Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mobility Fund Phase II Public Notice

The FCC released a Public Notice requesting additional comments on implementing Phase II of the Mobility Fund, which was created in the USF/ICC Transformation Order.  Phase II of the Mobility Fund will award $500 million annually on an ongoing basis to ensure the availability of mobile broadband and high quality voice services in areas where such services would not otherwise be available.  

The Public Notice requests comment on how the Commission should target Phase II support to areas that need it.  The Commission previously proposed to use Mosaik Solutions data to exclude all census blocks where an unsubsidized carrier provides 3G or better service, but it asks whether it could use any other data sources to better identify eligible areas.  The Commission also previously proposed determining whether census blocks are eligible for support on whether the physical centers of the blocks have service.  The Public Notice asks if the Commission should consider alternative eligibility standards, like whether less than 50 percent of a census block is unserved. 
The Public Notice also requests comment on how and if the Commission should prioritize support for eligible areas.  It asks if prioritization should be given to areas that lack all coverage, lack a designated level of coverage, or if other measurements should be used.  As to coverage requirements and bidding units, the Commission asks whether road miles are the best metric to use.  When it comes to requirements for the winners of Phase II support, the Commission asks whether and how it should modify performance metrics or adopt an evolving performance standard, given anticipated advances in technology.  The Commission also asks whether it should provide Phase II support for a period of 10 years or for a shorter period of time, taking into consideration the timeframes for deployment, private investment, the pace of new technology, and marketplace developments. 
Similarly, the Public Notice seeks comment on how the Commission can prevent carriers from receiving redundant support for the same service areas.  Clarity on this standard will allow participants to know whether they should bid in the Phase II auction.  The Commission also asks whether bidding credits are still important to help smaller carriers compete for support and whether Tribal priority units should be offered.  Regarding payments, the Commission asks whether support should be disbursed upon the completion of certain milestones or on a regular basis.   
Comments are due on December 21, 2012, and Reply Comments are due on January 7, 2013.  Please feel free to contact TLP should you have any questions.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

House Hearing on Music Licensing Legislation

The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet, which is chaired by Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), will be holding a hearing entitled "Music Licensing Part One: Legislation in the 112th Congress" on Wedensday, November 28, 2012, at 11:30 a.m. EST.

The hearing will mainly focus on the Internet Radio Fairness Act legislation, which was introduced in the House and Senate in late September. Appearing as witnesses at the hearing will be: Mr. Joseph J. Kennedy (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pandora Media, Inc.), Mr. Bruce T. Reese (President and Chief Executive Officer, Hubbard Radio, LLC, on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)), Mr. David B. Pakman (Partner, Venrock), Mr. Jimmy Jam (Chair Emeritus, The Recording Academy, Record Producer, Songwriter, Recording Artist), Dr. Jeffrey A. Eisenach (Managing Director and Principal, Navigant Economics) and Mr. Michael J. Huppe (President, SoundExchange, Inc.).

If you have any questions regarding this hearing as well as any legislation or activity in Congress that could impact the telecommunications, media and technology sectors, please contact Vance Schuemann or any member of the TLP team.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Congress to Examine The Role of Receivers in a Spectrum Scarce World

On Thursday, November 29, 2012, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Communications and Technology Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled "The Role of Receivers in a Spectrum Scarce World."  The hearing will start at 10:00 am EST. The following witnesses will appear before the Subcommittee at the hearing: Brian Markwalter (Senior Vice President, Research and Standards, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Ron Repasi (Deputy Chief, Office of Engineering and Technology, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)) and Pierre de Vries (Senior Adjunct Fellow, Silicon Flatirons Center, University of Colorado, Boulder).

The Chairman of the Subcommittee, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), has indicated over the past several months that they would be looking into the role of receivers in ensuring the efficient use of limited supply of spectrum.

The following is from the Committee staff's briefing memoradum for the hearing.

