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The present FCC has moved toward a position of listening to those who are well intentioned but not savvy in the field of RF and spectrum issues

The New FCC?

Monday, December 29, 2008

There have been a number of articles recently about what the new FCC might look like. We probably won’t know much about who the new commissioners will be until after January 20, but that does not stop the speculators from writing about what the makeup and, more importantly, the tenor of the new FCC will be.


We do know President-Elect Obama has made the deployment of broadband on a nationwide basis a priority for his administration (read my new white paper on the subject). But we do not know anything about the three democrats he will choose that will make up the majority of the FCC, and we cannot know about their leanings until their names are announced.


In addition to the articles in all of the wireless magazines, there has been a great deal of discussion on a number of wireless forums on the Internet. I belong to the Private Wireless Forum ( and its members include owners and operators of private two-way radio shops, seasoned first responder communications professionals, executives who work for commercial network operators, vendors who sell into the wireless community, and an attorney or two who are specialists in all things wireless. To me, this group represents a great blend of people whose careers are in the wireless industry but who tend to look at things differently.


Recently, there was a thread on the board that should be required reading for all of the incoming commissioners, regardless of their party affiliation. I can indentify with a number of the topics discussed and recommendations made by members of this group:


1)     No person should be seated as a commissioner without being required to take a course in radio frequency—an RF101 course with an emphasis on the laws of physics rather than the laws of economics or politics.

2)     The new FCC commissioners need to hire more engineers to replace the brain trust that has disappeared over the last 10-15 years and integrate them back into the regulatory process.

3)     The new FCC needs to beef up its enforcement bureau so interference complaints can be investigated and not simply ignored as they are today.

4)     The new FCC needs to reinstate the requirement that any and all technical staff that works with, installs, repairs, and maintains wireless devices demonstrate proficiency and obtain a professional license.

5)     One comment I could really relate to was, “A regularity body that does not enforce its own regulations has no integrity.”


There were many more really good suggestions, but you get the gist of this discussion. The people who make the rules and regulate the spectrum should at least understand some of the basics and make sure they have competent people they listen to for technical advice. These are all good comments worthy of being passed along to those who will be making the decisions about spectrum usage for at least the next four years.


Another set of comments had to do with the failures of prior FCC administrations. The list is long indeed and includes:


1)     Granting Nextel the right to turn two-way radio channels into a cellular-type network, which in turn caused severe interference to both first responder and commercial two-way radio systems.

2)     Then taking years to figure out how to fix the problem, and more years to actually cause the problems to be fixed (this process is ongoing today).

3)     Requiring those who operate two-way radios in two different portions of the spectrum (VHF and UHF) to narrowband their radios. The thought behind this was to provide more channels, but the result was that first responders and others had to spend a lot of money to narrowband their equipment (or in most cases, replace it), which lessons voice quality and negates using any of the channels for data services. This at a time when the entire world is going to broadband!

4)     Turning the spectrum into a commodity and selling it off to the highest bidder. One participant discussed how he thought the International Telecommunications Union Wireless Act of 1926 stated clearly that no country has the right to charge for the use of its spectrum and that, at the time, the United States was a strong proponent of that statement, if not the originator.

The list of mistakes is long, too long to include in this short blog, but the thread makes very interesting reading. Most of the comments were made as constructive criticism from people who have been around the industry for a number of years. These are people who have been in the trenches and have seen the results of the shift in the FCC from an agency that worked with the industry, helped make sure those who had licenses to use spectrum were protected from undo interference, and juggled as best it could all the requests for a finite resource.

The present FCC has moved toward a position of listening to those who are well intentioned but not savvy in the field of RF and spectrum issues. It has been promising all kinds of things, including more jobs, free broadband everywhere, and more innovation since we now have more unlicensed spectrum.

Yet the last 20 years of innovation has been driven by those who understand that we have a limited supply of spectrum and we have to make more efficient use of it, protect it from degradation, and manage it wisely. In Japan, there are no auctions for spectrum. They award a license and the winner pays a yearly fee per megahertz of spectrum, a one-time fee for each device that is placed on the network, and is required to cover the entire population of the country. All of this is incentive to make the best possible use of the spectrum they have, which has driven its innovation.

It would be easy to simply sit back and watch what happens over the next four years, but it is more prudent to try to make things work better—not by reverting to the old days, but not by rushing forward into the unknown, either. There is a middle ground that needs to be found based on the laws of physics first and foremost, and then economics and politics.

Happy New Year!!

Andrew M. Seybold

COMMENTS: This is an archived post. Commenting is no longer available.

Greg Matheny - 12/30/2008 00:37:09

Thanks for this important blog. One of the nice aspects of an Obama administration is that they want and will solicit input from the type of people you mention here. He already sent out notices to the general public to send in their ideas to improve (fix) health care. One would think he would do the same here.

It makes all the sense in the world to get ideas from the people that are actually in wireless, those people that live the day to day reality from many different perspectives. Then they can get an informed consensus and make good policy.

I think its important the new commissioners read these issues you have consolidated here, both suggestions and past mistakes. Are you able to get this information directly to them at some point?

William Brownlow - 12/30/2008 08:10:10

There are three things I would like to see take root in the new year for the radio communications industry and public safety.

1. Finally getting started on building a nationwide broadband network using a common technology and with fees that are reasonable for all responders.

2. An understanding that emergency response isn't about me and my department, it's everyone that is needed to respond for any event.

3. An agreement by all responders to adopt the Incident Command and Incident Management structures and systems.

I guess Edison said it, something like: Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. The same can be said about interoperability, it's 10% technology and 90% in the changing on perceptions.

