Ten silly things wireless people do to mess up their lives
Schwaninger, MRT’s regulatory consultant, is the principal in the law firm of
Hi, this is “Dr.” Robert Schwaninger, and I am my client’s mouthpiece.
Over the course of a few weeks, I get a number of calls from clients asking what they should do about this situation or that. Usually the advice is specific to their particular situation. Should they construct a fill-in? What should they do with their interconnection problems with a local exchange carrier? What color yagi will go best with their tower?
Here is a repeat of some advice on a variety of topics that might save us both a phone call. Although I cannot address every issue that might be on your mind (like whether Congress will ever recognize that everyone in this industry does not have a globe or a bell in their corporate logo) these tips might help with some nagging problems or suggestions.
1. Put your house in order
CALLER: Hi Dr. Robert. My bookkeeper keeps nagging me to clean up my licenses. What’s the big deal?
DR. ROBERT: If you haven’t done an inventory of your licenses, or if you are in anything resembling a “gray area” of compliance-fix it. Whether you want to believe it or not, the FCC is beginning to deal with a lot of these issues, assigning actual lawyers to look at complaints. Better to avoid the whole expensive mess and make sure that coordinates, power and mobile count are fixed, rather than spending money trying to explain that you always meant to do the right thing-you just hadn’t gotten around to it.
2. Protect your reputation
CALLER: Dr. Robert, I’m a good person, so why does the FCC say mean things about me?
DR. ROBERT: Check the FCC Web site and see if the “all new and exciting” electronic database (the devil’s spawn of the still-under-construction Universal Licensing System) has your licensing data properly entered. It won’t be long before the FCC starts acting as though the contents of this cyber-behemoth are divinely inspired. Better to get your information correct now, rather than waiting to try to amend that which the system deems to be chiseled in stone.
3. Don’t try to get away with it
CALLER: So what if I neglect tower registration? Everybody does it.
DR. ROBERT: If you’ve been skipping the tower blanks on Form 600 because the FCC hasn’t been checking them thoroughly-cut that out. The FCC’s antenna survey branch is culling and tossing applications that do not comport with the rules. They are checking the information against their tower registration records, their FAA records and a few Jerry Vale records. If it doesn’t match, it’s getting bounced. (However, will somebody please tell the FCC’s newly zealous employees that you don’t need to register sites that are not subject to FAA clearance!)
The more likely avenue to getting a forfeiture letter will be the failure to register your site. If your site requires FAA approval, it’s got to be registered. If you haven’t gotten around to filling out a Form 854 for your FAA-approved tower-do it. This is one area where the FCC is quite serious, and it’s easy for the FCC to check.
4. Practice safe radio CALLER: Dr. Robert, I find emissions checks too confining. What’s wrong with being natural?
DR. ROBERT: As for RF emissions checks, the FCC is semi-serious about this program. I don’t know of anyone getting busted for non-compliance, but look for the agency to make a few examples as it tries to look like it cares about whether technicians will be glowing in the dark.
5. You won’t get a date if you don’t ask
CALLER: Dr. Robert, I’d like more spectrum, but I’m too shy to go to an auction. What do I do?
DR. ROBERT: If you are one of those companies that has decided that auctions are too expensive-so you’ll concentrate on private spectrum-think again. The price per pop, or per megahertz (or per FCC auction employee) is coming down fast. The bloom is falling off the auction rose, and the FCC is getting less and less for each newly auctioned band. The recent location monitoring service (LMS) auction netted some bucks, but probably not nearly what the band would have been worth had it been auctioned about a year ago. And the equipment is available for construction. All I’m saying is, don’t dismiss auction participation out of hand.
6. Speak out for what’s morally right CALLER: Dr. Robert, isn’t it enough that I do the right thing, myself? DR. ROBERT: The FCC is getting heat from a group of congressmen for its plans to auction private radio spectrum. The congressmen are directing the FCC to look for alternative methods for licensing private spectrum that do not involve auctions of wide-area systems. If you agree, don’t sit back and hope your congressional offices get involved. Send a letter to your representatives and senators, urging them to join this effort. For more information, check with the Industrial Telecommunications Association (ITA) or Small Business in Telecommunications (SBT).
7. Get a ring and a date first
CALLER: This experienced ESMR has been pressuring me to make a date with it and swap channels. Dr. Robert, how can I tell if it’s sincere?
DR. ROBERT: In a decision that can be summed up as “We don’t wanna,” The U.S. Court of Appeals denied an Emergency Motion for Stay filed by SBT to delay the 800MHz relocation process. SBT had asked the court to delay the process until the FCC had a chance to rule on the thousands of petitions for reconsideration to the auction itself. So, it looks like relocation is going to happen in one form or another.
To prepare for this eventuality, I suggest that you do two things. (1) Get a lawyer to ensure that your rights as an incumbent are honored. (2) Approach this matter like an arms-length contract negotiation. Just because the FCC and the courts have said that a relocation might occur does not mean that the EA licensee will have the channels, money or ability to cause the relocation to occur. By the way, if you get one of those nifty forms from Nextel that asks you all about your system, tell them you’ll answer the questions pursuant to due diligence after a relocation is signed, not before.
8. Join a support group
CALLER: Dr. Robert, sometimes it seems like I’m all alone in the world. How can my business keep fighting?
DR. ROBERT: If you are like a lot of the two-way shops, your profitability is up, but your avenues of opportunity are down because of spectrum scarcity. Although it behooves everyone to check the FCC database on a regular basis (to see who’s coming on and who’s falling off) to see if you can hit the window for filing for additional channels, that’s not where it should end.
There are small concerns out there that have a few channels and would likely welcome a merger of spectrum to create a larger network. With a little creativity, a couple of shops can get together and pool their spectrum resources to gain greater coverage and channel depth. A word of caution-don’t do the deal on a handshake, and make sure there is adequate accountability among the group.
9. Don’t expect pizza from a taco stand
CALLER: It seems I’m always making the wrong choice when I’m picking equipment. Are there any good manufacturers left?
DR. ROBERT: I’m seeing a lot of claims in the marketplace regarding a variety of products that are intended to increase efficiency in operation of trunked channels. Before you buy, ask yourself some questions:
Is the technology proven?
Is it licensed to a number of suppliers that you trust, so that you aren’t in a sole-source situation?
How long will it take for me to make back the cost of conversion?
Does installation of the equipment require me to gravitate to selling a service in a more competitive environment? In other words, look beyond the bells and whistles.
10. Have a plan and follow it
CALLER: Dr. Robert, sometimes my competitive situation changes, and I don’t know how I got there.
DR. ROBERT: Remember, as you upgrade your system, you may be changing your products and services to place your business in direct competition with the largest carriers. Is this where you want to be? If it isn’t, don’t buy the equipment that will force your hand. Instead, look for equipment that allows your system to evolve practically, not change overnight.
Well, I could go on and on with helpful tips like “Don’t wear white shoes after Labor Day, always wear clean underwear and never accept a blind date that’s described as “a good conversationalist.” But it’s been two hours since lunch, and it’s time for a long swim.
Now go take on the competition.