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II. Overview

With Americans’ thirst for wireless services increasing by leaps and bounds, and with particular broadband technologies and business models evolving at an accelerating clip, how can spectrum users inhabit increasingly close quarters without stepping on each other toes? Good fences make good neighbors, as the adage goes, but how do you know how high to build your fence or what materials to use if you don’t know who your neighbors might be in the future or precisely what they will be doing on their lot? Can smart engineering and forward-looking spectrum strategies account for the possibility of unanticipated technologies and uses in adjacent spectrum bands and help prevent today’s decisions from limiting flexibility in the future? How do we promote such flexibility without unreasonably increasing the cost of services and devices? These are the questions to be addressed at Thursday’s hearing, with an emphasis on receiver design and performance.
 
III. Background

In the wireless world, the two main "fences" for protecting services from interfering with each other are guard bands and filters. Guard bands are bands of spectrum with restrictions on use to protect adjacent users from interference. Filters are components integrated into the transmitters and receivers of wireless devices to control the amount of energy they emit or receive, minimizing or eliminating the need for guard bands.

In the case of receivers, filters control what part of the electromagnetic spectrum the device can hear. This allows the device to listen for the signals it is looking for and ignore the "noise" coming from the many other uses of spectrum around it. Sunglasses present another analogy. The sun is a high-energy source of light. Using the lenses of sunglasses to filter out some of the energy makes it easier to see the relatively low-light energy reflecting off of all of the objects around us. As a result, we can drive on a sunny day with less distraction and still see the cars in front of us we want to pay attention to. By forcing the receivers in wireless devices to ignore frequencies that are outside the range the devices are listening for, filters help the devices make sense from signals in a crowded spectrum environment.

In the absence of filters capable of adequately screening out energy from adjacent bands, receivers experience "overload" that can prevent a device from operating properly. Because this can cause a device to fail, issues of potential receiver overload are starting to concern more than just spectrum engineers and are garnering the attention of policy makers and even the general public. Below are some recent cases in which receiver overload was at least one factor:

- LightSquared and GPS: In the most recent example of potential receiver overload, the GPS community objected to the terrestrial use of L-band satellite spectrum by LightSquared. Many GPS devices use receiver filters that extend beyond the GPS spectrum into LightSquared’s licensed spectrum. When the L-band is used only for low-power satellite systems, the filters are adequate to permit proper GPS device operation. However, because the filters in GPS receivers are not limited to the GPS spectrum, higher-power terrestrial use by LightSquared could result in some GPS devices ceasing to function properly. Filters tuned specifically to the GPS spectrum may have ameliorated this problem. Compounding the matter is the lack of a direct, ongoing relationship between the GPS signal provider, the retail device manufacturer and the end user that is present with smartphones. As a result, tracking and resolving issues with retail devices becomes more difficult. This issue is pending at the FCC, but LightSquared is not permitted to operate as a terrestrial licensee unless this issue is resolved. 

- AWS-3 and M2Z Networks: Seeking to use the spectrum at 2155-2180 MHz, M2Z Networks petitioned the FCC to permit time division duplexed operation (transmitting and receiving in the same channel, but at different times). Existing commercial wireless providers, however, had deployed devices in the immediately adjacent AWS-1 band with receiver filters designed to the international standard (2110-2180 MHz), not the U.S. allocation (2110-2155 MHz). As a result, had the Commission authorized M2Z, M2Z customers transmitting in 2155-2180 MHz could have disrupted operations for existing wireless customers by transmitting in a band designed for mobile receivers. Filters tuned to the U.S. allocation may have eliminated the interference concerns. The FCC denied M2Z’s request (for a variety of reasons, not just interference concerns).

- WCS and SDARS: The Wireless Communications Service (WCS) and the Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service (SDARS, or satellite radio) share the 2.3 GHz band. As satellite radio began to gain commercial adoption, the relatively weak satellite signal had reception problems in some areas, particularly urban areas where skyscrapers prevented a line-of-sight connection to the satellites. To address this, the SDARS licensees (then XM and Sirius) deployed terrestrial repeaters (at higher power) to provide signals to satellite radio receivers. WCS licensees now had to contend with significantly higher power operations in adjacent spectrum. The FCC resolved this issue by placing conditions on the merger of XM and Sirius and changing the operating rules for WCS licensees.

