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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)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

FAA Rulemaking on Spectrum Regulation:
Part 4
A Suggested Counterproposal for the Wireless Community

(First, though, an unrelated point: Some nice and well deserved coverage in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on the effectiveness of the FCC's efforts in Hurricance Katrina vice another agency in the same part of SW DC whose abbreviation also begins with an "F".)

There are 3 basic approaches to responding to the FAA's NPRM:
  1. Tell FAA they are stupid, they are wrong, they messed up on the Paperwork Reduction Act, and they don't have the legal authority anyway.
  2. Tell FAA you agree with them.
  3. Make a counterproposal to FAA that meets FAA's concerns that are legitimate but does not make the wireless industry grind to a halt.
I'm sure some in the wireless industry favor the first approach. Let me remind them that the "all powerful" NAB tried a similar approach in the FM broadcast area which is the first antecedant here and basically had no success. The FM licensing bottleneck with the FAA was only minimized when FAA and FCC compromised on a modus vivendi that met the legitimate concerns of both and stopped quibbling over statutes. (I played a key role in those negotiations, so I have some explicit experience here.)

Approach 2 has the obvious downside that much of the wireless industry will grind to a halt while the FAA drowns in a tsunami of paperwork - if the filing compliance is high. As I explain below, this approach really won't even accomplish what the FAA wants with any reliability consistent with safety goals.

The rest of this posting will be devoted to my suggestions for Approach 3. This is basically the approach we used to make significant progress in the FM broadcast FAA problem and is based on the book Getting to Yes.

The basic approach here is that each side tries to make the other feel better by offering up points that are not too painful but that will be seen positively by the other side. Hopefully, both sides can converge on a set of mutually acceptable points. The book describes it much better than I can.

So here are the points I would propose for the FCC and wireless parties to use in their comments to FAA:

  1. Even if implemented, inevitable marginal compliance would limit its effectiveness - a cooperative FAA/FCC program is really essential for safety goals and would also decrease industry burdens. (Compliance will not be high because the proposed rules cover so many small entities and local governments who can not realistically be expected to be aware of this new redundant filing requirement.)
  2. Transmitters causing EMI to aeronautical systems fortunately are rare (the NPRM gives few specific examples), so identifying problems at application stage is like looking for needle in haystack as only one application in thousands will need detailed attention. Without unrealistic extremely high filing compliance, there will always be a real likelihood that the "needle" will be missed.
  3. Searching main application stream at Gettysburg and other FCC processing sites is most efficient and effective. Such a search should use a "trigger level" that would flag applications for FAA coordination and need not be definitive decision. A modest "false alarm" rate should be acceptable as long as all the cases of concern are flagged. The "trigger level" should be subject to mutual FAA/FCC agreement, hopefully with NTIA participation.
  4. FAA may have to pay FCC cost of software/hardware to do the "flagging" but this would likely be much less than cost of handling the tsunami of paper that would result from NPRM approach.
  5. Several types of transmitters that require no site license application are apparently of concern to FAA judging from details of NPRM. These include cellular base stations, VSATs, certain unlicensed systems, the new Broadband Radio Service and other area licenses. The impact of the proposed rules on these services would be horrific even though a negligible number of transmitters raise any real concerns. For these cases FAA should first define a simple categorical exclusion based on power so that low power systems with no realistic likelihood of causing EMI based on conceivable siting vis-a-vis aeronautical systems are exempt from consideration. For those not exempt, an automated "red light/green light" system like that developed by NTIA for coordination of 70/80/90 GHz systems should be used to quickly clear the vast majority of transmitters that are not even questionable and flag a handful for detailed analysis.
  6. This NPRM makes clear the interaction among aviation safety issues, FAA frequency assignment decsions that are the responsibility of NTIA exercising the President's 47 USC 305 authority, and FCC licensing decisions. FCC licensing decision impact aeronautical decisions and vice versa. On FAA's behalf, NTIA should identify certain types of aeronautical frequency assignment changes that are likely to have a domino effect on FCC licensees and should coordinate review their impact and formally coordinate nonemergency changes with FCC. For example, this might include any ILS or DGPS assignment in a major market in the 108-112 MHz sector. In some cases, public comment would be appropriate.
  7. For each of the bands in NPRM, FAA should describe more explicitly which aeronautical system they feel is at risk and what interference mechanisms they are concerned about (e.g. out-of-band emissions, receiver desensitization, receiver-generated intermodulation, etc.) so the wireless community can suggest alternative approaches to avoid the EMI concerns.
  8. The NPRM states "The FAA is proposing to codify new EMI obstruction standards in Part 77 along with the obstruction standards for physical obstructions." 71 FR 34034 (bottom of left column) Yet the NPRM lacks a specific proposal anywhere near as specific as the obstruction standards.
  9. The public interest demands the minimum total cost solution to the EMI problem. This is not necessarily the minimum cost solution for the FAA and/or its regulatees. EMI depends on both the source of emissions and the receiver’s technical characteristics. The FAA’s continued refusal to require all aircraft in the US using ILS to use receivers meeting ICAO Annex 10 immunity standards 21 years after they were adopted shows that there are real issues in how FAA balances public interest factors. FAA should engage with FCC and NTIA in a realisitic review of how EMI prevention burdens should be balanced between receiver immunity issues and FCC licensing restrictions.
  10. The inclusion of the U-NII bands in NPRM band (ix) (5000–5650 MHz) raises serious questions since NTIA recently concurred with FCC on low power unlicensed use of this band with full consideration of radar issues, indeed an unprecedented 2 year delay after the FCC Report and Order to resolve them. The ability of FAA to raise new conditions after this recent decision raises significant uncertainty to investment in any unlicensed technology. Administrative certainty demands that FAA work out its problems with NTIA, which historically has paid great deference to FAA, and not rehash them after the fact.
So, you have until 9/11 to file comments. Feel free to contact me if I can help you or feel free to comment on this blog.

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