FCC Wireless Spadework in '02 to Bear Fruit in '03
By FCC Chairman Michael Powell
RCR Wireless News
March 17, 2003

As the wireless industry gathers in New Orleans for CTIA's "Wireless 2003," it seems appropriate to reflect on where the Federal Communications Commission has been in 2002, and where we are headed in 2003.

The past year was a challenging one for the economy and for telecommunications as a whole. Declining share values, corporate fraud and high-profile bankruptcies dominated the headlines. The wireless industry was not unscathed, but it did show resilience absent in other sectors, including a continued increase in the number of wireless subscribers.

The FCC faced challenges of its own. Some of the agency's 2002 agenda was thrust upon the FCC by outside circumstances. For example, wireless bankruptcies prompted an unprecedented effort to prevent precipitous discontinuation of service. I am happy to report those efforts were a success-subscribers transitioned smoothly to a new carrier without significant disruption.

Also in 2002, the commission reached closure on long unsettled matters. The agency reached accord with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce on 90 megahertz of spectrum to be made available for advanced wireless services and eliminated the spectrum cap. In addition, the FCC authorized an innovative new service in the ultra-wideband proceeding.

Most importantly, however, 2002 was a year of invaluable policy spadework that will begin to bear fruit in 2003.

Most prominent among these efforts was the work of the FCC's Task Force-in particular its report and policy recommendations based on a top-to-bottom, unconditional review of the commission's spectrum policies and a series of public forums.

In a variety of areas, the commission built a record or initiated proceedings to advance core aspects of my agenda.

In 2003, the commission will begin task-force implementation in earnest, modernizing America's spectrum policies to reflect the dynamic wireless marketplace that exists today. Of course, implementation is already under way, and task-force thinking permeates all aspects of the commission's -making. But 2003 will see a number of discrete task-force deliverables-items giving life to the SPTF's proposals and recommendations.

Re-thinking the interference environment will be a top priority. Most immediately, the FCC will focus on receiver standards, seeking input on how to promote production and use of receivers that resist interference as a complement to existing limits on transmitters. Developing a more sophisticated, quantitative description of the interference environment in particular frequency bands will also be on the agenda. Defining a "noise floor" and an associated "interference temperature" will provide licensees with clear expectations about their interference environment, and facilitate more effective design.

Other significant spectrum initiatives include resolution of the 800 MHz proceeding, increasing flexibility in secondary market transactions, and satellite licensing reform.


Introducing a third broadband pipe to the home as a competitor to cable modems and digital subscriber lines is among the FCC's highest priorities-and there is no better candidate than spectrum-based services. Though wireless broadband is available in some markets, this potential pipe now merely trickles. My goal is to foster a regulatory environment in which this trickle can become a rushing torrent, raging over and through obstacles to provide vital competition and reach unserved homes and communities.

Building on the success of Wi-Fi, the commission will continue to look for opportunities to make more unlicensed spectrum available, particularly in response to the record developed in our recent Notice of Inquiry on this topic. We will also move to implement the government/industry compromise that will make additional unlicensed spectrum available at 5.8 GHz.

In licensed bands, the commission will consider liberalizing the rules governing multichannel multipoint distribution service and instructional television fixed service to facilitate broadband development, and plans to auction licenses for an entirely new service with broadband potential-multichannel video and data distribution service-in the coming months.

We also fully anticipate that third-generation services will continue to evolve and grow in our existing licensed mobile bands. And of course, the final 3G rules are planned for 2003, moving that service from the drawing board to the marketplace.


The wireless industry continues to set the standard for competition in telecommunications, with energy focused on innovation in product and service offerings rather than regulatory gamesmanship. Spectrum-based services are the pre-eminent facilities-based competitor in the voice and video markets. And as I described above, we are optimistic that spectrum-based service providers will soon be feasting at the broadband table as well. Competition, however, is not a destination to be reached, but rather an ongoing process. As part of this process, we continue to look for new ways to facilitate full development of the spectral resource. For example, the agency will review obstacles to competition in rural areas. Based on the record received in response to the Rural Competition NOI, the commission will evaluate what may be done to address competitive concerns unique to smaller, less densely populated markets.

Moreover, with the sunset of the spectrum cap on Jan. 1, wireless transactions in 2003 will be evaluated on their individual merits rather than against a single, inflexible yardstick.

Homeland security

As the nation adapts to the need for sustained vigilance and increased awareness of homeland security concerns in 2003, the FCC will continue its efforts in support of public safety. As remarkable, life-saving technologies are developed, the commission will pave the regulatory path for their deployment, whether it be through-wall imaging devices and ground-penetrating radars powered by ultra-wideband, or on-the-scene broadband capability for first responders delivered via the 4.9 GHz band. As in 2002, making wireless enhanced 911 capability available to the public will be high on the commission's agenda. The agency will work cooperatively with all interested parties-public safety, wireless and wireline carriers, and equipment manufacturers-to build on implementation momentum and overcome common obstacles to the rollout of these valuable services.

It is an ambitious agenda. However, the digital-broadband migration moves forward-in wireless as on other platforms. It is my hope that-rather than simply keeping pace-2003 will see the FCC's spectrum policies clear the way for technological change, increased competition, the critical third pipe to the home, and a safer, more secure homeland for all Americans.