A Must Attend for Community Wireless Networking

Below the surface, where policy makers rarely go, live the community wireless networkers. They don’t have billions in capitalization, they don’t lay miles of fiber, and they don’t have spectrum licenses. Heck, most aren’t even commercial organizations. Many of them are collections of volunteers, or non-profit organizations. The commercial ones are usually small businesses, embedded in their comunities, trying a run a business in a responsible manner rather than dreaming of huge IPOs.

But the community wireless networks (CWN) change people’s lives every day. They bring broadband connectivity to neighborhoods that can’t afford it and the rural areas that the big boys ignore. They are the development lab of innovation for networking. From open source mesh to solar powered transmitters to “cantenna”-type reuse and recycling of available parts, you can find folks playing with these in community wireless networks.

The Third International Summit for Community Wireless will take place in Columbia, MD at Loyolla Colege on May 18-20. It represents an unparalleled oppotunity to find out what is going on not just here in the U.S., but in other countries as well. This is the place to find out how people confronting the “digital divide” in the trenches are finding solutions in places that the largest companies don’t want to service. Whether it’s how to keep cows from knocking down your towers or how to make sure a local project stays local and sustainable, you’ll find people talking about it here.

I plan to be there. I know a lot of great people listed in the press release reproduced below plan to come as well. If you’re smart, you will as well.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Oh yeah, the Skype Petition . . .

In addition to my pleas to save the 700 MHz auction, save postal rates, save internet radio, save the last dance, etc., etc., I almost completely forgot about supporting the Skype Petition. Comments are due Monday, April 30. You can file comments by going to the FCC’s website and filling out the fields. It’s pretty self explanatory except the docket number, which is RM-11361. Just click here.

Oh yeah, I should probably explain a bit about what this is and why you should care. For that, see below . . . . .

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Open Access Included in Spectrum Notice! Fish In Trees! Rivers Running Uphill!

Yesterday, I wrote, with regard to whether the FCC’s Further Notice on the 700 MHz Spectrum Auction would include questions on our open access proposal:

I think our chances of moving forward to the next round are pretty close to zero. OTOH, I live from day-to-day in the hope of pleasant surprises.

Apparently, I live another day. And so does the open access proposal. As explained by Gigi Sohn, we live to fight another day.

It was a wild meeting. Pushed back from 9:30 to 10:30, then pushed off again until 6:45 p.m. The contentious issue was, as predicted, license size. Apparently, McDowell teamed with the Ds to make sure the Further Notice requested comment on a mix of licenses and not just the large licenses that Martin wanted.

The Order is not yet out, so I can’t really assess yet what the results are. Heck, they don’t even have all the seperate statements up yet. Here are links to the news release, Chairman Martin’s statement (expressing disappointment over the license size issue), Commissioner Adestein’s statement (with a shout out to the public interest coalition!), and Commissioner McDowell’s statement (which basically says “I know I’m the swing vote, but I need to catch up on the comments because I’ve been out with my new kid”).

But whatever happens, I gotta give a shout out to Martin for being willing to put the open access question out there and have it debated. Yes, all credit to the Ds. But I don’t believe we would be positioned to have the discussion about wireless open access if Martin had been dead set against it.

Off to bed. It’s been a day.

Stay tuned . . . .

Get Your Brackets Set for Tomorrow's Spectrum Sweet Sixteen!

In the FCC’s version of “April Madness,” the FCC will hold a meeting tomorrow (April 25). Among other items, the meeting will consider an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the upcoming 700 MHz Auction.

Readers who plowed through my impossibly long field guide to the 700 MHz auction may recall that I highlighted a large number of issues and players that have clustered around this extremely important auction. Many critical filings and proposals (including, I am embarassed to admit, those of the public interest spectrum coalition) came in after the official deadline. (Hey! We’re busy! If someone wants to give Media Access Project a million dollars or two so we can stay on top of everything, email me!)

The combination of far reaching proposals and lack of time has prompted incumbents to challenge the FCC’s ability to grant these proposals because they do not comply with the “notice” requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The APA requires that an agency give everyone notice of what it plans to do and give interested parties a chance to comment. So the FCC will solve this problem by making some basic decisions now, and rolling over the remaining decisions to a Further Notice. Since we have a statutory deadline ticking away, parties will get only a month for comments and replies, and the FCC will make its final decisions at the end of May or early June. That way, they can still get to the auction by January 2008.

In other words, Wed. represents the first cut on how the FCC will proceed and the general direction it will go for the auction. Will it favor the incumbent push for large license blocks and open bidding? Will it allow the Frontline proposal to go forward? What about network neutrality?

Below I give my “spectrum bracket” for who gets to go from the Sweet Spectrum Sixteen to the Final Four. What’s likely to get cancelled, get renewed, or remains on “the bubble” for next season? Which proposals get “voted off the Island?” For my guesses, and my further entries for the next Stephen Colbert Meta-Free-For-All, see below . . .

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Dr. Rose Proves It Was Spectrum Co. In The Kitchen With the Candlestick . . .

My good friend Dr. Gregory Rose has released two studies on last summer’s AWS Auction. I just bloged about them at length over at the Public Knowledge policy blog. So rather than repeat myself, I will merely say:

I argued after the AWS auction that cable companies and wireless incumbents had used the auction to kill DBS as a competitor. Rose proves that in his first report,
How Incumbents Blocked New Entrants In The AWS-1 Auction: Lessons For The Future.

Rose’s second report, Tacit Collusion In The AWS Auction: The Signalling Problem, looks at the use of bids to communicate. Again, as I’ve argued before, only by adopting anonymous bidding rules can the FCC stop bidders from suing the auction process to signal each other.

For the rest of my commentary, check out my PK blog.

Stay tuned . . . .

My Impossibly Long Field Guide for the 700 MHz Auction (It's Really Important, Even If You Haven't Heard About It Much In The Main Stream Media)

Few events in the wireless world matter so much, yet get so little coverage, as the upcomming 700 MHz wireless auction. Why? Because they’re hard, and the mainstream media (MSM to us “bloggers”) are afraid you will get all confuzzled and bored. Besides, isn’t non-stop coverage of Anna Nichole Smith more satisfying? (Hint: She’s still dead.)

Small wonder that even if you are in the minority of folks who have heard about the “digital television transition” and the “return of the analog spectrum,” you have not heard about the huge policy fights over how to auction off the single most important block of spectrum for the foreseeable future. Which is, of course, how the big carriers like it.

You can find a pretty good 12-page summary prepared by some investment analysts over here. But, being the highly-opinionated public advocate and believer in democracy that I am, I also provide a hopefully helpful guide for de-mystifying the swirl of players and activity attracted to the distribution of this multi-billion dollar block of spectrum licenses. Issues include network neutrality, open access, wireless competition, the future of broadband competition, and a whole lot of public safety stuff. It includes a cast of thousands from Frontline to Cyren Call to the Ad Hoc Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (I thought up the name myself! O.K., I was in a rush . . . .) and an army of incumbents that like the universe just the way it is, thank you and do not look kindly on those of us trying to shake things up.

I warn you, this is extremely long (13 pages, I probably should have broken it up into more than one post), and complicated, and all that stuff that mainstream media figures your pretty lil’ heads can’t handle without getting all confuzzled. So, if ye be readers of courage, willing to risk getting all confuzzled and thinking about how our wireless and broadband future will unflold for the next 10-15 years, read on! Or you can go back to Google News and plug in “Anna Nichole Smith” (yup, still dead).

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My Academic Article on Unlicensed Spectrum Gets Published

Every now and then, I take a break from the delightful and snarky world of blogging to dash off the odd researched piece for an academic journal. This is always an annoying and painstaking process, because academic journals want footnotes not just the occassional link. They also dislike articles that use terms like “incumbent whankers.”

Still, the effort (when I can find the time for it) is usually worth it — at least from my perspective. You can judge for yourself by following the link to the Commlaw Conspectus website and downloading From Third Class Citizen to First Among Equals: Rethinking the Place of Unlicensed Spectrum in the FCC Hierarchy.

For those unsure if its worth slogging through 39 pages of lawyer writing, here’s a summary. The FCC has a basic hierarchy of licensed spectrum, licensed by rule (family radio service and a few other things), and unlicensed spectrum. From a wireless perspective, the FCC exists for licensed spectrum, has a few oddball things licensed by rule, and has a few slivers of space open for unlicensed spectrum. Unlicensed spectrum is the “third class citizen,” required to shut off if it causes the least interference to licensed services while accepting any interference that comes its way. When the FCC allocates spectrum rights, it does everything possible for licensed services while looking with askance at the free-wheeling unlicensed poor relation. As a result, licensed services get choice spectrum and unlicensed services get the leavings — and that on sufferance.

