Regulating Technology A closet full of memories
The other day one of my associates was rooting through a closet in our offices looking for some obscure supplies. This particular closet is darkly tucked in a corner of the offices to offset an inexact floor plan. The closet’s contents are often forgotten, yet it is the natural vortex into which all things unnecessary, but seemingly precious, seem to flow–like a woman’s purse. So, it was the natural resting spot of a well-preserved copy of an industry magazine dated December 1986 that had fallen unceremoniously behind some shelves.
Although the discovery of the magazine didn’t cause the same stir as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the contents of the magazine provided an interesting perspective. I was on the scene in ’86 and had begun my deep involvement in the changing regulatory environment. But at the time, I didn’t fully recognize the watershed events that were occurring in that year.
In 1986, the FCC completed its last significant Report and Order in Docket 83-737, that created the monopoly frequency coordination system. Although the system has been criticized and challenged, it has endured for these ten years and has created a new strata of power brokers in telecommunications regulation. Well-known and respected before the Order was released, Mark Crosby and Jay Kitchen would become more than servants of industry associations. They often came to symbolize the competitive struggle to redefine the direction of regulation, sometime as zealots and often as steadying, paternal figures.
Jay Kitchen was quoted in the magazine on an issue that was in its infancy ten years ago, auctions of radio spectrum. Responding to Chairman Mark Fowler’s support of auctions, then NABER President Kitchen said, “Let the industry message be clear. We do not want auctions and we do not want a modified form of auctions which seems to be the basis of today’s proposal by the FCC.”
In that year, the commission was still groping with ways to deal with the exploding land mobile industry. Resellers were becoming rich behemoths of entrepreneurial vim. SMR operators were growing in number and profitability. IMTS began its decline with the advent of greater uses of trunking technology. Paging had not yet found the average consumer’s ear, but was standing on the brink of its greatest marketing explosion. Private carrier two-way systems simply didn’t exist.
In the summer of 1986, the FCC reaffirmed a 1984 decision to deny the allocation of 900MHz spectrum reserve to create a new private radio service. Managing Director, Edward Minkel, penned an open letter that requested suggestions for making the commission more efficient, including privatizing more functions. The magazine announced that CTIA would hold its first annual meeting in Phoenix, AZ, in early 1987.
The classified ads were filled with dated goods and services. Pro-Tec Mobile Communications of Casa Grande, AZ, was touting “Expert Pulsar Service Repair”; R. W. Brown Electronics of Sycamore, IL, was selling “Horn Honk Kits”; Hank Frank was trying to buy Motorola Reeds and Channel Elements; and a full-page ad hawked a new 900MHz pager from Kokusai Electric Company. Who?
In 1986, Mark Fowler was Chairman of the FCC and Bob Foosaner was stepping down and out as Chief of the Private Radio Bureau. Foosaner accepted a job with the law firm of Jones, Day, Reavis and Pogue, the shop that Morgan O’Brien called home. So it was no surprise that Bob Foosaner would eventually follow O’Brien to Nextel. In fact, these three men, Foosaner, O’Brien and Fowler, would see a lot of one another over the next ten years, each adding to the other’s success in private industry. Through them the ESMR industry was created and became the force it is today.
At the time of the departure, the magazine editor wrote of Foosaner, “Washington is a tough town to keep your virtue in. For many, straightforwardness is the name of the game until personal advantage dictates otherwise. Fortunately, that’s a game Mr. Foosaner has refused to play and this industry has been the better for it.” In 1986 competing opinions could only be found in an outlaw publication called “The Rattler,” penned by Merrill T. See of Kalamazoo, MI.
The magazine described the events of the latest IWCE Show, including the capturing of the grand door prize by David Fountain of LaGrange, GA; a picture of George McClelland watching the events; and quotes from Ray Russenberger, owner of Network Paging Corp. of Lafayette, LA, which became Network USA of Florida which was sold recently to A+ Communications which will become…who knows?
Amid all of the news and changes of 1986, there was a sense that the industry was losing its innocence. Resellers in large urban markets were suffering their first setbacks from new terms on renegotiated contracts with cellular carriers (remember residual payments on billing?). Huge paging companies, like PageNet and Pagemart, were beginning their meteoric rise to the top of the heap, propelled by the lowest paging prices in the industry. Motorola was redefining its place, starting to reduce its direct market presence and focus more on manufacturing and technology, while maintaining and increasing its grip on thousands of SMR licenses.
1986 would mark the year when the term “application mill” entered the general lexicon of industry buzz words. Programmable radios were quietly becoming the norm, while Congress made sure that scanners skipped the cellular radio band by adopting the new Privacy Act. ACSB was a flop at 150MHz and wouldn’t emerge again until given regulatory CPR at 220MHz-222MHz, with a flurry of lottery ticket applications that provided more ammunition for proponents of auctions.
Meanwhile, another seemingly unimportant event was taking place. On June 1, 1986, a new law firm was created. Just two guys with an idea that maybe they would do things a little differently than everybody else–a little bolder with a bit more volume and panache. On that day in 1986, the firm of Brown and Schwaninger was formed with no money, no clients, and more time than good sense. Since then, the firm has been called by an FCC official, “the most humorous, colorful and zealous firm” in telecommunications law. An industry spokesperson recently said, “they are the biggest thorn in the FCC’s side, but that’s not bad.”
On this, the tenth anniversary of our firm, I wish to thank the hundreds of clients who have come to us over the years. I also want to thank all of the FCC employees who have wrestled with us over many an issue and made life more interesting. Remember, Terry, Roz, Riley, Kathy, Bill, Gary and Ralph, it was and is just business. Finally, I want to thank Don Bishop, MRT and Intertec Publishing for giving my voice a home when other magazines thought my ideas were too controversial–like Communications, the now- defunct periodical whose pages I scanned in writing this column.
Over the next ten years, I’ll still call it the way I see it, even if its not always the politic thing to do. I’ll poke fun at the FCC, even if they sometimes don’t think I’m funny. I’ll still promote honest competition, the American Dream, and “hell no” tactics. If I’m still writing this column in 2006, I hope that I find that the candle I kept burning wasn’t used to lead the industry down another blind alley.