Broadband US TV Webcast: Year in Review and Forecasts for 2013

By Nick Milonas and Marty Stern

With 2012 coming to a close, Internet TV channel Broadband US TV recently featured a live, year-end review of key developments in the sector over the last year, with guests making various predictions on what 2013 will bring. The webcast archive is available here (free registration required).

In addition to Broadband US TV co-hosts Marty Stern of K&L Gates and Jim Baller of the Baller Herbst Law Group, the webcast featured special guests Gigi Sohn, President and CEO of Public Knowledge, Scott Cleland, President of The Precursor Group and Chairman of advocacy group NetCompetition, Jeffrey Silva, Senior Policy Director at Medley Global Advisors, and Paul Gallant, Telecom Policy Analyst at Guggenheim Securities, LLC.

Panelists engaged in a lively and robust hour and a half discussion, with numerous exchanges between public interest advocate Gigi Sohn and Scott Cleland, whose NetCompetition group promotes a free market, deregulatory broadband agenda and is a prolific critic of the Federal Communications Commission. The discussion also featured commentary from analysts Jeff Silva and Paul Gallant. Among other issues, the wide-ranging discussion covered:

Spectrum —­ Numerous developments on the spectrum front, including conflicting predictions on the likely outcome of the broadcast spectrum auctions, the FCC’s recent decision on AWS-4 spectrum held by Dish Network, and thoughts on the deployment by Dish of a new, commercial wireless service.

Net Neutrality — The state of net neutrality, predictions on the likely outcome of the pending DC Circuit challenge to the FCC’s Open Internet Order, and the range of potential responses from the FCC.

Network Transitions — The IP transition from a circuit-switched voice network to an IP-based network, the recent petition filed at the FCC by AT&T, and a discussion of the key issues that need to be resolved.

ITU Internet Governance — The recently-concluded International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) and ITU Internet governance efforts, which according to panelists, will continue to play out over the next couple of years.

Copyright Reform — Copyright reform, including panelists’ discussions of the continued importance of the retransmission consent regime between broadcasters and cable/satellite providers, with updates and predictions on the pending court challenge to the Aereo service, which retransmits broadcast signals to subscribers using individual subscriber antennas at a headend location.

Gigabit Fiber Initiatives — Updates on new community broadband gigabit networks, with differing views on claimed subsidies provided by local governments for new networks and impacts vis-à-vis competition from commercial providers.

Telecom Legislation — Potential for telecom and broadband legislation in 2013 and key topics to be addressed, including potential rebalancing of rules governing relationships between broadcasters and cable/satellite providers.

FCC Leadership — Speculation on the potential departure of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, his potential replacement, and impacts on various pending broadband issues.

The show concluded with the guests’ boldest predictions for 2013, including the prospects for a Telecom Act rewrite, key issues to be faced by a new FCC Chair, likely court action on the FCC’s Open Internet rules, and the predicted outcome of a pending Supreme Court case (City of Arlington v. FCC), involving the “shot clock” adopted by the FCC for local wireless siting decisions and a unique twist on the deference owed to the FCC in matters of statutory interpretation under the Chevron doctrine.

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

FCC Proposes Licensing New Wireless Spectrum for Flexible Use

By J. Bradford Currier and Marc Martin

The spectrum band used for mobile wireless service would be extended by 10 MHz under a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking recently released by the Federal Communications Commission. Under the proposal, the FCC would license the so-called “H Block” spectrum for flexible use through a system of competitive bidding expected to occur in 2013. The licensing of the H Block was a requirement of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and the proceeds from the H Block auction will be used to support the buildout of a nationwide interoperable public safety network and reduce the national deficit. The FCC stated that its proposal is necessary to meet the growing demand for wireless broadband and follows other recent FCC efforts to make more wireless spectrum available.

Under the proposal, the FCC would license H Block spectrum for use in exclusive geographic areas. H Block licensees would be required to provide signal coverage and offer service to: (1) at least 40% of the population in each licensed area within four years and (2) at least 70% of the population in each licensed area at the end of a 10-year license term. New licensees would be required to reimburse a portion of the costs incurred in prior efforts to clear incumbents from the H Block and may disaggregate, partition, and lease their spectrum, subject to the FCC’s rules. Mobile and low-powered fixed transmissions would be authorized in the lower H Block spectrum, with base and fixed transmissions permitted in the upper H Block spectrum.

The FCC seeks comment on the above proposals as well as the appropriate interference mitigation techniques to ensure that the lower H Block spectrum does not cause interference to existing adjacent wireless operations. The FCC asserted that the power and emission limitations offered in its proposal would be sufficient to ensure that new and existing licensees can operate harmoniously but reserved the right to allocate the lower H Block spectrum to unlicensed use should interference issues become unmanageable. 

Comments on the proposal are due by February 6, 2012, with reply comments due by March 6, 2013.

FCC Proposes New Broadband Spectrum for Small Cell, Shared Use

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

New spectrum may become available for shared, small cell broadband use in a new a “Citizens Broadband Service” under a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking recently released by the Federal Communication Commission. The proposal would reallocate 100 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz Band for shared use using small cell technologies and implements recommendations made earlier this year by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The FCC stated that increased spectrum sharing is necessary as demand for wireless broadband outpaces the availability of new spectrum. The FCC seeks comment on the structure and implementation of the Citizens Broadband Service and whether adjacent spectrum should be included in the proposal to create a larger contiguous spectrum block.

The proposed rules would authorize small cell broadband systems using low-power wireless base stations that are designed to cover targeted indoor or localized outdoor areas, such as homes, stadiums, shopping malls, and hospitals. The FCC noted that small cell stations can be easily deployed at relatively low cost to greatly increase data capacity and fill in coverage gaps created by buildings and terrain. Building on the TV White Spaces model, incumbent users would be protected through the use of geolocational databases that would allow spectrum sharing in geographic areas where incumbent systems are not operating.

