How To Give America Wireless Broadband For Christmas 2009 — the Lesson from 3.65 GHz Deployment.

Granted for me it would be Chanukah not Christmas, but I think a real kick ass wireless network with oodles of competition and nifty new gadgets would make such a good present for America for Christmas 2009. And, as the reports from the field on the piece of wireless spectrum the FCC opened up last June show us, the FCC can bring it to us by opening the broadcast “white spaces”.

Sascha Meinrath, a serious partner in crime in spectrum reform, has some data from the field on deployment of equipment in the 3.65 GHz band the FCC finally opened for real in June 2007. Now, a mere 6 month later, Sascha reports on wireless ISPs (WISPs) using this band in the field to deliver broadband. As Sascha writes:

WISPs have been leading the charge and people are reporting 15km non-line-of-sight (NLOS) connectivity with 3650-3700 MHz (operating at 10W) — which is a huge boost over 802.11. Meanwhile, capacity seems to be hovering around 15 MB per 7.5 MHz (or 20MB per 10MHz) — so 100MB connections over 15km without line of sight are quite feasible using this band. All in all, that’s pretty impressive for first-generation equipment. The equipment vendor Aperto is claiming that their new equipment will get 20MB per 7MHz (so you can see the development curve is already fairly steep).

To give you a feel for the real-world implications, folks testing things out reported, “6mb/s indoor at 2 miles NLOS. The base station was a 1 sector install using diversity at approximately 50ft up on tower using 120 degree sectors” — try to get that with an 802.11 access point.

Allow me to draw a few policy implications from this. The lead time from settling the rules to actual deployment of services took six months. By contrast, we have not yet seen any significant deployment in the AWS spectrum auctioned 18 months ago. Yes, some of that was due to the delay of some government licensees in migration. But much also has to do with the nature of licensed v. unlicensed networks. Licensed networks require huge investment of time, resources, standardization of equipment, etc., etc. By contrast, unlicensed networking equipment can be built, certified and deployed effectively relatively quickly.

Policy makers should take note of this in the debate over the broadcast white spaces, aka the vacant channels on the broadcast dial. Broadcasters and some large carriers (like Sprint and T-Mobile) want to see the white spaces licensed rather than opened to unlicensed use. The current broadcast spectrum auction will not begin to bear broadband fruit until 2010 or 2011 at the earliest. And if the FCC were to decide to license the white spaces, we could expect similar lengthy delays while the FCC devised auction rules, held an auction, then waited for the winners to (hopefully) deploy something useful.

Given the continued laggard pace of our national broadband, shouldn’t the FCC learn from its success in the 3.65 GHz band? Licensed and unlicensed networks complement each other, each offering different capabilities. We have taken the first steps toward building the licensed wireless networks in the broadcast spectrum. Why not unleash unlicensed in the white spaces? If the FCC approved rules now, it would practically guarantee that devices could be certified and deployed as soon as we completed the digital transition. Indeed, given the backing of the broadcast white spaces by so many different developers, as compared to the relatively modest backing for 3.65 GHz, the probability of seeing a plethora of wireless networking devices and consumer products available to Americans by Christmas season 2009 rises to almost a certainty. By contrast, we will be lucky if the winners of the 700 MHz licenses will have broken ground on their first towers by then.

Doesn’t America deserve a kick ass wireless network for Christmas 2009? I think so. And if the FCC applies the lesson of its 3.65 GHz success to the broadcast white spaces, we can have one.

Stay tuned . . . .

Brief update on White Spaces

For those following the current White Spaces follies (or, “how Microsoft crashed an entire proceeding by treating spectrum as if it were software”) the FCC announced it will do further testing on white spaces prototypes.

That’s a modest victory for pro-white spaces forces, as the NAB had tried to leverage the failure of the (broken) Microsoft device to force the FCC to shut down the proceeding (or, more realistically, go with stationary devices and say no to mobile devices, with sufficient restrictions on power level and use of adjacent channels to make the white spaces virtually useless). At the same time, however, it ups the stakes pretty severely. Another “blue screen of static” and the NAB will probably get its way.

