Beseeching for antenna sites, and a new partner for private radio?
Gimme antenna sites The FCC chairman was sent a letter on July 11, assigning to the commission partial blame for construction delays primarily affecting personal communications service (PCS) telephone and paging (and, to a certain extent, cellular telephone, commercial mobile service and private radio [private wireless]). Certainly, PCS construction is the overwhelming motivation.
Thomas E. Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), sent the letter to Reed Hundt, complaining about local governments that block antenna site development by declaring a moratorium on considering any such development. You see, courts may rule that regulations adopted by local governments are too restrictive and may roll them back. When they do, development moves ahead. But some courts have ruled that adopting no regulations and blocking all development with a moratorium is okay. Guess which method the local governments like to use?
A June 30 CTIA report cites 226 moratoria in effect as of that date, an increase of 11% since May and a 34% increase since April. CTIA wants the FCC to preempt moratorium regulations imposed by state and local governments, which might allow PCS antenna site development to proceed. Actually, the result might be a backlash on the part of the local governments. They tend to resist federal power unless it means Washington is buying something for them with the U.S. Treasury checkbook. So, there’s your answer. Couple the preemption with a subsidy of, say, $1 million to $10 million per site, and maybe the locals will cooperate.
If little antennas at everyone’s house were required to make PCS work, maybe preemption would have a better chance. The FCC responds to overwhelming numbers, such as the millions of people who want to use direct satellite service to receive TV programs. For them, the agency preempted local regulation that prohibited small, dish-shaped antennas from being mounted on residences.
Maybe millions of people will use PCS phones and pagers, but they don’t have to have antennas on their houses. In fact, many of them are convinced that they don’t like the towers that make the phones_which they do like_work. So it’s up to the carriers to get around the problem of local regulation, and in some cases, their customers.
“We beseech you to act immediately to deliver on the commission’s oft-stated promise of new wireless competition and services by acting on CTIA’s petition,” the letter reads. Translation: “You and every commissioner except Susan Ness are about to leave office. Our members are bleeding big bucks. What have you got to lose? Help us out.” Good luck.
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What about private radio? Lots of people want part of the 60MHz of radio spectrum from 746MHz to 806MHz (channels 60-69) currently allocated for TV broadcasting.
Two groups that have been frozen, waivered and otherwise maneuvered out of spectrum access include business and industrial private radio users and small specialized mobile radio (SMR) system operators. Manufacturing, mining and agricultural companies use private radio, as do a variety of other industrial and commercial enterprises. SMR operators offer communications services to many of the same enterprises for a monthly fee.
Because of wheeling and dealing about digital television channels, the FCC is preparing the way for almost all TV stations eventually to exit channels 60-69. Thanks to strong advocacy and congressional backing, public safety agencies are virtually assured of being allocated 24MHz from the frequency band. Other private radio users and the small SMR operators aren’t faring so well.
Hopes were raised on May 14 when Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) introduced legislation that specified the allocation of 12MHz of spectrum by the FCC for private radio use. Licenses for the spectrum were to be charged an efficiency-based lease fee. That was good. A senator had been persuaded by radio users and their trade associations that users are willing to pay their way_a tax, if you will_for spectrum that is impractical for them to purchase at auction.
On June 17, the Senate Commerce Committee passed an amendment introduced by its chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that eliminated the lease fee provision. Why did McCain kill the lease fees? Because they are “a tax on business passed on to and paid by consumers.” Well, yes. That was the point. Those who are granted licenses at auction pass along the license cost to consumers. Those who would be granted licenses by application would pay lease fees and pass the cost to consumers. What’s the difference? Geeezz.
It gets worse. Now, what group is poised to compete with cellular, PCS, paging, the large SMR operators, the small SMR operators and private radio for the spectrum?
Broadcasters. Yep. Soon as they exit the frequency band, they may be back in it with new forms of broadcast services. Commissioner James Quello said as much. And who is exempt, so far, from auctions? Yep. Broadcasters.
The latest word is that service rules for the 36MHz that isn’t earmarked for public safety will be flexible. The translation of “flexible” is “sold to the highest bidder, who can use it in almost any way.” Flexible rules and auctions probably mean more cellular and PCS phone service and paging. It isn’t practical for private radio users to bid for the large geographic coverage areas normally associated with auctions.
One alternative that has been discussed is to see what can be done to introduce legislation that would direct the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to share spectrum with private users. (The NTIA assigns spectrum used by federal government users; the FCC assigns the rest.)
Congress, you see, previously has passed legislation directing the NTIA to hand over spectrum to the FCC, an action that displaces a number of federal users. What that number is depends on who you ask. In this era of the FCC marking for auction any spectrum that isn’t too difficult to wrest from current users, the NTIA might benefit from having more radio facilities in operation on its channels, as long as its new sharing partners are good neighbors.
Private radio seems to get its best results when its interests run in parallel with a bigger partner. Maybe NTIA can be such a partner. -Don Bishop