Tales of the Sausage Factory: Action Alert on Broadband

I’ve been distributing this for anyone interested in using unlicensed spectrum in the broadcast bands.

BTW, due to major issues going on at work (we are losing one of our three attorneys and reorganizing), I’m likely to post terse, infrequent things over the next month or two. Sorry. I swear I’ll keep trying.

Stay tuned . . . .



Contact: Harold Feld, Associate Director, Media Access Project


The FCC has proposed allowing low power unlicensed use in the broadcast bands. Specifically, the FCC proposes a scheme to allow use of “vacant channels” (as defined in the official Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)) for low-power unlicensed transmitters.

If done correctly, this could provide a tremendous boost to efforts to create both commercial and non-commercial wireless networks. The relevant frequency bands have physical characteristics that make them particularly valuable for unlicensed access. It takes much less power to send a signal at these frequencies, and the transmitted signal can penetrate obstacles that signals at 2.4 GHz or higher will not penetrate. Even very low power signals in these bands can provide important coverage in urban, suburban, and rural environments.

But the FCC has not proposed a viable set of rules. The proposed rules allow television broadcasters, all of whom received their broadcast licenses for free, to charge fees for access to broadcast spectrum. The FCC further hobbles the potential for networking through its refusal to trust the reliability of already proven technologies for interference control. It therefore requires mitigation measures that will make it practically impossible for community wireless networks (CWNs) and low-cost commercial wireless internet service providers (WISPs) to use of the frequencies.

The proposed FCC rules would:

• Require all devices to accept a “command signal” from broadcasters, allowing broadcasters to dictate the ability of any wireless network or device to access broadcast spectrum. Broadcasters may receive “compensation” for this service. This will essentially foreclose community networks, small ISPs, and transmission of content that competes with broadcast television. While “pilot beacons” that signal when spectrum is or isn’t available may become a valuable tool for allowing greater access to public spectrum, the FCC proposal places all the power in the hands of the broadcasters.

• Require all devices using broadcast spectrum to transmit an “ID beacon” containing the owner’s personal contact information. While intended to allow broadcasters to find sources of interference, this would also allows any thief or hacker access into your laptop, PDA, or other wifi enabled device. Again, while ID beacons may help foster increased public access in some circumstances, the FCC’s proposal as written raises serious concerns.

• Require “professional installation” for any non-portable device used for networking. This requirement would impose a heavy burden on volunteer community wireless networks, particularly those communities for which English is not a first language.

• Mandate GPS location technology, an expensive form of location technology, rather than permit cheaper alternatives.

The flaws in the FCC’s proposal derive from a combination of timid vision by the agency and a failure to understand the realities driving unlicensed networking. Public comment on relevant issues can persuade the agency to correct the problems in the proposal.

MAP asks on all individuals and organizations interested in the deployment wireless networks to file comments with the FCC. MAP urges interested parties to tell the FCC:

• Broadcasters, who have received their spectrum licenses for free on condition that they serve the public interest, should not have the power to tax wireless networks by imposing access fees.

• Broadcasters should have no ability to control access to public spectrum, particularly where broadcasters have an interest in controlling the nature of public access.

• The FCC does not create access rules to benefit broadcasters, but to protect the viewing public from harmful interference with free, over the air television. The FCC should rely on technologies that place control in the hands of users – such as reliance on dynamic power and frequency controls – rather than protect broadcasters from competition.

• The FCC should not mandate ID beacons for portable devices. This is an invitation to identity theft, security breaches or worse. Nor does it address any interference issues. No single laptop or PDA is going to interfere with a licensee.

• The FCC should not require professional installation of unlicensed devices. This imposes an unfair burden on community wireless networks, small WISPs, and non-English speakers.

• The FCC should not mandate specific technologies. For example, it should not require GPS, but should instead require that all devices demonstrate an ability to “know” its precise location and change its behavior accordingly.

Anyone can file comments at the FCC. Even if the comment and reply comment deadlines have passed, interested parties can continue to file comments using the procedure outlined below.

Contrary to popular belief, the FCC really does read public comments and really does care about them. At the same time, the FCC does not just count noses. A comment that just reads AI like unlicensed@ or Adon=t just give spectrum to greedy broadcasters, give it to the people@ doesn’t help as much as something more detailed. Most important are comments that provide either technical information or real world experiences that underscore the value of unlicensed wireless access.

A copy (PDF) of the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is available at:

http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-04-113A1.pdf The docket number for the proceeding is ET 04-186.

How To File Comments

Anyone with Internet access can file a comment just by going to the FCC=s webpage and typing in the window provided (scroll down to the bottom of the page). The FCC will accept written comments in Word, WordPerfect, or PDF format. You can also type in short comments directly to the FCC on its comments webpage at:


If you write comments, you should include at the top the name of the proceeding and the Docket No. You must also include in the written comments the date of filing, your name, and an address where you can be reached. You do not need to be a lawyer, or even a U.S. citizen, to write or file comments before the FCC.

When you go to file your comments, the docket number should be entered as 04-186 (ignore the letters that designate which bureau has jurisdiction). The FCC=s webpage is relatively self-explanatory about what information is required and how to attach any files. At the end of the process, you will receive a confirmation from the FCC that your comments were filed. You may wish to print this out and save it for your files.

You may view other comments in this proceeding by using the FCC=s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) search function available at:


A Style Guide For Drafting Comments To The FCC

Be polite- The staff at the FCC are real people with human feelings. They do not appreciate hearing that they are morons or losers or corrupt servants of special interests. If you abuse them, they will disregard your comments. That=s just human nature.

Explain yourself- Many of the people who will read your comments are not engineers or are engineers unfamiliar with the specific issues you describe. If you assume an audience generally familiar with the issues but with no technical training, you will probably hit the right level. At the same time, do include complex technical or economic information where can. This is important in building the record. If you have lengthy technical comments, try having a plain English summary at the beginning followed by technical comments. Make sure you explain all acronyms.

Give details- The FCC needs to hear about real world experiences in the field. Even if you are just a general supporter of unlicensed access services such as wifi, try to put details in the comments that relate the particular proceeding to your experience. For example, if you are a business, discuss the economic impact of unlicensed access and how you would benefit from expanding unlicensed access. If you are an community volunteer, discuss how community wireless networks have improved your community.

While there is no page limit (some filings are hundreds of pages long), try to stick to essentials. A shorter document will be given preferential treatment by staffers than a longer one that says the same thing. This is simply human nature.

How To Stay Involved

You can always check how a docket is going by clicking to the FCC=s ECFS search page: http://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/comsrch_v2.cgi. As with filing a comment, enter the docket numbers as 04-186. Comments will appear in chronological order, with the most recently filed comment at the top.

Media Access Project, New America Foundation, Free Press, and the Champaign Urbana Wireless Internet Network will continue to update their websites with new information on this issue. The relevant websites are:

MAP: http://ww.mediaaccess.org

NAF: http://www.spectrumpolicy.org.

Free Press: http://www.freepress.net/wifi/

CUWIN: http://www.cuwireless.net

In addition, the Washington Internet Project (http://www.cybertelecom.org) is a good resource for FCC proceedings that relate to internet issues before the FCC, including unlicensed access.

Harold Feld writes a blog about wireless issues (among other things) called Tales of the Sausage Factory hosted at www.wetmachine.com. Sascha Meinrath does a much more focused blog on community wireless at http://www.saschameinrath.com/

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