Although no spectrum items appeared on the FCC open meeting agenda, there appears to be considerable spectrum action happening at the FCC right now.
1) The Office of Engineering and Technology, the day before Chairman Martin's confirmation hearing, published this this proposed schedule for the FCC's white spaces proceeding to move forward. This proceeding would open the unassigned channels in the television broadcast space, called “white spaces,” to unlicensed use.
The broadcast bands have physical properties that make them particularly useful for a variety of purposes. They can penetrate objects (such as wet leaves) and transmit signal significant distances for little energy cost. Because these bands are so useful for broadband, tech companies have joined with community wireless advocates to push for access to these white spaces.
Former FCC Chair Michael Powell was very enthusiastic about this proceeding as a way to get broadband competition. Martin has been a lot less excited about wireless generally than Powell was, a lot less excited than that about unlicensed generally, and even less excited that that about white spaces, since it means going toe-to-toe against the broadcasters (who oppose any use by others of “their” spectrum).
So the focus on white spaces has been in Congress, where it has had some modest success. It even made it into the otherwise wretched Stevens telecom reform bill.
So a number of us in DC are scratching our heads on why Martin has now given the o.k. to move forward on this proceeding. The timing of the notice (right before Martin's confirmation hearing) smells of politics. But the Stevens Bill isn't moving. And while many folks on the Senate Commerce Committee in both parties like the idea of opening the white spaces, the big issues for Martin were USF, media ownership, and network neutrality.
Whatever the reason, however, seeing forward movement on this proceeding is a welcome surprise.
2) The press reports that the FCC is close to resolving the dispute between Massport (which controls Logan Airport) and Continental Airlines on whether Continental can use its own wifi or must use Massport's exclusive contractor. This apparently minor proceeding has huge implications for use of wireless systems. If a landlord can block a tenant from using his or her own wireless system and require the tenant to use the system the landlord demands, then competition for fixed wireless services pretty much goes out the window.
In wireline services, incumbent wireline providers cut exclusive deals with landlords to keep out competitors. Want to subscribe to a cable overbuilder or CLEC? Too bad, says the landlord. As a condition of your lease, you have to use my provider. This is perfectly o.k., and has had huge impact on residential competition.
So it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see incumbents — including wireline incumbents — doing the same thing for wireless. Heck, Comcast and TW now have massive spectrum inventories. They can cut deals with landlords who will then turn around and say “you can use wireless, but it has to be my provider — Comcast.” (Comcast, btw, is the provider Massport uses — at least according to the start up screen last time I passed through Logan.)
From what the press are saying, it looks like the FCC will come out in the right place on this one. I certainly hope so.
On the licensed side, the FCC issued three significant Notices in the last few months. The most important is the Notice for the auction rules for the 800 MHz auction (the returned DTV spectrum). That having been the subject of my last post, I won't belabor the issue here.
After a long quiessence, the FCC is once again looking at unlicensed spectrum. Hopefully, we will see some positive action soon.