Chairman Ted Stevens’ Opening Statement
Hearing on Wireless Issues & Spectrum Reform
March 14, 2006
We obviously will not have the presence of our Co-Chairman today. It was sad loss yesterday.
This is the tenth hearing in a series of hearings on communications. Today we want to look at various wireless issues, including the use and management of spectrum.
Spectrum is one of our most important national resources. Americans increasingly rely on its use daily for family communications, work, education and entertainment. Moreover, wireless services are essential to the ability of first responders and the military to save lives and protect our homeland.
In the past, Congress has responded to advances in technology and changes in the communications market by updating laws concerning the use and management of spectrum:
In 1993, Senator Inouye and I participated in moving legislation through Congress that directed the FCC to award licenses by auction.
And earlier this year, Congress set a hard date of February 17, 2009 for the DTV transition, which will provide spectrum for public safety and for wireless broadband services able to reach rural America.
Also, as part of the DTV legislation, Congress, at or request, extended FCC’s auction authority to September 30, 2011.
Senator Allen and I have proposed legislation that will allow unlicensed wireless devices to provide new services over the unused or “white spaces” of television broadcast spectrum, so long as such devices do not cause harmful interference to TV service.
Today we will hear whether Congress needs to address any particular wireless issue or address spectrum reform more.
Chairman Ted Stevens Q&A with Witnesses
Chairman Stevens: Thank you. Let me start back with you, Mr. Kneuer. I seem to hear you say that you're looking at the concept of allowing agencies that have spectrum that are not using it to lease or to, I guess lease would be the idea. Do you think you have that authority now?
Mr. Kneuer: Well, I think the concept of allowing agencies to lease their excess spectrum to the extent they have any is something that is captured within a lot of the different issues that we're looking at in our overall --
Chairman Stevens: That's not my question. Do you think you've got the authority to do that without an Act of Congress?
Mr. Kneuer: That may require legislation.
Chairman Stevens: I hope you'd say that.
Mr. Kneuer: It's not a proposal that we currently have --
Chairman Stevens: I'd hate to see the NTIA start competing with the FCC in terms of spectrum sales or leases. I think there should be one national system and I would not like to see that start. I'd be pleased to work with you on whether or not it should take place, however. I think there is no question that agencies that have spectrum that do not fully utilize it should consider how to use it. I would think that it would be a job for the FCC to add it to their spectrum sales and I would like to see the FCC start thinking about the concept of how to get some temporary use of spectrum that government agencies don't have the capability of using and I think that ought to be made available for use until the agencies can fully utilize it. Mr. Kahn, how long will it take you to develop, not you but anyone, but I assume you'd be involved in it, to develop these personal mobile unlicensed wireless devices? And I assume that you're confident you can prevent interference, by the way, this is a stupid question but what's it going to do to my garage door or someone else's heart monitor?
Mr. Kahn: Shouldn't do anything to any of those, not a stupid question. Let me start with the first part of your…
Chairman Stevens: Your devices would take into account the problems of…
Mr. Kahn: Yes. The industry has shown that it can move pretty quickly on these kinds of things if you look at the history of any of the other unlicensed devices. You're typically talking about a couple of years of standardization and development time. You'll see early movers that get product into the market very quickly within, you know, 12 months, often they call it pre-standard while the industry is still working out agreements on what the standards really should look like, and then you'll see those things evolve to be standardized.
Chairman Stevens: Those devices would be distance sensitive?
Mr. Kahn: I'm sorry?
Chairman Stevens: They would be distance sensitive? What if someone from the rural area comes into town and wants to use their device?
Mr. Kahn: Oh, well, the proposal here is, at least the one that I think is the most reasonable is that the devices themselves are responsible for sensing the spectrum. So you could take one of those devices and wherever you take it, the first thing it does, is it scans the available channels to find one that is not in use. So I mean if you take a device, you use it in Anchorage and there are a lot of free channels up there so it picks one that's open and then you go to Salt Lake and it'll go to a different channel. I mean the first thing it's going to do is find an open channel. So the whole design and certification process is designed to guarantee that those devices settle on channels that are not otherwise in use. So in that sense they're aware of the environment that they are operating in. I don't know if that answers your question.
