John E. Sundman 1926 — 2013

[Editor’s Note: Because I’ve published books under three middle names and created a variety of  fictional “John [$variable] Sundman”  personae, I find myself in the unusual position of stating that the obituary that follows is for a quite real person, my father, who died last Monday. The newspaper obituary is here. A longer version follows below the fold, with a few comments by me at the end of it.  You’ll note that my father’s father was also named John Sundman. I suggest we blame him for any confusion — jrs.]

John E. Sundman

Dad in green polo shirt at LBI.

Dad in green polo shirt at LBI.

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Will The Fed Shutdown Screw Up This Season’s Xmas Tech Toys?

No one outside the small world of telecom policy cared much that the Federal Shutdown would close the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Other than the hope that closing the FCC would open the door for Joss Whedon to slip in some full frontal nudity and cussing on the next episode of Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D., most people don’t think of the FCC as having much impact on their lives.


It turns out, however, that the shut down of the FCC may very well delay the sale of new tech toys scheduled for release this Christmas season. And I don’t just mean the obviously FCC things like new cellphones. Every toy with a computer chip, every TV set, every microwave oven, and just about everything else that produces “radio frequency emissions” needs an FCC certification before it can get shipped to stores for sale.


Why? Because things that draw a lot of electric current that oscillates rapidly, like a computer chip, produces radio interference. If you have something that shoots short bursts of high powered radio waves, like your microwave oven (aka “radarrange oven” for you spectrum trivia buffs), you want to make sure the device won’t ‘leak’ into neighboring spectrum and cause interference with things like cordless phones. Also, if your cell phone or wifi chip gets the power jacked up too high, it can microwave your ear off or something.


So to keep your microwave from interfering with your cellphone, and to keep your cellphone from microwaving your face, federal law requires the FCC to certify all devices that produce radio waves (either intentionally for communication or just incident to use). Most of the actual testing is done by outside laboratories, and the process as a whole is fairly well streamlined. But with no one at the FCC to review the lab reports and process the paper work, the backlog is starting to mount and all the tech toys for this year’s Christmas season are stuck in Santa’s workshop, aka storehouses Singapore, waiting for certification so they can get to U.S. stores in time.


The FCC on average processes a little over 1000 applications for certification a month. They process them in the order they arrive. But not only is no one at home right now processing the ones that were already filed, you can’t file new ones. If you are a manufacturer, you now have absolutely no idea if your product will be on shelves on Black Friday. Worse, your competitor’s product could be there a week or two weeks ahead of yours, getting all the reviews and becoming The Hot Tech Toy of The Season while your product languishes on loading docks.


And it’s even worse for us Jewish people. Chanukah hits at Thanksgiving this year. Thousands of disappointed little Jewish boys and girls will be stuck with all the Uncool Last Year’s Models, while all their non-Jewish friends can still get the latest models on the 24th of December. Our last Thanksgivingukkah for the next millennium, ruined by the federal shutdown!


Will this be the Shutdown That Ruins Christmas? Or will the spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men come back to Washington, and get those hardworking, lovable little federal elves back to the FCC branch office at Santa’s workshop in time?


Stay tuned . . . .

Why Does The Internet Innovation Association Hate The Rural Call Completion Order, Privacy, and Next Generation 9-1-1?

The Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) became the latest trade association demanding that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the states stop working to solve the Rural Call Completion problem. IIA also called for state and federal agencies to stop working on Next Generation 9-1-1 issues, apparently deciding the recent report by CalNena about the declining reliability of mobile 9-1-1 location information was nothing to worry about.  The new report preemptively called for an end to any effort to deal with the growing problem of caller i.d. spoofing and related vulnerabilities in voice-over-IP (VOIP) services. Finally, IIA demanded we eliminate the “legacy rules” that limit the ability of the government or companies to read your call records. You can read the report here..


Granted, the report didn’t say that explicitly. Instead, the IIA repeated what has become the standard industry refrain about how the key to transitioning our phone system from traditional technology to Internet protocol (IP) and wireless is to totally eliminate all federal or state authority over the new phone services. But it amounts to the same thing. A demand that we end the FCC’s authority under “legacy phone regulations” that allow it to address Rural Call Completion translates rather directly into consigning Rural America to telephone purgatory — especially when you give no indication of what should replace it.


The IIA Report is only the latest in what appears to be a never-ending series of white papers, opinion pieces and typical Washington blather on how the bestest thing we can do to transition the phone system is get rid of “legacy regulation.” Because although the market is apparently already so totally going there that we don’t need to worry about the 100 Million people and millions of small business that rely on copper (the one third of the market that still has a traditional copper line), pernicious legacy regulation is sadly holding things back so much we must eliminate it right away. Try not to think about this contradiction too hard.


If the IIA talking points sound familiar, it’s because they are exactly the same as those used by Verizon to explain why Voice Link was just the medicine Fire Island needed to recover from Sandy.  If we want the PSTN Transition to get the same reaction that Fire Island residents gave Voice Link, by all means let us continue down this path. If we would prefer to avoid a crash and burn that makes the opening days of the Affordable Care Act look like smooth sailing, I highly recommend industry groups like IIA stop trying to leverage this for regulatory arbitrage and start coming up with some real proposals on how to upgrade our policies while we upgrade our phone system.


More below . . . .

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