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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

FAA Rulemaking on Spectrum Regulation:

Part 3

(First an unrelated point - Congratulations to Julius Knapp for finally being formally named Acting Chief of FCC/OET. It is an honor well deserved.)

If you surf over to the docket website you can see that the initial comments from the FCC-regulated spectrum user community are in. CTIA, NAB, PCIA (listed as Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP - their law firm), Sprint Nextel, and even FCC have filed. Due to the nature of Executive Branch rulemakings, these initial comments focus on Paperwork Reduction Act issues and are equally addressed to FAA and OMB which has oversight in such cases.

The basic point in all these comments is that FAA woefully underestimated the number of new filings from radio licensees and hence the total burden.

The Paperwork Reduction Act section of the NPRM asks the following questions:

The agency is soliciting comments
(1) Evaluate whether the proposed
information requirement is necessary for
the proper performance of the functions
of the agency, including whether the
information will have practical utility;
(2) Evaluate the accuracy of the
agency’s estimate of the burden;
(3) Enhance the quality, utility, and
clarity of the information to be
collected; and
(4) Minimize the burden of the
collection of information on those who
are to respond, including through the
use of appropriate automated,
electronic, mechanical, or other
technological collection techniques or
other forms of information technology.

No one addressed the last point.

I think the parties also missed another FAA statement:

There are two main qualitative safety
benefits of the proposed rule. First, this
proposal would enhance the protection
of air navigation aids in the vicinity of
private use airports with FAA-approved
instrument approach procedures.
Second, the proposed rule would
protect the flying public from signal
interference from broadcast sources that
could disrupt vital communication or
alter the performance of vital avionics.

At FAA, safety is first. FAA says this rule will further safety, spectrum users answer that they did their PRA paperwork wrong. What do you think will happen given the FAA culture?

It is clear from the NPRM that the FAA thinks there is no alternative to their approach which is less burdensome. Since their justification repeatedly focuses on the FM broadcast/ILS issue (and their actually give no examples of specific problems for the other 12 bands affected), someone should ask FAA why more than 10 years after ICAO Annex 10 (ICAO Convention, 61 Stat 1180. T.I.A.S. No. 1591, Annex 10) standards for ILS receiver immunity have been in effect worldwide, FAA still permits the use of ILS receivers not meeting this standard in US airspace and bases its technical criterion for declaring a proposed FM transmitter as a "hazard to air navigation" on the use of these poor receivers. While FAA accuses FCC of kowtowing to its licensees, it looks like FAA is kowtowing here to AOPA - the general aviation trade association.

Someone should ask FAA why in WRC-03 preparation and in FCC Docket 01-289 they opposed applying protection equivalent to ICAO Annex 10 to new DGPS receivers in the same band as ILS, thus potentially extending the FM EMI problem to a whole new class of systems? Indeed at WRC-03 the US suffered the embarassment of having its proposed international allocation for DGPS signals modified in Resolution 413 to include immunity from FM signals comparable to ICAO Annex 10. (See FNPRM, Docket 01-289, para. 50-55)

The types of EMI problems FAA is concerned about are fortunately very rare, such as the "needle in the haystack". Thus if FAA went ahead with the proposed rule, it would only be highly reliable if there was very high compliance. While major cellular carriers could be expected to maintain high compliance about filing - at the expense of paralyzing their expansion operations - there are many other FCC licensees who just don't have the regulatory resources to deal with this issue or even be aware of it. Thus expecting high compliance with the rules as proposed is naive. Cooperation, not confrontation, with FCC is needed.

The root causes of this problem are both lack of cooperation and mutual respect between FAA and FCC spectrum managers and the unwillingness of NTIA, which has delegated significant aeronautical spectrum management responsibility to FAA, to get involved in these issues. For example, NTIA lets FAA assign ILS frequencies in the 108-109 MHz segment (just above the FM broadcast band) without anyone doing any analysis of the impact of such an assignment on FM broadcasting in the area -- which could be significant in the case of major markets. NTIA has refused to pressure FAA to require ICAO Annex 10 immunity and fully backed FAA in the above mentioned WRC-03 proposal, with the resulting negative consequences for US prestige in ITU.

To NTIA: It's nice to say you are a powerful agency that exercises the President's 47 USC 305 spectrum authority. Here's a place where you can show you can contribute to solving problems by taking a leadership role, not by sitting on the sidelines.

Finally, the European Commission is talking about one spectrum management agency for all of Europe. Does the US really have to go from 2 spectrum management agencies to 3? Does the FAA even have the staff to handle the tsunami of applications that could result from their proposal?

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