The FCC’s proposal would divide spectrum users into three tiers. First, the Incumbent Access tier would include authorized federal users and incumbent satellite licensees. These incumbents would be afforded protection from all other users in the 3.5 GHz Band. Second, the Protected Access tier would include critical-use facilities, such as hospitals, utilities, government facilities, and public safety entities that would be ensured access to a portion of the spectrum in certain designated locations. Third, the General Authorized Access tier would include all other users, including consumer and business users, wireless ISPs, and licensed commercial wireless providers, all of whom would operate in the 3.5 GHz Band subject to protections for the other tiers. The FCC seeks comment on a number of issues, including whether the General Access Tier should be subject to a light licensing regime similar to a registration requirement, potential interference mitigation techniques, and details on the geolocational database and how it will regulate access to the band.

Wireless broadband providers praised the FCC’s proposal, stating that spectrum sharing will enable increased coverage in rural and underserved areas and provide start-up companies with a testing ground for new technologies. Supporters of unlicensed spectrum use suggest that available interference mitigation techniques will ensure that incumbent users and critical care facilities can be protected, while opening up additional spectrum for commercial and public use. However, in reports earlier this Fall on opening up the 3.5 GHz band to unlicensed use, industry observers noted that spectrum sharing in the 3.5 GHz Band poses a number of technical challenges for commercial wireless providers that may take years to resolve before the spectrum can be deployed as an adjunct to their core wireless services.

Comments on the proposal are due by February 20, 2012, with reply comments due by March 22, 2013.

Tax Relief Act Spectrum Provisions Examined in Upcoming Live Webcast

The spectrum title of the recently enacted Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 includes sweeping provisions on public safety broadband, freeing up broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband, and the future of television white spaces. Yet significant questions remain over the meaning of the Act’s key provisions and its implementation.

These issues and others will be examined in a special two-hour live webcast carried on Broadband US TV from 1:00-3:00 pm (ET) on April 4th. Co-hosts Marty Stern of K&L Gates and Jim Baller of the Baller Herbst Law Group will be joined by two expert panels to discuss the Act’s meaning, impact, and implementation. The first panel, covering implications for public safety and other governmental entities, will feature Stephen Traylor, Executive Director of NATOA; Brett Kilbourne, Deputy General Counsel of the Utilities Telecom Council; Brett S. Haan of Deloitte Consulting; and Roger Wespe, Government Relations Manager at APCO International. The second panel, covering impacts on broadcasters, wireless carriers, and the tech community, will feature Michael Calabrese of the New America Foundation; Lawrence Krevor, Vice President at Sprint Nextel; Kevin Krufky, Vice President of Public Affairs at Alcatel-Lucent; and Peter Tannenwald, Member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth.

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

First White Spaces Database and Device Approved by FCC

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

In a move that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called “an important step towards enabling a new wave of wireless innovation,” the FCC approved the first-ever television White Spaces database and compatible device. Spectrum Bridge will operate the new White Spaces database and is authorized to begin service on January 26, 2012. Koos Technical Services received FCC approval to sell products authorized to operate within the White Spaces on an unlicensed basis.

White Spaces, sometimes referred to as “Wi-Fi on steroids” or “Super Wi-Fi,” consist of unused spectrum between licensed broadcast television stations. White Spaces devices operate on lower frequencies than normal Wi-Fi devices, allowing for better signal penetration into building interiors. White Spaces proponents suggest that unlocking White Spaces for unlicensed use will lead to an expansion in low-cost wireless Internet access options, an increase in public Internet “hotspots,” and improved connectivity for smart grids designed to make energy consumption more efficient.

In addition to Spectrum Bridge, the FCC has conditionally designated a number of entities as White Space database administrators that must receive final FCC authorization after a 45-day public trial before commencing commercial service. One such company, Telcordia, is in its public trial now and its White Spaces database can be accessed by clicking here. Under the FCC’s rules, authorized White Spaces devices must connect to an authorized White Spaces database, securely transmitting their location information, in order to receive a list of nearby unoccupied channels available for use. White Spaces devices, utilizing the authorized database, are required to protect a number of licensed services included in the database from potential interference, particularly broadcast television stations. Wireless microphone users and operators of temporary broadcast auxiliary service links will need to register their sites with the White Spaces databases in order to receive protection.

Spectrum Bridge will be initially limited to covering the Wilmington, North Carolina metropolitan area. The FCC placed the geographic limitation on Spectrum Bridge’s authorization after initial testing uncovered issues with database registration by a number of entities, which Spectrum Bridge promised to correct before it begins full operations.

Public interest groups hailed the FCC’s announcement, claiming that unlicensed White Spaces use will spur innovation and create jobs in the tech industry. While the scope of the new White Space plan remains limited for now, broadcasters have continued voicing concerns that White Spaces use interferes with their digital and high definition signals, and unfairly restricts broadcasters’ spectrum footprint.

It remains to be seen how White Spaces will fair in spectrum reform legislation that is currently being considered by Congress. The spectrum reform language was expected to be passed as part of the year-end payroll tax extension legislation, but was not included in the final two-month deal. The House version of the spectrum legislation would prevent certain auctioned spectrum from being used for unlicensed wireless services, over the objection of House Democrats and tech interests. If spectrum reform is passed as part of a one-year tax extension deal, there is some question as to whether White Spaces will be preserved in some form in the final bill. Reports indicate that today’s announcement will be the first of many White Spaces database and device authorizations, setting the stage for a major increase in unlicensed wireless service nationwide – assuming Congress can reach a compromise that preserves White Spaces in the pending spectrum reform legislation.