The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this morning voted an historic order on net neutrality. The FCC also voted a controversial order on federal preemption of local laws affecting the ability of municipal governments to provide broadband. Both items were approved on party lines, with Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly offering lengthy oral and written dissents. Unlike many other FCC matters, such as network power back-up requirements, CPNI rules, Part 64 allocations, and radio licensing, the open internet item attracted a packed house to the FCC. The main meeting room was standing room, only, and two overflow rooms down the hall were mostly filled. Security guards enforced strictly the capacity limits in the main room; my two attempts to slip in were thwarted. A small cadre of demonstrators supporting net neutrality set up shop in a vacant lot next door to the FCC; I am not sure whether the numbers seemed low because (a) the vote was a foregone conclusion, anyway, or (b) Washington was hobbled by about three inches of snow this morning. Inside, the crowd was at times raucous. Several times, applause spilled from both the main meeting room and the overflow room across the hall from the room in which I was sitting; I can only surmise that attendees gravitated somewhat mysteriously to the room in which like-minded people were sitting, since no one where I was sitting expressed any sort of animated reaction to what was occurring at the podium. It was, except for the absence of a red carpet fashion review, the agency’s Academy Awards.
(Las Vegas) — Last week, David Hoover, vice president of legislative affairs for NTCA, attended CES 2015 and used the opportunity to network with key policymakers. Here are a few snippets from his photo journal:
Above: David Redl, Chief Counsel for Communications and Technology on the majority staff of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, spoke about the need to address USF and interconnection issues in a Telecom Act update. Other speakers on the “Telecommunications Act in an All-IP World” included Staci Pies (Senior Policy Counsel at Google), Christopher Yoo (John Chestnut Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania), and Craig Silliman (EVP for Public Policy and General Counsel, Verizon).
Above: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro discuss net neutrality rules during a conversation at CES. “Clearly, we’re going to come out with what I hope will be the gold standard,” said Wheeler. “And if Congress wants to come in and then say, ‘Well, we want to make sure that this approach doesn’t get screwed up by some crazy chairman that comes in,’” then those are “legitimate issues,” said the Chairman. Read more
By the time this goes to print (if we can still use that phrase in today’s age of all-digital-publishing), I will know whether I can look forward to tomorrow with October hope in my heart (planted by a Nationals win), or whether I will be resigned to waiting for the outcome of the National League Championship Series to know for whom I will root in the World Series. Despite the fact that I live barely 45 minutes beneath Baltimore . . . well, I suppose that if the Orioles win American League pennant, I might be split in my National League/locally-owned and operated loyalties. It is October, and anything can happen. Read more
Senate Bill Proposes to Spare Manufacturers Hassle of Engraving FCC Logo on Devices; Apple Watch Anticipated to Debut at $300
Come on, you’ve seen it on everything from the back of your LCD monitor to your remote garage door opener – that funky, 1970′s standard FCC logo that looks like the letter “F” either grabbing or eating the letter “C.” How that ever replaced the classic bird atop transmission wires seal of the agency is beyond my current knowledge, but the rub of it is that current federal regulations require the equipment manufactures to physically label their products as FCC compliant. Hence that touch of the 70′s on every latest device (to be fair, however, the soft, rounded edges of the F-C-C have been cleaned and angled in recent years, leading to a leaner, crisper logo – the FCC on Adkins, I suppose).
But . . . a new Senate bill proposes that this labeling can be implemented electronically, on the screen of the device and visible at the discretion of the device designer. Introduced by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the “E-Label” would authorize the FCC logo to appear on a “splash” screen when the device powers on, or elsewhere in menus or settings screens. The impetus for the bill was the growing number of shrinking devices (yes, I have been waiting to use that phrase).
The news may be welcome to Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), whose anticipated iWatch is anticipated to enter the market at $300. The release of the iWatch, the development of which has been watched (groan) with keen interest for the past several years, would be a breakout moment in the wear device industry. As noted in reports from last year’s CES, wearable health and diet monitoring devices designed for Apple and Android (sorry, Blackberry) were front and center on the trade floor in Las Vegas. A “ground up” device from Apple that would integrate seamlessly with existing devices and continue the firm’s design standards would likely be extraordinarily attractive to both prospective users who are actively interested in wearables as well as prospective users who, on balance, may simply be interested in anything Apple. Apple has not confirmed production, but trade media predict its debut within the year.
At the least, Apple may not need to find room to inscribe the ravenous “F.”
Geeks, historians, and fans of the quirky may find humor in Indiana General Assembly Bill #246 of the 1897 session. The bill faced a bumpy road along the way to its ultimate demise. It was to be referred to the Finance Committee, but was then proposed to be more suited for consideration by the Committee on Swamplands. It eventually made its way to the Committee on Education, where it passed without opposition, losing momentum only when it reached the Senate. I should mention that the bill proposed to avoid the drudgery of calculating pi to its bitter, tedious, seeming-unending end by simply rounding it off at 3.2. The goal was less about determining circumference than it was about measuring the area of a circle; the bill proposed (roughly) that the area of a circle is the same of a square with the same perimeter. The Bill lost momentum when, by chance, a Purdue University professor at the statehouse on unrelated business began to unravel the legislative emperor’s new clothes. Somewhat not surprisingly, the Indiana Senate declined to follow the General Assembly’s lead to enact mathematical axioms – especially this one, which was fraught with an intolerable margin of error. Read more
The FCC this week proposed a $48,000 fine for a Florida man who used a cell phone jammer hidden behind the cover of his SUV’s passenger seat. The device was found following an investigation by FCC agents and local law enforcement; the owner explained that he operated the jammer during his commute in order to prevent others from using their cell phones while driving.
Federal law prohibits the use of cell phone jamming devices. The issue arose prominently in 2011 when the FCC addressed the use of jammers to prevent the use of contraband cell phones in prisons. A pending rulemaking is investigating ways to prevent unauthorized use of phones within the bounds of anti-jamming laws; the proposal considers the use of managed cellular access systems that would “white-list” authorized phones and block or redirect others.
In the Florida case, Metro PCS alerted the FCC that its towers were experiencing interference during morning and evening commute hours. FCC agents calculated the likely geographic area from which the interference emanated, and using direction finding techniques identified the source vehicle.
The FCC decision against the highway vigilante issued, somewhat ironically, at the end of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
In case it had escaped your notice, famed economist and Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase died earlier this month at the age of 102.
Coase’s contributions to the field of economics were numerous and substantial. He first gained notoriety addressing the very elemental, but deceptively difficult question of why firms exist. His seminal 1937 paper entitled “The Nature of the Firm” introduced the concept of transaction costs, and theorized that firms exist to reduce these costs by performing certain functions, which would otherwise need to be procured in the open marketplace, themselves.
Anybody who has slogged through an upper-level economics class has almost certainly encountered the Coase Theorem, which states that when two parties confront an externality—an action on the part of one that positively or negatively impacts the other—the most efficient solution is not government intervention, but direct bargaining between the two parties. For example, if a lawfully-operating industrial plant’s emissions are negatively impacting local air quality, an efficient solution would be for those affected to pay the plant to reduce emissions to a socially acceptable level.
Coase had a major and ongoing impact on the telecommunications industry, as well. In a 1959 paper entitled “The Federal Communications Commission,” Coase posited that rather than having the government assign rights to radio waves in a first-come, first-served manner, spectrum should instead be treated as a commodity and auctioned off to the bidder who most highly valued it. Read more