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Spectrum Allocations Heat Up At FCC Meeting

By | November 17, 2003

      The management of spectrum, both international and domestic, was the hot topic at the Federal Communications Commission’s monthly meeting held last week.

      Ed Thomas, chief engineer at the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, laid down some of the steps the agency has taken in implementing the agreement from this summer’s World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva (SN, July 16, 2003).

      Allocation for Wi-Fi devices: The FCC recently made spectrum in the 5 GHz band in the United States for unlicensed Wi-Fi devices. “The significant increase in spectrum available for these devices will enable growth of wireless broadband services,” Thomas said.

      Allocation of spectrum for broadband services for aircraft: The FCC has allocated spectrum on a secondary basis in the 14-14.5 GHz band for aeronautical mobile satellite services, enabling the launch of services such as Connexion by Boeing.

      Operation of fixed satellite service (FSS) earth station onboard vessels: At the Nov. 13 meeting, the FCC proposed rules for licensing of earth stations onboard vessels (ESVs). The proposals are designed to protect incumbent fixed services operating in areas around ports from interference resulting from the use of ESVs while a vessel is in port.

      Not resting on the agency’s laurels, Don Abelson, chief of the FCC’s International Bureau, said that the first meeting of the WRC-2007 advisory committee is planned for January to discuss preparations for the next WRC in 2007. There are already 21 agenda items for the next WRC.

      FCC Chairman Michael Powell added that two people had been named to head the WRC advisory committee to prepare for WRC-2007 – Nancy Victory and Peter Hadinger.

      Responding to the WRC update, Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said that “spectrum is gold and we need global coordination of spectrum that doesn’t damage our own U.S. governmental interests.”

      Spectrum Policy Task Force

      Peter Tenhula, director of the Spectrum Policy Task Force that issued a report last year designed to overhaul the way spectrum is managed, briefed the commission on the status of the panel’s 39 recommendations.

      So far, the FCC has taken action to eliminate barriers to secondary markets; to open up spectrum to unlicensed systems and devices; and to provide changes that would improve access to spectrum in rural and underserved areas. There are two dozen proceedings going forward on implementing task force recommendations, he added.

      The FCC took action at the meeting on one of the task force’s recommendations – development of a model to measure interference among different service. Termed “interference temperature,” this model for addressing interference takes into account the actual cumulative radiofrequency energy from transmissions of spectrum-based devices and would set a maximum cap on the aggregate of these transmissions. The current approach for managing interference focuses on specifying and limiting the transmission powers of individual spectrum-based devices as the way to prevent interference, the agency explained.

      Commission Michael Copps added a note of caution about the task force’s recommendations. “Now we come to the hard part, going forward with specific policy initiatives from the commission. Do we have the legal authority to do all of these things? Where do theory and practice intersect? Most important, how do we look at new concepts, new technologies and new business models in terms of protecting the owners of the spectrum?”

      Satellite Phones and E-911

      Also at the meeting, the FCC revised the scope of its enhanced 911 (E911) emergency response rules and clarified which technologies and services would be required to transmit E911 location information to public safety answering points (PSAPs). Phase I of E911 implementation requires carriers, upon the request by a local PSAP, to report the telephone number of a wireless 911 caller and the location of the antenna that received the call. E911 Phase II requires wireless carriers to provide the precise location of a 911 caller within 50 to 100 meters. The FCC established a four-year Phase II deployment schedule for carriers, beginning in October 2001, to be completed by December 31, 2005.

      As part of that effort, the FCC decided that mobile satellite service (MSS) carriers that provide voice service are required to establish call centers for the purpose of answering 911 calls and forwarding such calls to an appropriate PSAP. The FCC also directed the Network Reliability and Interoperability Council (NRIC) to study several technical issues associated with enhanced 911 implementation for satellite systems.

      The FCC is also seeking public comment on two issues related to MSS. First, the FCC asked whether transition periods are necessary for MSS providers with an ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) to comply with the terrestrial wireless E911 requirements. Second, the FCC sought comment on proposed reporting and recordkeeping requirements in connection with implementation of the MSS emergency call center decision.

      Arthur Lechtman, attorney advisor with the IB’s Satellite Division, told the commissioners that the MSS item is designed to ensure that “users of satellite phones have access to 911 emergency services.” Lechtman added, “satellite systems and terrestrial wireless systems have different network architectures. This difference impairs the ability of mobile satellite service providers to locate callers and to route emergency calls automatically to local emergency personnel. [MSS] carriers can set up call centers without waiting for final resolution of these network architecture issues. Thus MSS customers will be guaranteed access to emergency services in the near future.”

      –Fred Donovan

      (Peter Tenhula, Spectrum Policy Task Force, 202/418-7783; Belinda Nixon, FCC’s International Bureau, 202/418-1460; Gary Thayer, FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, 202/418-2290)

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