700-MHz D Block Take 3Tuesday, November 04, 2008
The FCC issued its Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on September 25, 2008, with the comment period starting thirty days after it was published in the Federal Register. This means the first day for filing comments was November 3, 2008, and reply comments are due forty days after publication or November 14, one day after the close of the comment period. It is obvious that the commissioners, or at least the chairman, want to move this into rulemaking sooner rather than later. Whatever happens after these comment periods, my guess is that the NEW FCC commissioners under a new administration will revisit this entire issue.
It is early in the filing period, but then the period is not very long (only ten days) and this is an important proposed ruling that could affect both first responders and commercial wireless operators. I am not only talking about the winning bidder here, if there is one, I am talking about all of the organizations that have already won 700-MHz spectrum at auction as well. As you know, Verizon Wireless came away from the auction with a nationwide license for the C Block, which is an 11X11 MHz portion of the 700-MHz spectrum. Meanwhile, AT&T Wireless, which had previously purchased existing 700-MHz spectrum in a large portion of the United States, added a number of A and B Block licenses that are 6X6 MHz. The balance of the licenses went to other incumbents as well as some of the cable companies and a few green field operators, but no one bid on the D Block, which is a 5X5 block of spectrum that, once won at auction, was to be joined with the first responders broadband allocation (5X5) for a total of 20 MHz of spectrum.
The theory is that first responders would have priority access on the entire network and the commercial operator would be able to make use of most of the network during normal (non-emergency) times. The public safety license is held by the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) and this organization made up of representatives from many other public safety organizations will work with the winner of the D Block. The auction failed the first time around and according to the FCC commissioners, if new rules can be passed this year on the Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, another auction can be held in the spring of 2009.
The Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has a number of contentious points built into it. First, there will be three simultaneous auctions. The first auction will once again be for a nationwide license and a bidder must meet or exceed the reserve price (now lowered to $750 million) to win the auction and choose the technology (I assume with input from the PSST). The other two auctions-one for WiMAX-based systems and one for LTE-based systems-will both be divided into 58 regions. If there is no nationwide license winner and if either auction receives enough bids on enough regions, that auction would determine the winning technology and the balance of the regions would go back out for bid.
Next up, the FCC has tightened the definition of what a first responder is, limiting the category to police, fire, and EMS while excluding DOTs, electric and utility companies, and others who may have to respond with services first responders need to do their job (e.g., hot electrical wire down across a vehicle with people trapped inside). A number of comments address this issue and hopefully the FCC will listen this time around.
And there are a several other issues that will prompt many comments such as the FCC proposal that the PSST be paid a maximum of $5 million a year for commercial use of the public safety spectrum and that is all the money the PSST is permitted to use for operating expenses, the data rates specified by the FCC, the recommended per-person data charges ($48.50 per month), and many others.
If the first day of filing is any indication, there will be hundreds of comments filed and probably almost as many reply comments after the 14th. FCC staff will once again have to review all of these and determine which ones, if any, have merit, how to change the Proposed Notice of Rulemaking and final recommendations to the commissioners. By the time all of this happens, we will know who the next president will be as well as the make-up of both the senate and house, and all of this work might be for naught. But that is not stopping or even slowing down either the FCC or those filing comments.
Comments on the first day (the 13th but posted on the 14th) will probably be representative of the overall comment population. I haven't found a link to a list of all of the filings so have included links to individual filings, but if you want to see all of them, click on this link:
http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/comsrch_v2.cgi. You will then see a search for Filed Comments box, in Number 1 (proceeding) enter 06-150 and then click on Retrieve Document List and you will be taken to the list of all comments and other documents filed. Items related to the Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will all be dated and posted after November 13.
Many of the longer filings have a summary at the beginning that you can read to see if you want to read further into the document. As of this writing, there were 40+ filings submitted, and I am sure each time I go to the site there will be more. There is a lag time between submitting a filing and having it show up on the list; it just depends on how many the staff can process and verify prior to posting.
Yes, I Filed
I submitted my comments to the FCC's automated filing system on Monday evening November 3 and they were posted on the 4th. My entire comments document is available on the FCC site, but I thought I would recap my main points here. I have taken a very different tack with my comments, trying to convince the FCC and others to consider alternatives. Below is my summary, followed by a more specific proposal I put forth at the end of my comments:
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20554
In The Matter Of
Service Rules for the 698-746, 747-762 and WT Docket No. 06-150
777-792 MHz Bands
Implementing a Nationwide, Broadband, PS Docket No. 06-229
Interoperable Public Safety Network in the
700 MHz Band
COMMENTS OF ANDREW M. SEYBOLD
Andrew Seybold hereby submits these comments on the Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (the "Third FNPRM") in the captioned proceedings.
While it is acknowledged that the FCC staff has reviewed and incorporated many of the comments previously submitted in earlier filings, it is my belief that the Third FNPRM , if it proceeds to a Rulemaking, will also result in a failed auction and, once again, further delay the intent of providing a commercial/public safety network to provide at least data interoperability.
It is my belief that we can provide the first responder community with these services in a much more expedient manner if the FCC works with the incumbent commercial network operators and the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) to provide for nationwide access to broadband services making use of the existing 3G networks already in commercial service.
At the same time, I also believe that making use of existing 3G networks would provide nationwide interoperability and enable the various agencies and organizations to plan further uses of the 700-MHz spectrum set aside for this combined network. It is also my belief that in addition to the stated goals of providing first responder interoperability, several other items need to be addressed. The first is the FCC's definition of what constitutes a first responder for the purposes of access to this network and the second is the use of this network to provide wireless broadband services to Rural America in a much more economical way than any of the other proposals before the FCC (TV White Space, AWS-3, and others).
