The FCC is bracing itself for an onslaught of  comments under the heading “Fostering Innovation and Investment in the Wireless Communications Market.” The recent Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on that subject is here.

The NOI praises innovation (as do we all), and points to wireless technology as an important driver of innovation. No argument there – just count the people on the street hunched over their BlackBerrys. But that is innovation of the past, while the FCC very much looks to the future.

The NOI casts a wide net, seemingly asking every question that anyone at the FCC could think of related to the terms “wireless” or “innovation.” A complete list would run almost as long as the NOI itself. Below we provide just a sampling to convey the flavor.

First on the FCC’s list – and we heartily commend them for raising it – is the issue of regulatory delay as an obstacle to innovation. Perhaps this is an idea whose time has finally come. We ourselves had thoughts on it just last week. The NOI frankly acknowledges that FCC processes can hinder the progress of innovation and investment. “At times,” it says, “we have seen innovators subjected to lengthy regulatory processes . . . that can be an obstacle to progress in the wireless arena.” No kidding. To its credit, though, the FCC seeks a dialogue with interested parties on how to remove unnecessary impediments.

Some of the other issues raised:

In general

  • metrics for evaluating innovation and investment in the wireless sector
  • the FCC’s role in supporting and encouraging innovation and investment
  • high-level trends driving innovation and investment in the “wireless ecosystem”
  • how wireless services are used in innovative ways (as in health care, energy conservation, education, and public safety)

Managing spectrum

  • “repurposing” spectrum for innovative uses
  • mechanisms for access to spectrum (licensing procedures, unlicensed use, etc.)
  • alternative auction schemes for spectrum
  • mechanisms for secondary markets in spectrum
  • how to assess “harmful interference” in protecting one service from another
  • alternative dispute resolution techniques or negotiated rulemaking for speeding interference disputes over new technologies
  • whether the FCC should regulate receiver performance
  • measurements of spectrum efficiency

Spectrum sharing

  • whether the FCC should issue secondary/underlay licenses
  • promoting dynamic spectrum sharing
  •  “cap and trade” for rights to cause interference (up to some limit)
  • whether a publicly accessible database should give technical details of a licensee’s operations to facilitate sharing
  • whether impending technical advances can promote spectrum sharing
  •  whether the FCC should try to reduce the noise floor and, if so, how

               Networks and devices

  • whether new network architectures can spur innovation
  • whether different procedures for tower siting could speed deployment
  • whether distributed antenna systems can make innovation easier
  • whether new kinds of devices will cause unexpected regulatory problems
  • whether the FCC should alter the equipment certification process to promote innovation
  • how technical standards affect innovation.

The NOI is an ambitious undertaking. It remains to be seen whether the proponents of “business as usual,” who are both numerous and well-funded, will try to derail these ideas into the yawning pit of needed reforms that just never happen.

Comments are due on September 28 and reply comments on October 12.