Monday, April 10, 2006
Welcome to Spectrum Talk,
a new blog devoted to radio spectrum policy issues mainly in the US, but including other countries also. It will deal with both current policy issues and historic ones that may be of interest.
Let me introduce myself. I spend almost 25 years at FCC working on spectrum policy issues, with occasional detours to teach at MIT and work under exchange agreements in Japan. When I came to FCC in 1979, spread spectrum technology was implicitly forbidden for civil use in the US and elsewhere. Exceptions were only considered on a case-by-case basis when a developer had enough resources to launch a legal battle.
I proposed that FCC take a more positive attitude and seek a more general authorization of spread spectrum – actually not a popular move at the time, but one supported by FCC Chairman Ferris and then Chairman Fowler. The results are the technology we now know as Wi-Fi, the spread spectrum technology used for most cordless phones in the US, and CDMA cellular technology. This is the type of benefit you get by removing barriers from radio technology and focusing on preventing harm to other spectrum users – not acting like a Soviet-style planner picking “winners and losers”.
Since retiring from FCC in April 2004, I have been living in Paris, France and consulting in radio technology and spectrum policy, see www.marcus-spectrum.com .
The biggest current problem in spectrum policy in the US is that the FCC seems to have lost most interest in the matter. This is particularly ironic for me as I predicted a year ago that in the U.K. the merger of 3 regulatory bodies into a new body, Ofcom, with FCC-like jurisdiction would result in spectrum policy not getting the attention it received when spectrum was in an agency dedicated to little else. However, it is FCC that seems to have lost interest in spectrum and U.K.’s Ofcom seems to be marching ahead with innovative ideas!
Unfortunately, various spectrum-related industries in the US form a multihundred billion dollar industry and need some sort of clear direction from the government and transparency to enable capital formation and development of new technology.
I will not describe all the symptoms of the FCC’s loss of direction here in this first blog, but let me point out that over a year after FCC Chairman Martin was designated by President Bush, the two key spectrum organizations at FCC, the Office of Engineering and Technology and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau lack permanent heads and OET does not even have an officially designated acting head!
In November 2002 the FCC’s Spectrum Policy Task Force released its report and the FCC started a series of initiatives along the lines of some of the recommendations. In the past year no progress or even resolution has been made on any of these initiatives and no new ones have been started. The current commissioners certainly have the right to repudiate the SPTF report and march in a new direction, but no one, including most FCC staff members, seems to know what direction the commissioners want now! This lack of leadership may favor those with an upper hand in the status quo in spectrum, but it stifles the innovation that is essential for both economic growth and the creation of new services.
Posted by MJM at 2:04 AM