My sense is that a majority of Commissioners would like to see this happen, if they are convinced the engineering works. That doesn’t just mean a proof of concept. That means a demonstration that the technology today works sufficiently well that the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology can say with confidence “if devices follow these rules, they will not interfere with people trying to watch free over-the-air TV.” We know the theory works, but is the technology ready for prime time?

Stay tuned . . . .

Broadcasters Leverage Monopoly on TV Channels to Push Vacant Channel FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt)

It’s always nice when you can give yourself free advertising time on television. So no surprise the National Association of Broadcasters has launched a major advertising campaign in the DC Area to persuade members of Congress that allowing unlicensed use of the broadcast white spaces will mess up the transition to digital television. Indeed, the NAB has made this into a grand campaign, including a new website called “Interference Zones” complete with adorable graphics of “Wally, the Unlicensed Wireless Device” messing up the “pristine digital television signal” to your “beautiful new digital TV.” I particularly like how they got Wally’s fun-loving but malicious grin rendered so “pristinely.”

And, in case you missed it the first time, the site also contains a link to the Association for Maximum Service Television classic “educational” video Your Neighbor’s Static. “Your Neighbor’s Static” is as realistic a portrayal of the effects of white spaces devices on TV as Reefer Madness is a balanced documentary on the pros and cons of medical marijuana.

It’s all just the usual fun and games here in DC, and a fine example of why the broadcasters have so much power as a lobby.

More below . . . .

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Microsoft Screws Up the White Spaces; or, Why Citizens Movements Are Citizen Driven — the Latest Example

As most of you may have heard by now, the case for using the television “white spaces” for unlicensed use hit an unfortunate snag when the prototype submitted by Microsoft and the tech allies did not perform according to spec. MS and friends now claim that the FCC managed to break the prototype when they took it out of the box. Meanwhile, of course, the broadcaster are making the most of this opportunity to repeat that unlicensed use of the white spaces can never work (ignoring that the the Philips prototype worked perfectly in the lab and that New America Foundation submitted its own, independent engineering data in support of sensing technology).

I have blogged extensively about this on my Public Knowledge blog. Briefly, while an annoying political set back, it means very little from an engineering perspective. There is plenty of evidence from both the Philips proptotype, the New America Foundation data, and other relevant technologies (such as the sharing of the 5.3 GHz space with military radar) to prove the essential soundness of the concept. While important work needs to be done in terms of actually setting appropriate standards and then building devices that will perform to spec, we know it can be done — assuming Microsoft’s blunder doesn’t create enough political noise to kill or cripple the project.

Which is why I bother to blog again about it here. To underscore yet again the importance of making sure citizen’s movements are citizen driven and that we do not allow ourselves to let corporate allies do all the heavy lifting. It’s nice to have big friends like Microsoft and Google. They sure as heck open a lot of doors and can bring a lot of resources to the fight. But never, never, NEVER make the mistake of letting them handle the driving of an issue when the public interest is at stake.

And, if I may make some pointed remarks to my friends in the open software and GNU Radio movement. Some time back I linked to this excellent piece urging techies to spend more time making the mechanisms of government work and less time merely bitching about how government keeps coming up with the wrong result. Here is an excellent opportunity to step up to the plate and provide some open source prototypes (or even simply additional test data) that demonstrate proof of concept. No, this is not a simple project. It requires an investment of time and resources. But the payoff is potentially huge. I’m making a standing offer for techies who want to contribute some real science and engineering know-how to the cause of open spectrum: if you have something you want submitted, contact me and I will work with you to get it in the record (or explain to you why it is not as useful as you thought and how you can improve it). Because I can tell you from experience that the engineers at the FCC are actually very eager to get as much data as possible and to get the engineering right on this.

Because freinds, this is like anything else in our democracy. If you don’t participate, then you’re just bleeting sheep. But if you come play, you can make a difference. As Ben Franklin once said: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well armed lamb protesting the vote.”

