Let’s hear it for the broads
Over the past month or so the FCC has been spending all of its time talking about broadband. Encouraging the deployment of broadband services to the marketplace, whether by wire or flying through the air, is one of the commission’s greatest concerns.
In fact, on Valentine’s Day, a day that is revered by females and dreaded by all males, the FCC delivered hearts to all of the broad services it could find by releasing three public notices — all dealing with its efforts to press for broader, wider and ultrawider services across the nation.
The first notice gave 50MHz of spectrum in the 4.940GHz-4.990GHz band to public safety. According to the commission’s public notice, this spectrum will support new broadband applications such as high-speed digital technologies and wireless local area networks. So, with a little help from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and a nod from adjacent-channel U.S. Navy operations, public safety just got more spectrum than the PCS operators. Bet you didn’t give your honey a $20 billion box of candy.
But because public safety is still the sweetheart of every politician from Rudy Guilliani to Kathleen Abernathy, there’s more. Tossed into the collection on the corner was another radio service dubbed ultra-wideband. The FCC launched its efforts to bring to the market unlicensed radio devices with nearly unlimited bandwidth, to be used primarily as imaging devices.
Under Part 15 of the agency’s rules, public safety will now be armed with RF devices that can see through walls — like those magic glasses they advertise in the back of comic books. The FCC’s rules would allow operation below 960MHz and in the 3.1GHz-10.6GHz band for devices that would “see” below ground or into a wall. Mind you, if you want to see through the wall then you can also use the 1.99GHz-3.1GHz band.
But there’s still more. The ultra-wide band use also includes medical imaging systems that can employ the 3.1GHz-10.6GHz band. We recommend that these systems not be used on male patients standing against a wall, to avoid the term “stud” being misused in a medical diagnosis. We further caution against use of these imaging systems for determination of alcohol content because the term “plastered” might be misconstrued.
Ultra-wideband services will also include surveillance systems that will construct a stationary field of RF energy at 1.99GHz-910.6GHz to detect disturbances in the force, like vehicle radar systems that will tell you immediately before you back into that cherry-red Miata, and high-speed networking systems for LAN operations.
Forget OSHA. If it’s broadband, you can radiate your home, office, walls, ground, car, body and any darn thing you want. And don’t try hiding. This stuff goes through walls, rooftops and even caves.
Not to stop there, the FCC tossed bouquets to the wired wideband wonks as well. The FCC announced its proceeding to promote widespread deployment of high-speed Internet access services to “encourage the ubiquitous availability of broadband access to the Internet to all Americans.” The promotion of broadband includes a roster of things the FCC won’t do.
In a particularly telling fashion, the commission decided that the best way for it to encourage the delivery of high-speed Internet service was to not regulate it. By passing no rules, laws or policies, the agency believes that it is doing its part to promote the development of high-speed services … er … components.
You see, the FCC decided in a split decision that high-speed Internet … um, whatever … er, facilities are “information services” and not “telecommunications services,” despite having “telecommunications services” delivered over information services facilities. Therefore, the agency did not need to regulate these facilities the way they regulate telecommunications services. The agency did leave open the question of whether these providers need to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, (whatever they’re doing).
The FCC’s efforts to co-opt the slogan “wider is better” from the car manufacturers leaves open a vital question that even Verizon, SBC and Bell South can’t answer: “Where’s the money coming from to pay for this?”
Although I applaud the FCC’s gift to public safety in delivering 50MHz of spectrum in the 4.9GHz band and launching the availability of devices that can actually see through walls so I can spy on my secretary to see if she’s filing my work or her nails, the cost of the equipment is likely to be beyond the reach of many of the agencies that might consider using these devices.
As for high-speed Internet service, the commission needs to read the business section of the newspaper rather than the ex parte submissions of the broadband carriers. As reported in almost every business publication, the problem isn’t regulation; it’s consumer resistance to the high cost of the service. When given a choice between dial-up at about $10 a month and high-speed DSL or cable at $50 a month, consumers have silently said, “Keep the high-speed stuff. I need to use that 40 bucks to pay for the rising [unregulated] cost of cable television.”
So, customers are opting for HBO over DSL. All of the deregulation of high-speed Internet services cannot change this basic buying decision. The only thing high-speed Internet providers can do to alter customers’ choices is to lower the price. But right now the FCC isn’t looking at price tags. It’s just adding to the broad inventory of available services.
Schwaninger, MRT’s regulatory consultant, is the principal in the law firm of Schwaninger & Associates, Washington, which is counsel to Small Business in Telecommunications. Schwaninger is also a fellow of the Radio Club of America. His email address is [email protected].