Senate Bill Proposes to Spare Manufacturers Hassle of Engraving FCC Logo on Devices; Apple Watch Anticipated to Debut at $300

fcc-logo-300x200Come 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).

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No respect: it’s not just the device world – even Rita’s Ices ignores Blackberry.

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.”

Squaring the Round

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

Clint Eastwood Meets the FCC

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.

The Father of Spectrum Auctions

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

NTIA Petition Asks the FCC for a Wireless Device Unlocking Rule

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently filed a petition for rulemaking asking the FCC to adopt a rule requiring mobile wireless providers to allow consumers to “unlock” any wireless device purchased from that provider. This would enable the customer to continue to use their device if they choose to obtain service from another provider.

If you own a mobile wireless device (cell-phone, smart-phone, tablet, etc.), chances are that you have at one time or another thought of switching providers. And chances are that you know that you can’t always take your device with you because it’s “locked”; in other words, you can’t take it to a new provider and obtain service using that device. It’s worth noting that a number of providers do sell unlocked devices and some will allow a consumer to unlock their phone, if their contract has expired. Read more

USF Waivers: Promise vs. Practice

In this update, I wanted to discuss the status of the waiver mechanism that is supposed to help ensure that USF/ICC reforms do not threaten the mission of universal service for the benefit of rural consumers.

Stepping back, the waiver process outlined in the FCC’s November 2011 order required the production of evidence resembling a state rate case. (Interestingly, it doesn’t appear that anything near the same burden is necessarily required of those who assert waivers aren’t needed in specific cases.) The order also put forward a standard for relief that was not tethered to the objectives of universal service. While the waiver process promised relief from harms caused by reforms, such relief was available only to the extent that a carrier could “demonstrate that it needs additional support in order for its customers to continue receiving voice service in areas where there is no terrestrial alternative.” The FCC even specifically warned that it would “subject [waiver] requests to a rigorous, thorough and searching review” and that it did not “expect to grant waiver requests routinely.” In many respects, the waiver process came across almost more as a justification to defend the reforms—“but, see, we’ve got this waiver process if things go badly!” —than a practical means of ensuring that carriers of last resort could rely on universal service support in delivering affordable, quality services to consumers. Read more

Update on the 2013 Policy Plan

In the wake of a terrific Legislative & Policy (L&P) Conference last week, I wanted to take a step back and talk about our policy plan for 2013—what it is and how we’re doing on it. The core objectives in that plan drive everything that NTCA staff does, with every possible initiative, meeting, “ask,” letter or filing viewed through the prism of, “What does this do to move the ball forward?” I provided an overview at the L&P Conference, and I’ve done the same at a number of state association meetings and other events over the past several months. At the L&P conference, however, I had so many people indicate that the overview helped in “connecting the dots” between various efforts that I thought it might make sense to share it a bit more broadly.

The core objectives of our policy plan haven’t changed significantly since 2012, but they’ve evolved as time marches on and developments transpire. For example, our two primary themes remain essentially the same. We need to: (1) create regulatory certainty; and (2) build a broadband future. By contrast, in 2010 and 2011, those themes were “restoring” regulatory certainty and “saving” rural broadband. Starting in 2012, we realized that “restoring” and “saving” were too rooted in the past, as if we wanted to “put things back the way they were” rather than evolve into something bigger and better. It struck us that just as telcos are innovators in their communities—you’re so much more than telephone companies now—we needed our policy plan to look and speak to the future as well. Moreover, “restoring” and “saving” simply aren’t enough. The fact is that the regulatory fabric was already fraying and needed updating beyond mere “restoration,” and just “saving” rural broadband is insufficient given that you need to keep upgrading your networks to meet consumer demands and remain reasonably comparable. Read more

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