frequency hopping, which is the basis for Bluetooth and many other technologies.

To enforce the “spreading” requirement, the FCC imposed a minimum bandwidth of 500 kHz, required the signal to be “deliberately widened” (the rules did not say by how much), and mandated a property called “processing gain,” which supposedly measured the device’s resistance to incoming interference. We add the “supposedly” because engineers in those days disagreed vehemently on whether the permitted tests for processing gain in fact measured that property, and indeed whether they measured anything useful at all.

In the meantime, demands for speed in wireless devices kept increasing.

Continue Reading...

Up, Up and Away: In NOI, FCC Is High on DACA

Commission seeks input on Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture techniques.

When communications fail in the midst of a disaster, who can you call? Trick question: most often, you can’t call anyone because, as the question assumes, communications have failed.

But the Commission has now taken a preliminary step toward addressing the problem that gives rise to that assumption: as we predicted last year, the FCC has released a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) looking toward implementation of Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture (DACA) techniques. 

DACA techniques are designed to assist, in emergency situations, with the restoration of communications not just to first responders, but also to consumers.  Think small unmanned aerial vehicles (SUAV), weather balloons, high altitude long distance unmanned vehicles (HALE), and deployable suitcase systems.  The idea is to come up with gear that can be deployed during the first 72 hours after a disaster to help ensure communications capabilities without requiring deployment of special user devices. 

The Commission has already sought public comment on DACA, from which the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau prepared a White Paper on the subject.  The NOI is the next procedural step through which the FCC is looking to develop a record on which to base a set of DACA regulations.

Continue Reading...

The FCC Gets Us in Touch with Our Inner Feelings

New rules authorize body-worn networks for medical monitoring and treatment.

It was impressive enough when medical engineers started mass-producing complex devices for use inside the human body. Now those devices are talking not only to the physician, but also to each other.

The FCC has authorized Medical Body Area Network (MBAN) devices that will operate in the 2360-2400 MHz region, immediately below the heavily-used unlicensed band that houses Bluetooth, and most Wi-Fi, along with many other applications. We told you about the proposed rules three years ago. The new Report and Order took a while because, like all useful spectrum, this band already has incumbent users, many of whom have to be protected.

An MBAN, as the FCC envisions it, is a little like a cellular wireless system in miniature, worn on a patient’s body. Sensors around the body monitor various functions, depending on the patient’s needs, and communicate their data to a central hub, worn by the patient or located close by. The hub aggregates data from the various sensors, and transmits those data using the health care facility’s network (possibly over Wi-Fi or Ethernet) to a central control point, from where the data are made available to the professional staff for interpretation and appropriate response.

The 40 MHz identified for MBANs is a lot of spectrum, and moreover is located in the “sweet spot” of frequencies best suited to mobile communications. The FCC defends its allocation of this wide swath by explaining that the need to avoid interference to other users will limit the frequencies available at any given time and place. Moreover, it says, adequate bandwidth will both increase reliability and allow room for multiple vendors, thus increasing competition and reducing costs.

Continue Reading...

Update: Revised "White Space" Rules To Take Effect June 18

Last month we reported on an FCC action that may mark the end of the decade-long “white space” proceeding authorizing the operation of some unlicensed devices in the broadcast television bands. The Commission’s Third Memorandum Opinion and Order (3rd MO&O), released in early April, disposed of a handful of petitions for reconsideration of the agency’s 2010 decision which had in turn tweaked technical “white space” specs adopted back in 2008. The 3rd MO&O has now been published in the Federal Register, which means that, barring any extraordinary intervening event (like the issuance of a stay – the approximate likelihood of which is pretty much zero), the rules as modified last month will take effect on June 18, 2012

Controversy Flares over Interference to Unlicensed Devices

Unlicensed device users at 902-928 MHz challenge LMS provider Progeny’s test results.

We reported back in February about a licensed service provider being required to demonstrate that its operation would not cause unacceptable interference to unlicensed devices. This is unusual. The FCC rules ordinarily require an unlicensed device to accept any and all interference from any source. But certain technologies used in the licensed Location and Monitoring Service (LMS) at 902-928 MHz are uniquely subject to a reversal of the usual priority. Those LMS licensees must demonstrate through actual field tests that their systems do not interfere with unlicensed devices.

