SpectrumTalk has moved!

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, February 07, 2007

Sounds of Silence,Costs of Silence

Many people trying to organize spectrum-related conferences in the past two years have noted an odd phenomenon: it is almost impossible to get FCC speakers. The FCC staff has been very discrete as to why this is happening, but the reason is quite clear. The Chairman's Office has imposed unprecedented approval requirements on all public appearances of FCC staffers and acceptance of conference/workshop invitations. While one can understand hesitation about allowing junior staffers to make statements about policy issues at meetings, keeping senior staffers on a very short leash is much harder to understand.

And this leash applies even to attending meetings. An example, for the IEEE DySPAN conference on cognitive radio technology in November 2005 in Baltimore I was able to convince the organizers that since their budget was in good shape due to a surge in registrations they should invite a few FCC staffers to attend for free. (The present sickly FCC training and travel budgets would have made FCC payment of registration fees unrealistic.) I passed this offer to FCC contacts and was told that the Chairman's Office had to approve such free registration even if there was no speaking involved. Now as it turned out, the Chairman's Office approved it. But FCC has 40+ "senior executives" on its payroll. If none of them have delegated authority to make such decisions, what do they have authority to do?

So the net impact of this is a lot fewer FCC attendees and speakers at spectrum conferences and less effective interaction with industry. Sure, multibillion dollar corporations can send people to DC to interact with FCC staff, but smaller firms are unlikely to encounter FCC staff outside of DC.

Innovative wireless technology requires significant investment to get it from the pages of IEEE journals into the marketplace. Wireless technology is, of course, highly regulated and this regulation raises investment risks, making other technical investments more desirable than wireless. In countries with spectrum regulation more related to Soviet economic planning, e.g. Europe and Japan, this risk is compensated by the presence of a clear plan that moderates risk and discourages competitive nonendorsed technologies. But this has not been the basic US spectrum policy for decades.

The US deregulated marketplace spectrum industry needs better dialogwith industry to make investments in new technology. Let me give an historical example of the impact of such dialog:

Just before I retired from FCC in March 2004, IEEE 802 invited me to a conference in Florida to talk about the regulatory beginnings of 802.11/Wi-Fi. My talk is on my website. Vic Hayes, the pioneering leader of 802.11 who is generally credited in forging the original standards development, also gave a presentation entitled "Impact of (FCC) Spread Spectrum Rules on the Wireless IEEE 802 standards". Vic recalls in slide 13 of the presentation,

Quote from the minutes
• Fort Lauderdale, FA
November 11-15, 1991
• “The presentation by Dr. M. Marcus
from the FCC at Worcester
Polytechnic on Friday does invite
further comment. The FCC remains
interested in the voice of the

Frankly, I barely recall this conference 16 years ago in Worcester, Massachusetts. But it was interesting to find out much later that it had a positive impact on early 802.11 deliberations. Such presentation of midlevel FCC staffers just aren't being made anymore.

It is unrealistic to expect junior and midlevel FCC staffers to be allowed to speak on the most sensitive policy issues, but why can they attend meetings and speak on established policies or describe ongoing NPRMs? Why can't senior people give insights into deliberations in Washington as they generally have done for decades? Let's keep secret pending decisions but have a dialog on general policies.

[Picture from Wikipedia.]

No comments: