Broadcasters: Meet the New E-Filing System

Same as the old e-filing system? Maybe not. All broadcast forms will be reduced to a single form – plus schedules, of course.

The Media Bureau has announced the partial debut of the “Licensing and Management System” (LMS), an online filing system which, eventually, will replace the current system (i.e., the Consolidated Database System –what we know and love as CDBS) that’s been in operation since the turn of the century.

So CDBS may not be long for this world. Just how long will depend on how long the FCC takes to set up the necessary filing capabilities in LMS. But enough have been set up so far to open the doors for two specific types of applications.

In this case, full-power TV licensees and permittees are the ones on the cutting edge of technology: if you’re a full-power TV licensee or permittee and you need to file for a construction permit or covering license, you’ll be the first to experience LMS. That’s because, as of October 2, 2014, full-power TV folks in that position will have to file not a Form 301 (for a CP) or 302-DT (for a license), but a whole new Form 2100 (for either). And you’ll be filing that through LMS, not CDBS. In fact, as of October 2, CDBS won’t even be an option for such applications.

All broadcasters should get used to the notion of having to file Form 2100 because the Bureau’s goal is to reduce ALL broadcast applications to that single form.

The “main portion” of the form will require “general information common to all broadcast applications”. Applicants will then include along with that main portion a “schedule” consisting of information specific to the particular type of application being filed. Schedule A is for full-power TV construction permits; Schedule B is for full-power TV licenses.

More schedules will be added on an ongoing basis. As those schedules are developed, we’ll be advised through a series of public notices until, eventually, LMS will be capable of handling all of the forms currently in CDBS. That will then be the death of CDBS – long live LMS! 

But let’s not write any teary-eyed obits for CDBS quite yet. The move away from CDBS has been in the works for more than five years already. After all that time, LMS is rolling out with only two schedules (f/k/a applications), which leaves more than 30 to go, by our count. We probably shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for all the rest to be up and running.

And even the modest roll-out is less than auspicious. In its announcement, the Bureau advised that Form 2100 is available at the FCC’s website. Um, not really. We checked the FCC’s website about five hours after the public notice hit our inbox, and Form 2100 was nowhere to be found. The public notice also provided a link to LMS. That link did indeed take us to the LMS portal, but we couldn’t get past the front door. While our inability to check out the new form and the new filing system is likely only a temporary problem, it was disappointing nonetheless.

On the positive side, though, it appears that LMS will be accessed with only an FRN and FRN password. No more CDBS account numbers and passwords to remember!

Obviously, readers should check back with us for updates.

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.

At the request of the FCC staff, Progeny and some of the Part 15 interests conducted further tests on meter-reading and Internet delivery equipment. The FCC requested further comment. Again, the two sides disagreed on how to interpret the results. Along with claiming actual interference, the Part 15 companies continued to insist that Progeny’s tests omitted a large range of unlicensed devices and conditions, and that more testing is needed to properly evaluate the impact of Progeny’s transmitters.

The FCC has now dismissed those arguments.

Part of the dispute turns on the requirement that Progeny not cause “unacceptable levels” of interference to unlicensed devices. The FCC has never before spelled out what that means. Now, it tells us the “unacceptable levels” limitation calls on LMS licensees merely to “minimize” interference to Part 15, but not necessarily to eliminate it altogether. A different reading, says the FCC, would elevate Part 15 in status above LMS, which the rules never intended. Moreover, the FCC goes on, unlicensed users should know to expect some level of interference, and have the option of using equipment that is capable of shifting to other parts of the band when needed. Progeny need not test with every type of Part 15 device, the FCC adds, as that could result in endless rounds of testing.

Progeny offered to: report periodically on its build-out and any interference complaints it receives; establish a toll-free help desk for Part 15 users experiencing interference; and, if it constructs in rural areas, work with local wireless Internet service providers on mitigating interference. The FCC required the first two conditions and encouraged the third.

Editorial comment: The enormous success of the FCC’s rules permitting – indeed, promoting – unlicensed operations has, ironically, caused problems for the agency. When the most-used parts of the current regime took effect in 1985, no one dreamed that unlicensed radio devices would become as prevalent as they are now. Because these devices have always been required to accept interference, the initial uses focused on applications that did not require great reliability. But as the decades went by, and the technologies used in Part 15 equipment evolved to become more robust against interference, the devices found use in more critical applications, including the control of overhead cranes, pipeline systems, and electric utilities.

