TMT Round-up: Developments on Unlocked Phones; FTC Backs Do Not Track Standard Despite Ad Industry Objections; German Team Sets Wi-Fi Data Transmission World Record

 By Jenny Paul, Nickolas Milonas and Marc Martin

NTIA petitions FCC for rule requiring unlocked phones

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is seeking new regulations that would require wireless carriers to unlock mobile phones, tablets and other devices upon the customer’s request.

 The NTIA filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission in September, asking the FCC to immediately initiate a rulemaking that would shift the burden of unlocking mobile devices from consumers to wireless carriers.  Unlocking a device allows the device to be used on the networks of other carriers, not just the network of the carrier from which it was purchased.  Removing a lock on a mobile device would not affect the terms of the contract or the related penalties for termination between the consumer and the wireless carrier, according to an NTIA release.

FTC backs Do Not Track standard despite advertisers’ withdrawal from talks

Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez remains hopeful that the industry can create a Do Not Track standard, despite news that advertisers withdrew from online tracking talks at the World Wide Web Consortium.

A Do Not Track standard could allow consumers to opt out of online tracking or exercise more control over how their online activities are recorded.  The Digital Advertising Alliance withdrew from the W3C talks in September, saying it “no longer believes that the [W3C working group] is capable of fostering the development of a workable ‘do not track’ . . . solution.”

The DAA said it would work separately to consider options for enhancing consumer privacy, “rather than continuing to work in a forum that has failed.”

“[W]e intend to commit our resources and time in participating in efforts that can achieve results while enhancing the consumer digital experience,” DAA managing director Lou Mastria said in a letter to the W3C.  “The DAA will immediately convene a process to evaluate how browser-based signals can be used to meaningfully address consumer privacy. . . . This DAA-led process will be a more practical use of our resources than to continue to participate at the W3C.

Although Ramirez said she was disappointed by the DAA’s departure, she noted that a Do Not Track standard still could be reached.  “[M]y end goal on Do Not Track remains for consumers to have meaningful choices not to be tracked, whether that option emerges from within or outside the W3C,” Ramirez said in a statement.

German Team Sets Wi-Fi Data Transmission World Record

A team of scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics (IAF) and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) recently set the world record for wireless data transmission at 100 Gigabits per second.  The team’s Wi-Fi network transmitted data at a frequency of 237.5 GHz over a 20-meter distance in controlled laboratory conditions. 

While such high-frequency signals allow for intensive data transfers, the propagation characteristics of these signals do not allow for long-distance travel and are easily disrupted by obstacles (e.g., buildings, walls, etc.).  At a rate of 100 Gbps, for example, you can transfer the contents of an entire Blu-ray disc in two seconds.  The team of scientists at IAF and KIT set the previous Wi-Fi data transmission record at 40 Gbps, and that technology was tested by sending data signals between the peaks of skyscrapers.  The team hopes that its new technology can be used in rural areas as “an inexpensive and flexible alternative to optical fiber networks, whose extension can often not be justified from an economic point of view.”  The same technology could also be used to patch holes in existing fiber lines.  One of the scientists also noted the use of multiplexing techniques (transmitting multiple streams) and multiple antennas could facilitate data rates of 1 terabit per second.

Mobile App Transparency Group Continues Development of Privacy Code of Conduct

By Nickolas Milonas and Marc Martin

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration recently held another meeting as part of its multistakeholder process regarding mobile app transparency.  In the summer of 2012, the NTIA began an industry-wide effort to develop a voluntary code of conduct for how mobile apps notify users about their personal data collection practices.  Industry representatives and privacy groups have worked together over the past year to develop a draft code of conduct to improve the clarity of privacy disclosures while advancing self-regulation as a preferred option to privacy laws that may be handed down from Congress.

The Obama Administration has praised the process a means to create meaningful self-regulation within the industry, which may also spur industry progress on other technology and privacy issues.  The NTIA’s process is near completion, as the group currently only has one more meeting slated on its docket for this summer. 

