Commissioner Susan Ness
Before the 1999 International Ultra-Wideband Conference
September 29, 1999
I am delighted to join you today to talk about spectrum management policy for the 21st century and the exciting promise -- and unique technological and regulatory challenges -- posed by ultra-wideband technology.
One of the most important -- and I believe, enduring -- responsibilities of this Commission is its traditional role as steward of the radio spectrum. For the past five years, I have focused Commission attention on improving our spectrum management policies -- both domestically and globally.
From the early days of radio the Commission and its predecessor agency have been charged with ensuring that spectrum -- a precious national resource --is used efficiently and effectively, and that licensees are not subjected to harmful interference.
In the days of Marconi and Sarnoff this job was fairly straightforward. Technological innovations were measured in years while the number of spectrum users was small.
Those simpler and slower days are long past. Today industry operates at "light" speed. The Internet sets the pace for new products and services, with product life cycles collapsing from decades to years.
A few years ago most people outside of this room would not have known an ASIC from an exotic flower, but today application specific integrated circuits are helping to demonstrate that Moore's Law is almost as immutable as Ohm's Law.
The Commission must respond to this dynamic new world at the same time our job is made far more difficult by the proliferation of spectrum licensees, the complexity of technologies and the myriad of competing proposals for new spectrum use. And need I mention that our decisions have implications for the global spectrum community -- and vice versa?
This is our challenge: We must provide the leadership and the new approaches to fulfilling our responsibilities. We must help forge solutions in timely fashion so that entrepreneurs and engineers with beneficial technologies for the public have a chance to bring them to the marketplace -- all while we protect existing services and the public from harmful interference. And all while adhering to fundamental principles of fairness and openness.
In March of 1996 and again in the spring of 1999, I helped organize a Spectrum Management En Banc, both to help the Commission assess what spectrum policies and systems were working and what were not; and to explore new and innovative technologies that would have a fundamental impact on our approaches to spectrum management.
As noted by many witnesses, over the past few years the Commission has made tremendous progress in revamping our spectrum policies, even as we recognize that more needs to be done:
I'd like to elaborate on the last point. The development of unlicensed devices authorized under Part 15 of our rules illustrates one way our one-size-does-not-fit-all approach to spectrum management has worked. These devices are key components of the information infrastructure of this nation. Part 15 has shown that without the intervention of licensing and with minimal parameters, responsible companies can develop and operate systems that comply with the FCC's two cardinal conditions:
(1) no harmful interference to licensed operations; and
(2) acceptance of interference from other lawful operations.
To the extent the Commission steps away from direct regulation, engineering must step in and assume greater responsibility to anticipate the electromagnetic environment in which your equipment will operate. The public needs to be confident that systems will function in that environment without causing harmful interference to others.
Which brings me to the subject at hand -- the regulatory approval of the use of ultra-wideband technologies. As I noted, our Spectrum En Banc last April featured my favorite panel -- a discussion of new and innovative technologies that directly impact our traditional way of managing the radio spectrum. Ultra-wideband was one of these technologies.
As you know far better than I, ultra-wideband offers the promise of new radar and imaging services that can save lives. It can help rescue hostages, locate disaster victims trapped under rubble of a collapsed building, detect hidden flaws in the construction of highways or airport runways, secure our homes, and maybe even provide high speed Internet access to the classroom.
Its ultra-wide disbursement of ultra-low power bursts present novel interference questions which must be addressed, including how to insure that existing services are not adversely impacted -- especially those services that support public safety -- and whether widespread deployment would have any appreciable effect on the noise floor.
Proposal for Going Forward
One year ago, the Commission issued a Notice of Inquiry to explore these issues. Comments are in. While we still need to build on the record developed in our inquiry, I believe that we should go forward with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will address possible revisions to our rules that would permit deployment of ultra-wideband services. It is my hope that we can initiate such a proceeding within the next few months, with the goal of completing our study during the next year.
But we cannot do it alone. We must have the active involvement of our colleagues elsewhere in the government who are spectrum users or managers. And we must have the active involvement of your group and others in the private sector who would be affected by our actions.
To meet this challenge, I suggest, first, that the Commission, the NTIA, other agencies and interested parties bring their concerns forward and jointly test ultra-wideband technology to address these critical interference questions.
Cooperative testing that includes the principal parties interested in this technology, as well as those who would be impacted by its use, should provide us with results delivered more promptly while achieving wider acceptance. Such has been my experience to date in other contexts.
Perhaps such a public/private effort could use a government testing facility, such as the NTIA laboratory, or the research facilities of the ultra-wideband proponents.
And second, such testing should be conducted concurrently with our issuance of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, to avoid unnecessary regulatory delay.
This approach in no way suggests casual dismissal of valid safety concerns. I take these interference issues very seriously. But joint testing, together with proceeding with an NPRM avoids an analog version of "business as usual" in a digital age. We can proceed in such a way that the Commission will have the benefit of the test results in time to conclude a rule-making next year.
I believe that this is an achievable and responsible goal.
Section 7 of the Communications Act of 1996 sets the development of new technologies as national policy. And, as stewards of the spectrum, the Commission has an obligation to the American public to ensure that the process yields the essential information needed to make good spectrum management decisions in a reasonable timeframe.
I am pleased to serve on a Commission that recognizes and accepts its responsibilities in achieving that policy goal. We have demonstrated our commitment to facilitating new technologies and consumer benefits they provide. We also are committed to streamlining our procedures. Dale Hatfield, Stagg Neuman, Julie Knapp, and the team in the Office of Engineering and Technology and others in the bureaus, are working diligently and ably to develop better approaches to address new technology.
In our society, the private sector bears the risks of innovation and correspondingly sets its direction and pace. From my prior life in the private sector, I know that unnecessary regulatory delays create uncertainty and harm capital formation.
This Commission continues to seek ways to streamline the regulatory process to avoid such delays. In so doing, we will meet our Congressionally mandated mission of providing sound spectrum management to support public safety and to provide to the American public the benefits that flow from competitive telecommunications services and equipment.
But -- again -- we need your help. Developing sound policies and rules in a world where government decision-making must respond at Internet speed is not easy. This challenge takes on even greater proportions when the technologies cut across wide bands of spectrum currently used by a myriad of government and private sector users and often involving critical and safety applications.
I want to challenge all of us -- both in and out of government -- to work together to help refine our processes so that we can better address innovation and new technologies such as ultra-wideband.
We face a new technological millenium; it will excite us, and it will challenge us -- personally and institutionally. If we approach it with our customary resolve and creativity, it will also reward us and those rewards will carry on for generations to come. Let us meet this challenge together.
Thank you very much.