I disagree that the FCC should mandate use of one of two specific technologies (LTE or WiMAX) for the regional spectrum auctions. Historically, the FCC has remained technology neutral and it has been proven, over and over again, that the market forces should determine the technology of choice. Further, to require the public safety community to use technologies that are not mainstream or for which standards are not yet complete is not in the best interests of either the public safety community or the commercial wireless community that is expected to fund this network.
My comments include the following:
1) We should make use of today's 3G technologies and not wait for the 700 MHz auction.
2) The FCC should broaden its definition of the term "first responder" to include other agencies that, by the nature of their services, are routinely dispatched with the first responders called out in the FCC Third FNPRM
3) The FCC should not require specific technologies to be deployed if the spectrum is auctioned on a regional basis, especially when those technologies are neither proven nor yet commercially available.
4) The 700-MHz D Block should also be employed to provide wireless broadband services for Rural America, both fixed and mobile.
5) The bidders for the 700-MHz spectrum should be system integrators that will work with all of the incumbent network operators to build out the nationwide network.
If the first responder community and the commercial network operators work together to utilize the existing 3G broadband networks with priority for the first responders on a seamless roaming basis, this network can be put into place within a year, and further planning and refinement will assure realization of the 700-MHz D Block concept, enabling a better, far more capable network than the one envisioned by the FCC in the Third FNPRM
Therefore, my proposal for the D Block and Public-Safety Spectrum is as follows:
1) The mechanics of the transfer of the spectrum to a private party or parties should be reviewed, and while congressional concurrence might be necessary, I believe the FCC should review alternatives to the auctions proposed in the Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
a. The FCC entertains Requests for Proposals for the construction and management of the D Block and first responder spectrum
b. The FCC considers a spectrum lease by a qualified systems integration contractor for a period of 10 years
c. The FCC auctions the spectrum, but participants are limited to organizations that would take on the task of system management and oversee the network construction as detailed below
2) The "winner" of 1 a., b., or c. above will enter into agreements with incumbent operators, large and small, and coordinate construction of the network. Included in the incumbent pool would be network operators that have a license for spectrum within the 700-MHz band whether or not they have a network in place, the theory being that it will be less expensive to build this new network as an add-on to existing 700-MHz construction than as a completely new network built out at a different time
3) Each of the network operators that agreed to build out a portion of the network would receive the following
a. A tax credit based on the portion of the overall network it builds
b. The right to use a portion of the network for its own "priority" customers during times of network congestion
4) During the construction period, each network operator agreeing to participate would provide the first responder community with access to its existing broadband wireless network on a priority basis and would charge an established fixed fee for usage, as well as agree to same-cost roaming on its network by other first responders
a. This would enable the first responder community to make use of existing networks much earlier, and provide a seamless transition as each portion of the new network is completed
5) The master license holder would coordinate with the PSST and the FCC regarding build-out and operation of the network
6) Rural America would be included in the network plan and partial funding would be made available for rural construction using existing rural funding sources, perhaps augmented by the Federal government
a. Rural build-out would commence in concert with metro build-out and as each rural area is completed, rural broadband including broadband to homes and businesses would be provided at a competitive rate
7) The master license holder would work with incumbent operators to manage data usage across the existing networks as well as over the new network
a. There would be automatic fall-back incorporated in order to provide first responder coverage using existing broadband networks where necessary
b. During major incidents, the master license holder would work with the networks providing broadband coverage at and around the incident, managing the broadband resources available and load balancing the amount of traffic on each network in order to minimize disruption to any commercial customers
c. This type of system management could also be incorporated into the new network using the resources shared by the network operators with the master license holder
8) Each first responder customer would be "associated" to its home network operator that would "own" the customer from a billing perspective and each network operator would pay the master license holder a portion of the monthly revenue derived from the first responder community
9) The D Block and first responder technology would be determined by the majority of network operators and their existing roadmap for 4G broadband services
a. All new devices would be capable of the 4G technology chosen as well as both of the existing 3G broadband technologies currently in use. This will permit fallback onto existing commercial networks and full roaming capabilities on all of today's existing 3G broadband networks
Obviously, there are many details to be worked out, but I am confident they could be and that we could provide our first responder community with interoperable data services much quicker and less expensively following this plan. I also believe we could solve our Rural America broadband connectivity problems for homes, businesses, and mobile customers at the same time. We would not have to build out the AWS-3 spectrum with its high costs and unproven payback.
I will continue to review comments being filed by others and it will be interesting to see how this turns out. My biggest concern at the moment is that none of the incumbent operators will bid and that Clearwire or Intel will come in and bid the minimum for the nationwide license and proclaim that WiMAX will be used for this network. If this happens, I think it will be the end of this concept of a shared public/private network and that the savings envisioned and the interoperability that is the fundamental reason for this spectrum auction will never be realized.
Most of those filing comments have their own agendas, but that is the nature of this type of process. Unfortunately, it appears as though the FCC commissioners also have their own agenda and I am not sure their vision of the future for this spectrum will be realized based on the contents of the Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. And, once again, I believe that even after we go through this, the new administration will have its own ideas as a result of lobbying based on few technology facts and more on how many jobs will be created and how much money will be pumped into the economy. Just once, it would be nice to see decisions this important made on merit and not someone's agenda.
Andrew M. Seybold