FirstNet Challenges and Opportunities Examined in Upcoming Live Webcast

It has been a year since Congress created FirstNet, a federal authority within NTIA tasked with building a $7 billion nationwide wireless public safety broadband network. With its board already appointed, FirstNet has begun planning, designing, and developing the public safety network, supported by a $121.5 million grant program to staff and implement state and local government planning and coordination activities. However, important issues remain involving FirstNet’s deployment strategy, potential network partners, procurement approach, and the complex task of leveraging resources and facilities from state and local governments, wireless carriers, utilities, and others. In addition, the availability of future funding for FirstNet’s $7 billion price tag is tied to the success of the FCC’s recapture and repacking of television broadcast spectrum and sufficient proceeds from the auction of broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband use. 

These issues and others will be examined in a live webcast carried on Broadband US TV from 1:00-2:30 pm (ET) on March 1, 2013, entitled “FirstNet:A Year Later - Understanding the $7 Billion Opportunity . . . and Challenges.” Co-hosts Marty Stern of K&L Gates and Jim Baller of the Baller Herbst Law Group will be joined by Laura Pettus, Program Manager, NTIA Public Safety Interoperable Communications Grant Program, and an expert panel featuring Dr. Andrew Afflerbach, CEO/Director of Engineering - CTC Technology & Energy; Jeff Cohen, Chief Counsel, Law and Policy, APCO International; Martha Duggan, Senior Principal, Regulatory Affairs, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; and Michael Hardiman, Director, Mission Critical Broadband Solutions, Alcatel-Lucent.

You can access the webcast here (free registration required).

FTC Chairman and Experts to Examine Mobile and Online Privacy in Upcoming Webcast

A live webcast program entitled Privacy Untangled, featuring Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz and an expert panel will be carried on Broadband US TV on Friday, October 26, 2012, from 1:00-2:30 p.m. ET.

Balancing privacy with commercial interests has become increasingly complex and contentious, as businesses and government organizations rely on the collection, storage, and sharing of online and mobile consumer data. Recent regulatory initiatives, including the White House’s proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and related workshops, and the privacy enforcement actions and best practices reports of the FTC have placed evolving privacy practices in the spotlight. In addition, privacy watchdog groups continue to criticize the government’s privacy initiatives as insufficient, while service providers complain of the government over-reaching in its regulatory approach towards industry privacy practices.

An in-depth examination of these issues will be provided in a live webcast with co-hosts Marty Stern of K&L Gates and Jim Baller of the Baller Herbst Law Group. In addition to special guest FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, the program will feature an expert panel with Sue Kelley, American Public Power Association General Counsel; Deborah J. Matties, Attorney Advisor to FTC Chairman Leibowitz; Emily Mossberg, Principal at Deloitte & Touche LLP; Ross Shulman, Public Policy and Regulatory Counsel at the Computer and Communications Industry Association; Bernin Szoka, President at TechFreedom, and Peter Swire, former Chief Counsel for Privacy under President Clinton and current professor at the Ohio State University.

The panel will engage in a lively discussion regarding privacy issues and the government’s recent initiatives to adjust privacy regulations for an evolving online and mobile marketplace.

You can register for the webcast here (free registration required).

Public Safety Network Inquiry Issued by FirstNet

By J. Bradford Currier, Marc Martin, and Marty Stern

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration seeks comment on the design, development, and deployment of the first nationwide interoperable public safety network under a Notice of Inquiry issued to help launch FirstNet. As we discussed previously, FirstNet will hold the nationwide public safety wireless license and is responsible for the buildout and operation of the public safety broadband network established under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act. FirstNet is charged with ensuring nationwide standards for use and access of the network and issuing requests for proposals to build, operate, and maintain the network. The NOI represents the first substantive action by FirstNet, following last week’s appointment of its Board of Directors, and signals the first step towards the deployment of a public safety communications system based on a single, national network.

The NOI specifically seeks comment on the FirstNet Nationwide Network (“FNN”) proposal, which was presented at FirstNet’s initial meeting. According to FirstNet, the FNN will achieve ubiquitous and interoperable service at reduced costs. The FNN proposes a network reliant on multiple wireless networks to ensure redundancy and reliability that will extend into previously underserved rural areas. The NOI also seeks comment on how FirstNet can develop applications for federal, state, local, and tribal public safety officials. FirstNet would define interface and certification requirements for the applications and call upon private sector developers to create applications that public safety officials could easily download and use. 