In my article, I argue that the First Amendment calls for standing this on its head. Licensing of spectrum came about because old technology couldn’t handle everyone using this all at once we call this the “scarcity rationale,” because the need to license spectrum to avoid interference made licenses ‘scarce’). But because the FCC must give the approval for any new technologies, the technology to eliminate scarcity (and thus eliminate the need for exclusive licensing) will never come about. This circular reasoning offends the First Amendment. Accordingly, when the FCC considers whether to permit unlicensed uses, it should need to justify its decisions under a higher Constitutional standard than it does in other licensing cases (“intermediate scrutiny” rather than “rational basis” for all you legal types out there).

Besides, I argue, it’s also better policy.

While I hardly expect the FCC and the federal courts to read my piece and exclaim: “At last! What perfect wisdom! What fools we have been!” I do hope this helps advance the debate some. As with everyone else who publishes in a field where the debate has simmered for a few years, I argue for a “third way” between licensing and commons. Rather than eliminating exclusive licensing altogether, or proposing we split the spectrum down the middle, I propose allowing a gradual evolution in technology and until exclusive licensing will gradually wither away, with perhaps a handful of truly sensitive services still licensed exclusively.

Of course, if that happened, your cell phone bill would drop like a rock, ubiquitous wireless broadband would become too cheap to meter, and television and radio conglomerates would lose their precious monopolies on the airwaves. So don’t hold your breath.

Stay tuned . . .

Tim Wu Writes Incredibly Important Paper on Wireless Networks

Tim Wu, a brilliant scholar who combines an understanding of law, technology and economics to his writing, has written an incredibly important paper on wireless networks for the New America Wireless Future Program. You can download it here.

But Tim has done more than write a brilliant paper about why we need network attachment rules and network neutrality rules for wireless networks. He has — by accident or design — put his finger on the critical issue of public policy of our time. Do we regulate to increase public welfare, or do we only regulate to cure “market failure”?

What the paper is about, why it’s important, and what the opposition to it tells about the state of public policy these days, below….

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Boston City Council “Wicked OTAHD-ed”

According to this article, the City of Boston is considering banning or otherwise regulating the placement of DBS receiver dishes. The article reports that in a number of places these have become real eye sores, especially where a tenant moves out and just leaves the dish. Also, DBS comapnies are increasingly puting dishes in windows rather than all the way on roofs, and are generally not that concerned with keeping the neighborhood looking pretty.

Nevertheless, after the trouncing the FCC gave Massport last month over OTARD, this is pretty silly. Or, as those of us from Boston might say “wicked OTAHDed.”

Now there are ways the City can try to deal with the esthetic problems. For example, it could mandate that landlords permit use of rooftops for DBS providers (one big problem is often that landlords sign exclusive deals with incumbent cable operators, so only tennants with a southern exposure window can subscribe). Or Boston might require that any tenant that terminates DBS service remove the dish or who moves must remove the receiver dish. The city could probably require that if a DBS or other provider comes to install a dish and finds a “dead dish” connected to the residence, the DBS provider must remove it (I’m a little leary of this one because it imposes additional costs on the DBS provider and therefore may be preempted by federal law).

These are just ideas off the top of my head, so they may not be plausible. If the City of Boston wants some help, I recommend the Boston University Law School Legislative Drafting Clinic (of which I am an alum). But I hope they resist the urge to just pass something stupid that a federal judge will smack down in five minutes. That never helps anyone, and is especially irritating when taking a bit of time and effort to get it right can save everyone some grief down the road.

Stay tuned . . . .

GAO Report: Believing in Competition Doesn’t Make It Happen

Sometimes I think that the D.C. Circuit and the Republicans running the various Commerce Committees are the Arch Priests of Kiplings Gods of the Market, and it has brow-beaten the poor FCC through repeated reversals accompanied by tongue lashings into embracing this nonsense. The chief tenant of the Gods of the Market Place is that by deregulating the industry, competition emerges and consumers enjoy all the happiness that comes from a competitive environment. If this fails to happen as expected, adherents of the Gods of the Market practice a discipline called “Denial of Reality.” Practitioners of Denial of Reality believe that if you sufficiently discredit people who tell you about actual reality, and keep repeating that the reality you want actually exists, then Actual Reality will eventually by browbeaten into conforming to the reality promised by the Gods of the Market Place. And the FCC, like a good little penitent, keeps trying to produce reports that give the D.C. Circuit and the Republicans in Congress the world they want to see rather than actual reality.

Sadly, as GAO studies keep demonstrating, wishing for competition doesn’t make it so. This latest GAO Report on the lack of competition for business customers in major urban areas (and nicely explained in this piece here) is but the latest in a series of real world reports demonstrating that you can only ignore reality for so long before it bites you in the tender places. Sadly, however, it chomps down hard on the just and the unjust alike.

My analysis below . . .

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