When the FCC recently granted a technical waiver to LMS provider Progeny, it specifically required field tests to show that the waivered system does not cause unacceptable levels of interference to unlicensed devices in the same band. Among the thousands of unlicensed applications in the band, the FCC mentioned “smart grid” applications, including remote meter reading and utility load management, as well as cordless telephones and wireless local area networks. Other unlicensed uses of the band include wireless Internet access, ZigBee industrial controls, and a vast host of wireless consumer devices.

Progeny has since filed its test report. But commercial users of unlicensed devices have come forward to criticize the study. (Consumer devices, such as cordless phones, may have a similar potential for interference, but so far consumers and their advocates have remained silent.) Progeny, the commercial users say, used too few unlicensed devices, the devices Progeny used were non-representative, and the conditions used in the testing were artificially rigged to understate interference. Samples of such critical comments may be read here, here, and here. Progeny, needless to say, disagrees with its critics.  (Interested readers may find the entire FCC docket by searching for Docket No. 11-49 at the FCC’s ECFS webpage.)

Although the comment cycle on Progeny’s test report has officially closed, the FCC is accepting ex parte filings. But not for long; we expect a decision soon. Those interested in either challenging or supporting Progeny’s test results should do so promptly.

Comment Deadlines Set in Level Probing Radar Proceeding

FCC seeks comment on unlicensed operation in three bands.

The FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on outdoor and in-tank radars in the 5.925-7.250, 24.05-29, and 75-85 GHz bands has now appeared in the Federal Register. As regular readers realize, that establishes the official deadlines for anyone wishing to chip in their two cents’ worth.  Comments are due on May 30, 2012 and reply comments on June 29.

Google v. FCC: And the Winner is [REDACTED].

In Rorschach-like NAL, FCC proposes whopping $25,000 (ouch!) fine for impeding an investigation into the Google Wi-Spy controversy.

In a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL), the FCC has proposed to fine Google. Not, mind you, for the alleged misconduct the Commission first set out to investigate. Rather, Google would be fined for allegedly impeding that investigation – even though the FCC now pretty much concedes that no violation took place. But it’s hard to tell exactly what happened, because large portions of the FCC’s published order are redacted. One thing that wasn’t redacted: the proposed fine. That would be the princely sum of $25,000.

This much is known: between 2007-2010, Google collected Wi-Fi network data all over the world in support of its Street View project. In addition to providing totally bitchin’ online photos of just about anywhere in the world, the Street View project collected network data to support various location-based services. But in collecting those data about available networks here, there and everywhere – including home wireless networks – Google also happened to collect the actual content of various unencrypted communications carried over these networks (i.e., “payload” data) – things like e-mails, text messages, passwords, Internet usage history, and other potentially sensitive personal information.

When word of this surfaced, governments everywhere – federal, state, foreign – launched (with considerable fanfare) investigations, on the theory that the unauthorized collection of that kind of private data couldn’t possibly have been legal.

Our federal government sicced an agency tag-team on Google. First, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took a close look at Google’s activities, but closed down its investigation without finding any problems.  The FTC came away convinced that Google didn’t plan to use any of the payload data, would be deleting that data pronto, and was taking steps to improve “its internal processes”. Nothing to look at here, folks.  Show’s over. Just move along.

Then the FCC jumped in.

Continue Reading...

FCC Okays Second Area for "White Space" Operations

If you live in Nottoway County, Virginia, you’re in luck.

The FCC has authorized TV white space database coordinator Telcordia to offer service within Nottoway County, Virginia, a mostly rural area toward the southern part of the state. Initial operations will include 20 sites serving rural schools and households. The action comes less than a month after the FCC approved Telcordia’s database, and four months after the first white space operations were approved for Wilmington, NC by coordinator Spectrum Bridge, Inc.

Included in the Nottoway County order are special procedures for registering wireless microphones entitled to protection from white space devices.

We assume the pace of approvals will pick up. At the current rate, we calculate it will take until the year 2797 before white space systems are fully deployed. By then, we expect to be communicating telepathically via devices wired into our nervous systems. Assuming, of course, the FCC can free up enough spectrum.