- Broadcast Television and White Space Devices: In its proceeding to authorize the use of unlicensed wireless devices in the UHF television band, the Commission confronted the challenge of authorizing mobile or nomadic transmitters in a band that is used by fixed broadcasters and received by over-the-air television tuners. To protect the installed base of televisions in the United States relying on over-the-air signals, the FCC required the new users—white spaces devices—to use filters on the transmitter side to limit emissions.

IV. Discussion

How to tackle potential receiver interference issues has long been a topic of discussion between and among engineers and regulators. For example, the Commission has long used band-plan design to reduce the chances of interference between services and licensees. Guard bands, duplex gaps (the separation between the spectrum used to emit and receive signals in devices that use two separate channels to transmit to and listen for another device or network —called frequency division duplexing), and the placement of similar services near each other are all tools the Commission has used to reduce the chances of receiver overload. Band plan management tools do not work in every circumstance, however, and will fall short with growing frequency in an increasingly spectrum-constrained and technologically complex environment. Many also argue that using guard bands to mitigate interference is less efficient because they represent underutilized spectrum.

The FCC also tries to address potential interference by regulating the power levels at which devices may transmit and limiting their level of out-of-band emissions (OOBE). Because the FCC must inspect and authorize each device that emits radio energy, the Commission has traditionally used this type of regulation to control the spectrum environment. Many argue, however, that looking at transmitters but not receivers ignores half the equation when trying to maximize the use of scarce spectrum resources.

Traditionally, discussion of how to handle receiver overload has focused on whether to strictly regulate receivers in the same way the Commission currently regulates transmitters. More recent proposals, on the other hand, have examined whether defining receiver interference rights would better balance efficient spectrum use and innovation. Under this approach, the FCC would define the maximum level of interference that a device manufacturer should expect users to experience, but would not mandate specific receiver performance. Manufacturers would then be free to develop devices to operate within that environment mandate, but with the understanding that they would not have any recourse at the FCC for interference below the FCC’s maximum interference threshold.

Opponents of defining receiver performance levels argue that if the defined levels exceed those that exist in the real-world spectrum environment, manufacturers will be forced to over-engineer devices — raising the cost to manufacture the devices, and thus the cost to consumers. In essence, device manufacturers would be forced to design devices for the worst case, not the use case. Proponents argue that receivers are currently under-engineered to cope with a changing spectrum world and that establishing receiver performance levels will solve the receiver problem without a technology mandate or cumbersome FCC oversight of device manufacturing. Moreover, they argue that the certainty of knowing what level of interference a device will tolerate will make it easier for the FCC to reallocate spectrum for new and innovative technologies without fear of disrupting existing users.

Recently this topic has also been the discussion of multiple government convened advisory groups. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report on spectrum use in September 2012 that strongly recommended that the FCC and NTIA establish minimum technical standards for receivers. Additionally, the Commission, in order to examine how it can promote strategies and practices by wireless device makers to increase the resiliency of receivers, has convened its Technological Advisory Council (TAC) to work on recommendations for Commission action. Its recommendation is expected this December 2012.

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If you have any questions regarding this hearing or any other activity in Congress that could impact the telecommunications, media and technology sectors, please contact Vance Schuemann or any member of the TLP team.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Sprint and SoftBank File Public Interest Statement

Yesterday, Sprint and SoftBank filed a joint Public Interest Statement at the FCC to support their proposed transaction.  They also filed a Petition for Declaratory Ruling to allow SoftBank’s indirect foreign ownership of Sprint to exceed the FCC’s 25% benchmark.  The Public Interest Statement asserts that the transaction will “stimulate economic growth and provide substantial public interest benefits with no countervailing public interest harms” because SoftBank is not currently active in the US market.  It says that the transaction will enable Sprint to offer “a wider range of devices and services to customers” and that Sprint “anticipates taking advantage of other market opportunities to enhance its ability to provide superior service to its customers.”

Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

12/12/12 House Hearing Planned on Oversight of the FCC's Implementation of Spectrum Auction Legislation

House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Walden (R-OR) has announced that all five FCC Commissioners will be testifying at an oversight hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Communications and Technology Subcommittee on December 12, 2012.   The title of the hearing will be “Keeping the New Broadband Spectrum Law on Track,” and the hearing will focus on oversight of the FCC's implementation of the spectrum auction provisions which were enacted by Congress "as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 and originated in the House Energy and Commerce Committee as Chairman Walden’s Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act."

In late September, the FCC adopted two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the Broadcast TV Incentive Auction and Mobile Spectrum Holdings, which attempt to implement the spectrum provisions enacted by Congress that pertain to the voluntary incentive auctions for the TV broadcast spectrum, limitations on unlicensed use on the incentive auction spectrum, eligibility for auction participation, and the FCC's ability to limit spectrum holdings to ensure competition. Those two proceedings are currently out for public comment. In addition, the FCC has pending proceedings that relate to spectrum that is required by Congress to be auctioned in the next couple years. This includes the AWS-III spectrum that many in Congress would like to be paired with the 1755-1780 MHz block, which needs to be reallocated from Federal government use. The FCC will need to work with the Administration and the NTIA to ensure that the auction deadlines are met.

In a press statement announcing the hearing, Chairman Walden stated "[o]ur subcommittee carefully crafted the legislation to create jobs by getting more spectrum into the pipeline to meet consumer demands for more mobile broadband, and to allocate a portion of auction proceeds toward build-out of a public safety broadband network, while ensuring broadcasters are treated fairly." Further, he indicated that he looks "forward to the testimony of all five FCC commissioners as we examine what the FCC can do to advance those goals, and what it should avoid."

If you have any questions regarding this hearing or any other activity in Congress or at the FCC that could impact the telecommunications, media and technology sectors, please contact Vance Schuemann or any member of the TLP team.

Public Notice on Next Generation 911 Development

The FCC released a Public Notice seeking comment on the legal and statutory framework for next generation 9-1-1 (“NG 911") services.  The Next Generation 9-1-1 Advancement Act of 2012 directed the Commission to issue a report containing recommendations for developing and transitioning to NG 911 services.  Pursuant to that command, the Commission seeks comment on several issues, including:
 
  • the ability of states to effectively coordinate the transition to NG 911, and whether Congress should create incentives or requirements for state or regional coordination;
  • what role the federal government should play in NG 911 oversight, and whether Congress should enact legislation defining the federal government’s role;
  • whether Congress should take steps to provide for liability protection to promote the development of NG 911;
  • whether Congress should ensure that 9-1-1 funding mechanisms are technologically neutral, and whether VoIP or IP-enabled services should contribute to the 9-1-1 fund;
  • whether existing state laws and regulations could hinder the development of NG 911, and whether Congress should require states to remove them; and
  • whether federal regulations may inhibit the development of NG 911, and what actions are needed to modify or eliminate them.
Comments in response to the Public Notice are due on December 13, 2012, and Reply Comments are due on January 14, 2013.  Please contact us know if you have any questions.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

TLP Recognized in U.S. News & Best Lawyers "Best Law Firm" Rankings

TLP is pleased to have been recognized by U.S. News Media Group and Best Lawyers in their 2013 "Best Law Firms" rankings.  The list, which may be found on U.S. News & World Report’s Website, ranks TLP in Tier 2 for Communications Law in Washington, DC and in Tier 3 for Communications Law on a National Level.    

The U.S. News – Best Lawyers “Best Law Firms” rankings showcase leading law firms ranked nationally or by metropolitan region.  The rankings are based on an assessment of client and lawyer evaluations, peer review from leading attorneys in their field, and review of additional information provided by law firms as part of the formal submission process.