Andrew Seybold - 12/30/2008 09:55:09

Greg and William, thanks for your posts, and Greg, my blog has a large following and is subscribed to by many who have the ability to get it to the right people if they so choose, also since it is posted on PWF there are a number of people there who can do ths same thing if they think if of value, and finally it is picked up by at least 5 other sites so it gets a fair amount of readership so I trust that those who should see it will, and hope they will feel the same way about it as you do--thanks

William, I I could make your 3 points happen I would, they are all reasonable and need to happen and I agree completely with your last point about the Edison statement--this is NOT about technology, it is about perceptions, politics and economics.

Peter Moncure - 12/30/2008 13:07:23

You did mean January 20th, I'm sure, and in the fifth topic, "regulatory". I've toyed for years with the idea of outsourcing FCC Enforcement, say, pay my company 10% of the fines you levy, and I'll buy everyone Kevlar. I agree with all the points, but i don't see how it is to happen. The inertia of the now capital-and-lawyer-laden Commission is a formidable obstacle, even to those within it! It is not a Quixotic goal, but neither is it one which can succeed without many tributaries of need flowing into the river of physics-based common sense.

At the last APCO show, I proudly wore a black stripe on my badge which said "LOWBAND TRUNKING" (thanks to WC), and that too defines the regulatory problem in a market's-too-free business climate. It is obvious to any student of propagation that range is inversely proportional to frequency times terrain roughness--so why not insist on a low-band resurgence? Or reclaim 54 - 72 MHz (TV 2 - 4) for Public Safety in the East Kentucky "hollers" where 700+ MHz is fiscally untenable? In an age of one-man plows and gang-related dismemberment we need secure and ubiquitous service long before VDT's.

Andrew Seybold - 12/30/2008 13:19:09

Peter--June is gone and replaced with January, I saw that during an edit and made a mental note to change it--I can only blame it on age!
As for the rest of your points--Interesting way of enforcement--if you are a ham you know that the ARRL had/has OO's or Official Observers which were around to help with violations and interference and from what I saw they did a great job.
As for your last point, I live in California where the Highway Patrol is using low-band to cover the State, with VHF Pack-rats for Handheld use--it works well and many of the half-duplex systems are now full repeater systems--trying to cover this State at 700 MHz is going to take a lot of money--I cut my teeth on Low band fire and police systems in PA, then in Ohio, and when I first moved to CA the City and County of LA were using Low band for their fire systems and just starting to migrate to VHF, which is one reason why I think that voice Interoperability has be done using existing networks.
Thanks for the comments

Nick Ruark - 12/30/2008 21:55:49

Andy - just a quick thank you! for the "plug" for the Private Wireless Forum Yahoo! group in your blog.

As you pointed out, the "group represents a great blend of people whose careers are in the wireless industry but who tend to look at things differently." Many in the group do in fact look at the new wireless world and technologies from a much different perspective than today's typical wireless corporate decision maker does or even Mr or Mrs America consumer might. Perhaps that is because we weigh much of what we see, hear, or read against a greater sense of "reality" and try to balance it with a little bit of something called "plain old-fashioned common sense", supplemented by a very deep respect for the laws of physics as they pertain to RF/radio/wireless.

Also, as you suggest, "there is a middle ground that needs to be found based on the laws of physics first and foremost, and then economics and politics." I could not agree more. However, I might suggest that, since man will never be able to really change the laws of physics, we must all tackle the elements we can change, such as how wireless is allocated, regulated, and how the rules should be aggressively enforced.

Those are the challenges that demand solutions sooner than later and, must be fairly (politically) and equitably (economically) found for the greater benefit of all wireless users.

Happy New Year to you and all!

Andrew Seybold - 12/30/2008 22:04:03

Nick--first you are welcome for pub about the Private Wireless Forum, I know that you are running a business but also spending a lot of time runing this forum for all of us and I know that I speak for the rest of the members, we deeply appricate it.
Next are your comments about the reality , and again you are correct, we need to find the middle ground and to do that I suspect that we need to find people who are willing to mentor those who believe that wireless is just an other pipe to be used the same way that wired pipes are being used today. Thanks for the comments and Happy New Year to you and all of those who have made the wireless industry what it is today.

dave maples - 01/01/2009 18:50:45

Andrew: You are on track with your comments. I'd add to one of them (4): The need has never been greater toi maintain and expand the technically-trained "get it done now" types of folks who can cope with technically-complex communications systems that have been damaged by inclement weather or deliberate acts of man. Using the FCC licensing requirement to rebuild that reservoir of tech-savvy folks that really KNOW something about RF would be an excellent way to do this.

Peter Moncure - 01/02/2009 10:41:41

So, now that we've decided what knowledge new FCC personnel should have, what FCC's raison d'être be? I recently read through much of Part 80 (Maritime), and found there lots of requirements about emergency batteries for ship's radios, lighting, access and so on, none of which is remotely related to managing spectrum. It seems a stretch (though perhaps a healthy one) to ask FCC to regulate children's access to fast food commercials. Why not split up these needs? If they don't, the likely trend for more regulation will make FCC subject to the same conflicting interests as FAA, which must both regulate and promote flight.

Now that FCC (and its counterparts in most countries) is regarded as a profit center by the Executive branch, it matters, and I think that the ability to laterally funnel auction money into ULS or ex-Commissioner Tate's meeting travel is a small price to pay for clarity in authority.

Divide and specialize, I say.