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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)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Spectrum Policy Committee Remains
Shrouded in Secrecy

By Jeffrey Silva
Oct 13, 2006
[Reproduced from RCRNews with kind permission]

Oct 13, 2006
WASHINGTON-Nearly two years after President Bush authorized the creation of an advisory committee as part of spectrum policy initiative launched in 2003, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has yet to disclose identities of members, whether any meetings have been held or explain what progress has been made on White House-driven spectrum program that from the beginning has been shrouded in secrecy and yielded few tangible results to date.

NTIA, a unit of the Commerce Department that advises the president on telecom policy and manages federal government spectrum, last week declined to provide any details on the status of advisory committee and the Bush spectrum initiative. Todd Sedmak, an NTIA spokesman, said the agency may say more publicly by the end of the year or early 2007. But Sedmak did not elaborate on what NTIA planned to announce. The spectrum advisory committee, which is allotted between five and 20 members, is chartered for two years. The charter can be renewed.
While NTIA has tried to keep the matter quiet, criticism has surfaced about financial disclosure statements required of advisory committee participants. At least one top industry lobbyist invited to join the panel is said to have refused to be part of the advisory committee as a result of financial filing requirements. Some federal advisory committees do not require financial disclosures. It is unclear whether the structuring of the Commerce spectrum management advisory committee, with its financial disclosure requirements, has caused NTIA to lose talent that otherwise it might have been able to attract.

One think-tank scholar said NTIA's handling of the advisory committee is symptomatic of a broader spectrum management issue and raises questions about the Bush administration's commitment to take on tough spectrum reform challenges.

"The delays and secrecy associated with setting up the advisory panel are indicative of a much larger problem of delay and secrecy in bringing accountability to federal use of spectrum," said J.H. Snider, research director of the New America Foundation's Wireless Future Program.

Snider was a candidate for the advisory panel, but apparently was passed over.

"The administration and much of industry knows there is serious mismanagement of federal spectrum. But the administration faces a dilemma," said Snider. "On the one hand, it wants to avoid political heat by saying it is doing something about the problem. On the other hand, it doesn't have the political stomach to seriously address it. A primary purpose of the advisory committee is to give the administration political cover for claiming it takes the mismanagement problem seriously. The delays and secrecy are indicative of just how ambivalent the administration is about having the advisory committee seriously grapple with the issues necessary to fulfill its mission."

The spectrum advisory committee was a key recommendation that grew out of the Bush spectrum effort.

NTIA is working with the FCC on another major recommendation in the Bush spectrum policy initiative: sharing spectrum by federal government and non-federal spectrum users-like those in the mobile-phone industry. The FCC has yet to issue a ruling on spectrum sharing.

There is a strong perception in industry that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is far less committed to spectrum management-particularly cutting-edge reforms-than his predecessor, Michael Powell. Powell created a spectrum task force whose work led to numerous rulemaking proceedings. Some have been completed, others have not. Under Martin, spectrum reform white papers are virtually no where to be found.

"It is quite apparent that Chairman Martin has severe problems in finding staff outside his immediate circle that he can trust. The heads of the Office of Engineering & Technology and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau are still acting and Julius Knapp was not even formally named acting head of OET until about two months ago-and then without any formal announcement," said Michael Marcus, a telecom consultant and a former associate chief for technology at OET. "When the homeland security bureau was finally created after more than a year of planning, it doesn't have a regular head and the acting head was never even formally announced." [Note that Julius Knapp has been named permanent head of OET since this story was first published in RCR, but there has been no public announcement. See previous SpectrumTalk entry for more.]

Marcus said the FCC has been hampered by an exodus of spectrum policy experts and inability to attract replacements, a situation that pre-dates Martin's chairmanship.

"Unfortunately good spectrum policy needs people on the 8th floor with a good feel for the issues," said Marcus. "They don't need to have engineering degrees if they understand the issues. But for that last decade there has been a scarcity of such people on the 8th floor and it continues under Chairman Martin. So if you feel insecure about the issues, you go slow and avoid decisions, if possible. ... Unfortunately, the wireless industry needs leadership from FCC and timely resolution of policy issues for both its own growth and to provide efficient and effective services to the rest of the U.S. economy. We are reaping the benefits now of [a 1985] decision that paved the way for Wi-Fi and set the stage for CDMA cellular. But what decisions are the FCC making today the clear the way for new technologies 10 to 20 years from now?"

An FCC official, who asked that his name not be used, replied that the FCC is indeed moving ahead on spectrum reform. "The perception that things are slowing down is not correct. Across the board we've been active on spectrum reform," he said. The official pointed to the completion of the advanced wireless services auction and last week's decision to the permit Qualcomm Inc. to operate its MediaFLO mobile TV offering in markets where TV broadcasters are currently using the 700 MHz spectrum. In addition, he said the FCC continues to integrate spectrum flexibility into its wireless rules.

[NTIA announced the membership of the advisory committee on November 3, 2006 after the original publication of this article in RCR.]

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