For comments regarding network structure and deployment, the NOI seeks proposals which: (1) provide for priority access and preemption features; (2) use core network infrastructure installed by commercial mobile operators in order to maximize coverage and performance; (3) reach operational capability as quickly as possible; and (4) enable voice services within the FirstNet network as well as to/from other commercial networks. For application issues, the NOI seeks comments which: (1) provide suggestions for applications which benefit public safety users; (2) address interface requirements and other application development procedures; (3) offer security features and certification requirements; and (4) suggest application delivery methods, such as an online storefront.

Comments in response to the FirstNet NOI are due by November 1, 2012.

UPDATE: Comments will now be accepted until November 9, 2012.

FirstNet Board Announced

By J. Bradford Currier, Marc Martin, and Marty Stern

The Department of Commerce has announced the appointment of the Board members of FirstNet, which under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act holds the nationwide public safety wireless license and is responsible for the buildout, deployment, and operation of the public safety broadband network. Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank appointed industry executive Samuel Ginn as Chairman of the Board, and the following additional members, who were selected to represent the interests of (1) states, localities, tribes, and territories; (2) public safety professionals; and (3) geographical and regional diversity:

  • Tim Bryan - CEO, National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative
  • Charles Dowd - Deputy Chief, New York City Police Department 
  • F. Craig Farrill - Wireless telecommunications executive 
  • Paul Fitzgerald - Sheriff, Story County, Iowa
  • Jeffrey Johnson - Fire Chief (retired); former Chair, State Interoperability Council, State of Oregon; CEO, Western Fire Chiefs Association
  • William Keever - Telecommunications executive (retired)
  • Kevin McGinnis - Chief/CEO, North East Mobile Health Services 
  • Ed Reynolds - Telecommunications executive (retired)
  • Susan Swenson - Telecommunications/technology executive 
  • Teri Takai - Government information technology expert; former CIO, states of Michigan and California 
  • Wellington Webb - Founder, Webb Group International; former Mayor, Denver, Colorado

The 15-member FirstNet Board also includes the U.S. Attorney General, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

FirstNet is an independent authority within the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The Act provides FirstNet with $7 billion for deployment of the national public safety network payable from proceeds from the auction of broadcast spectrum authorized by the Act (with $2 billion in initial borrowing authority) and $135 million for a grant program administered by NTIA to support local jurisdictions’ efforts to work with FirstNet to ensure the network meets their public safety needs.

The appointment of FirstNet’s Board follows the release of a report by FirstNet’s Interoperability Board containing recommendations regarding the technical requirements for the public safety network. With the appointment of the Board, FirstNet is expected to begin the request for proposals process for the construction, operations, maintenance, and improvements to the public safety network. Upon completion of the RFP process, FirstNet will provide each state with details of the proposed network buildout plan and the funding levels for the state as determined by NTIA. Each state will then choose whether to participate in the deployment of the network as proposed by FirstNet or conduct its own network deployment.

Obama Administration Pursues Mobile Privacy Code of Conduct

By J. Bradford Currier and Marc Martin

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) will hold its first meeting on July 12, 2012 aimed at developing voluntary codes of conduct designed to provide consumers with clear information regarding how personal data is handled by companies which develop and offer applications for mobile devices. The NTIA’s planned meetings with stakeholders were first announced in February 2012 as part of the White House’s proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The NTIA meeting comes as both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have recently taken action to improve consumer transparency and privacy safeguards for personal information collected by mobile apps.

A number of stakeholders have already filed comments expressing their support for improving the clarity and comprehensiveness of privacy disclosures provided to mobile app consumers. However, a number of commenters noted that the rapid pace of innovation in the mobile app market and the relatively small screen sizes of current mobile devices will make long-term, definitive disclosure rules difficult to develop. While NTIA hopes to tackle a number of Internet policy topics, including copyright and cybersecurity issues, the organization chose mobile app privacy as the first meeting topic because it believes consensus on a code of conduct can be reached “in a reasonable timeframe.” NTIA expects the mobile app privacy meeting will serve as a useful precedent for later discussions involving other online consumer protection concerns.

The NTIA meeting is open to all interested stakeholders and a venue should be announced before the end of the month. Interested stakeholders are asked to inform NTIA online in advance if they plan to attend the meeting.