Time for us to see if we have enough well armed lambs, or if the techno-herd would rather see Microsoft do the fighting.

Stay tuned . . . . .

700 MHz Endgame: Wholesale Open Access Down, But Not Quite Out.

Yesterday, the House Commerce Committee held its FCC Oversight hearing. As expected, the 700 MHz auction attracted a great deal of attention. As I wrote in previous entries, this was make or break time for wholesale open access. If Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Michigan) and Telecom Subcommittee Chair Ed Markey (D-MA) voiced strong support, that might push Martin to adopt full wholesale open access in light of Google’s commitment to bid. OTOH, if the House Dems did not back wholesale, then Martin would be unlikely to budge.

Dingel and Markey did not back wholesale open access. Indeed, Dingell backed off slightly from his previous hard-line stance on even device open access (aka, “open access-lite” aka the “Martin plan”), asking for assurances that including such a condition would not hurt auction revenue or limit bidding. Markey, while enthusiastically supporting device open access and suggesting ways to improve it and make it effective, did not mention wholesale at all.

The biggest supporter of wholesale open access was Mike Doyle (D-PA), who gets a huge Sausage Factory cheer for stepping up to the challenge. You can see a clip of him asking the Commissioners where they stand on wholesale open access here. The good news is that Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathon Adelstein remained staunch in their defense of wholesale open access as a means of encouraging competition and deployment. Intriguingly, Martin did not slam the idea, but said this was not the place to do it because he had concerns about the incentives for network build out of wholesalers. McDowell remained adamant against (as he did against even Martin’s device open access proposal), although McDowell praised the pending FCC proceeding to open the broadcast “white spaces” for unlicensed use (which I hope he remembers when the time comes). Tate did not answer Doyle’s question (no time), but elsewhere said she was keeping an “open mind” on device open access.

Republicans, with the exception of Pickering (R-Miss) slammed Martin hard for supporting even device open access. To his credit, Martin defended the idea that the auction was not about maximizing revenue but about getting the best policy. But the near-uniform opposition to any conditions on licenses by Republicans, combined with the silence of key Democrats on wholesale, puts Martin in a real bind.

So what happens now? Are there any cards left to play, rabbits to pull out of hats, or Corbemite maneuvers to run that could still save wholesale open access. Yes, but they are very long odds indeed. With the vote now scheduled for July 31, we are just after the two minute warning and down a touchdown and a field goal.

More analysis below . . . .

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700 MHz Auction Update — FCC Republicans Interested In Public Interest Proposals While Senate Democrats Take a Pass.

Welcome once again to the topsy-turvy land of spectrum politics. Although Republican FCC Chair Kevin Martin shattered expectations by seeking comment on the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC) proposals for the 700 MHz auction, the Senate Democrats have decided to avoid having anyone from the public interest discuss the auction at next Thursday’s (June 14) hearing. In other words, despite my hope to the contrary, the Democratic Senate Commerce Committee is still playing spectrum politics under the old rules (treating this as an industry food fight and a chance to raise revenue), rather than using this as a chance to promote a robust public debate on how to ensure that wireless auctions promote competition and serve the public interest.

As a result, when the Senate Commerce Committee gathers to ask how the 700 MHz wireless auction can introduce new competitors for broadband and facilitate the open networks critical for civic engagement and innovation, they will hear from Mr. Dick Lynch of Verizon Wireless, Mr. Michael Small of Centennial Communications Corporation, and Dr. Amol R. Sarva of the Wireless Founders Coalition For Innovation. While Verizon has supported anonymous bidding, and the Wireless Founders Coalition supports open access, that hardly takes the place of having actual public interest representatives up there to press for real spectrum reform regardless of the impact on business models or bottom lines. As I say all too often (everyone repeat together) citizen movements must be citizen driven, and that includes giving us folks pushing the public interest an opportunity to speak rather than relegating us to the side-lines because corporate interests overlap with ours.

More below . . . .

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Support the Internet Radio Equality Act!

According to this article, Rep. Inslee (D-WA) and Rep. Manzullo (R-IL) have introduced The Internet Radio Equality Act. From my brief reading, it nullifies the previous decision of the Copyright Royalty Board that started this mess, replaces the current langauge with the same standard used for satellite radio, and sets transitional rates until the next CRB hearing under the new standard.

Inslee has long been a friend to tech and new media and a foe of media consolidaion. In 2006, he joined with Markey and others to sponsor a stand alone NN bill after COPE passed out of the House Commerce Committee. Inslee has also been a champion on unlicensed access in the broadcast white spaces and supported municipal broadband.

The folks at SaveNetRadio now have an action alert on their front page to get nfolks to contact their representatives to get this through and signed into law before the new rates kick in on May 15.

I am reminded of an old saying that one of the professors at my law school alma mater was want to say: “Dogs get kicked; hogs get et.” Here, SoundExchange decided to act like a hog. As a result, they may get their cushy litte standard completely reset.

At least until May 15, stay tuned . . . . .

Kerry drops another good bill

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) has introduced the Wireless Innovation Act of 2007. This bill is essentially the same excellent bill to force the FCC to open up the White Spaces that Kerry, Allen (now no longer in the Senate), Boxer and Sunnunu introduced in 2006 and was later incorporated into the Stevens Bill.

The bill requires the FCC to complete its pending rulemaking on the broadcast white spaces and allocate the use for unlicensed spectrum. Given that the FCC has shifted into reverse on this and has decided to reexplore the licensed v. unlicensed question, it’s nice to see folks on the Hill pushing for this.

Stay tuned . . . .

NAB Turkey of A Report

As reported at Consumers Union blog The National Association of Broadcasters has done its best to show that owning broadcast stations loses money. Unsurprisingly, they recommend relaxing local ownership rules to allow owners to chase the happy, mythical synergy rainbow that has proven such a winner for Clear Channel, Tribune, Viacom and growing list of companies that absorbed profitable businesses and turned them into failing operations ladden with debt.

We shall leave aside the absurdity of the NAB’s arguments for the moment to get to something even sillier, the absurdity of the NAB’s math. Not since fictional Fundamentalists supposedly redefined Pi as 3 has ideology so distorted the basic precepts of mathematics. Worse, these are not accidents or “fudging.” I count no fewer than two major errors in methodology or presentation per page as well as many major methodological errors that impact the paper overall.

How bad is this paper? It is so bad that you would expect it to appear in the “April Fools” edition of Econometrica. It is so bad that I would expect its author, Theresa J Ottina, to be banned for life from meetings of the American Economic Association. It is so bad that every professor of economics and statistical analysis should download it and give it to their class as a final exam question to see if the class can spot all the errors as a kind of economics “Where’s Waldo” of mistakes, gaffes, and deceits. It is such a botched attempt at a lie by statistical analysis that I have half a mind to file a complaint with the FCC requesting they sanction NAB and Ms. Ottina for violating the FCC’s requirement that submissions reflect an honest effort to provide true information (a certification NAB made in its filing).

What makes it so bad? And why does the NAB submit such a piece of obvious crap?

See below . . . .

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So How About That New Congress?

So how about that mid-term election? Of course, even before the dust settled, folks have scrambled to opine what changes and what happens next.

Unsurprisingly, most of the guesswork in media and telecom focuses on what we know right now – we know how Burns and Allen used to vote. We know (at least somewhat) about the priorities of likely House Commerce Chair Dingell, likely (unless he takes something else) House Telecom Subcom Chair Markey, Likely Senate Commerce Chair Inouye (who may or may not reconstitute the Telecom Subcommittee), and likely leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi (and other existing shakers and movers).

But guessing how the new Congress will tackle these issues presents a lot more complicated guessing – particularly without knowing who serves on what Committees.

My guesses, and what activists need to do to drive the agenda, below. . . .

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