“Robust,” though, is a relative term. Equipment that works perfectly well in the pre-existing 902-928 MHz environment of ISM, federal radar, amateur radio, and other Part 15 devices may falter when exposed to new interference sources, such as LMS. Yes, the rules say Part 15 users must accept interference and operate at their own risk; and yes, Progeny has a legal right to deploy, if it satisfies the field test requirement. Still, Part 15 equipment has become so important to so many industries – and to the economy generally – that it may have earned a higher status in the spectrum.

(FHH represented clients in this proceeding.)

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: 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.

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. 

Progeny reads the results as showing that its system “will not cause unacceptable levels of interference” to unlicensed users. But the three unlicensed users claim the results predict interference in several respects. They note, for example, that Progeny operates at much higher power than do unlicensed devices in the band; that multiple Progeny transmitters in the same area together occupy frequencies for 90-100% of the time; that the tests understated interference into meter reading equipment; and that Progeny’s signal degraded throughput on wireless Internet systems by 40-50%.

The FCC is now evaluating whether Progeny has met its non-interference obligation. Manufacturers and institutional users of devices in the 902-928 MHz band should take a close look at the test results, and should raise any concerns very promptly with the FCC.

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.

FCC Seeks Comment on Interference into Unlicensed Devices

Request for input follows grant of waiver to Location and Monitoring Service licensee that shares unlicensed band.

 The FCC has asked for comment on whether the licensed Location and Monitoring Service (LMS) at 902-928 MHz will cause interference to unlicensed devices in that band.

The request is startling, to those of us who work on spectrum issues. Part 15 of the FCC rules, which governs unlicensed devices, incorporates a fundamental tenet of U.S. spectrum policy: an unlicensed device must accept interference from any source, and may not cause harmful interference to any licensed service. Every unlicensed device bigger than a few inches carries a label saying just that. Why, then, is the FCC asking whether licensed LMS operations interfere with unlicensed use?

When the FCC adopted the current LMS rules in 1995, it estimated that several million Part 15 devices were using the 902-928 MHz band. The FCC mentioned the examples of cordless telephones, wireless local area networks, and automatic reading of utility meters. Recognizing the “enormous benefits” of those devices, the FCC added two provisions that remain unique in its rulebook. One specified that Part 15 devices meeting certain safe-harbor tests would be deemed not to cause harmful interference to certain LMS systems, even if they did in fact cause such interference. 

The other provision, of more immediate interest here, requires certain LMS systems to demonstrate through actual field tests that they do not cause “unacceptable levels of interference” to Part 15 devices.

The original service envisioned for LMS would enable fleet operators to pinpoint the locations of their vehicles around a city.  At the time of the 1995 LMS rules, GPS was still used mostly by the military, and presented no competition. But a technical change to the GPS system in 2000 made it more precise for civilian applications, and over the next few years the prices of GPS receivers dropped sharply. GPS became the technology of choice for vehicle location. LMS had lost its market.

LMS providers sought help from the FCC. In 2006, at the request of provider Progeny LMS, LLC, the FCC proposed extensive changes to the technical rules that would broaden the range of services possible under an LMS license. That proceeding, which raised alarm among Part 15 manufacturers and users, remains pending. In the meantime, Progeny sought a more limited waiver: to drop the requirement that an LMS system’s “primary” operations entail vehicle location (so that Progeny could track other kinds of assets), and to drop the requirement that three or more base stations be able to interrogate each mobile unit being tracked. Another LMS licensee opposed the waiver, while two companies that use Part 15 equipment asked for assurance that their operations would not suffer interference. Progeny responded that the changes it requested would, among other benefits, reduce the potential for interference to Part 15 users. 

The FCC granted the waiver last December, but imposed conditions. It required Progeny to file the details of its system design under the waiver, and to conduct field tests of interference to Part 15 devices.

Progeny has now made its system design and field tests public. It claims that most Part 15 devices will not be able to detect its signal, and even those that do will continue to operate normally. The FCC invites comments on these claims, due on March 15, 2012, with reply comments due on March 30.