Chairman Stevens: Yes, it does. I didn't realize the impact of that searching for the channel. Ms. Hecker, do you think we should have a comprehensive survey of spectrum use nationwide? And would that assist us in terms of reform? And if we do that, what role would the private spectrum users play in that survey?
Ms. Hecker: Well, as I mentioned we have two recommendations and one was for FCC and NTIA to get together to have a comprehensive government plan that would include an inventory. The other recommendation actually was for a commission that would be much more broadly based dealing with all of the users, the range of public users, private users as well as the government agencies at different levels of government. And the idea of that kind of commission would be to, what we hear today is really that this is almost a numbingly complex issue, and set of issues, and that what really is needed given the absence of clear consensus and the range of views, is to have that kind of comprehensive independent commission really look at the use and opportunities for improvement in the use of spectrum. That the status quo in our view is not sustainable and substantial reform is needed but there isn't really yet a clear consensus and that kind of commission would have the opportunity to represent the Congress and the range of public and private users on a new agenda.
Chairman Stevens: What timeframe would that commission have to report in? What are you looking at? What would you suggest?
Ms. Hecker: We never had a specific recommendation. Big commissions in the past often have 18 months, two years. A lot of it would depend on the breadth of the agenda that the Congress, if they form such a commission provided to the group, how it would be staffed, what kind of outcomes. Would it not only identify what kinds of reforms were needed but I think as the DACA report, would it have the transition plans of exactly how to get there and also would it address what kind of institutional reforms might be needed as we believe ought to be considered in the current structure of spectrum management bifurcated between FCC and NTIA.
Chairman Stevens: Mr. Walsh, could you tell us if national spectrum licenses are issued to a company, should it be required to use the spectrum in rural areas or lose it? A use it or lose it concept?
Mr. Walsh: Yes, Chairman. The RCA's position on that is that we feel that spectrum laying fallow should be used. And so our position is that if spectrum is unused that it should be able to be turned back into the FCC and be able to have an auction and have those parties that are interested in that particular piece take advantage of that.
Chairman Stevens: Ms. Seidel, do you currently keep track of whether or not spectrum is used?
Ms. Seidel: The Commission does have build-out requirements and construction requirements which enable us to keep track to some extent. In addition, there have been spectrum audits in the past. Most recently I think it was in the paging arena wherein the Commission did seek information about what licenses were being used and the extent to which they were.
Chairman Stevens: Do you make that information available to the public?
Ms. Seidel: I think I will have to get back to you on that question to make sure I give you a complete answer.
Chairman Stevens: Would you favor this commission that Ms. Hecker speaks of?
Ms. Seidel: I really couldn't provide you with the Commission's view on that.
Chairman Stevens: Mr. Sugrue, do you think spectrum reforms would help lower the price of wireless broadband and help ensure that that service could reach rural high cost areas?
Mr. Sugrue: Certainly. While I've addressed my remarks to getting the auction scheduled in four months to take place, I want to align myself with a lot of the progressive thoughts on spectrum reform across the table here. Anything that lowers the opportunity cost of obtaining spectrum and makes it available to be used more efficiently would do that. For rural areas I'd also say the 700 megahertz auction which is scheduled now to take place in January 2008, the propagation characteristics of that spectrum are very, very good for rural areas – much better, for example, than the AWS or the PCS frequencies. And as a carrier that doesn't have any of that lower band spectrum, we look forward to the availability of that as an opportunity to move in an efficient fashion in some areas of the country we're not now.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you. Mr. Hubbard, can you estimate how much it would add to the cost of DTV set-top boxes if they could warn of the nearby unlicensed wireless devices? In summary what I'm saying, can we add to those boxes this warning capability so they would know unlicensed wireless devices and would not be interfered with?
Mr. Hubbard: I don't know the answer to that. I'm not in the business of making television sets, but I do know that many CE manufacturers and actually I'd request that this letter is submitted into the record, from CE manufacturers who are expressing this grave concern over interference issues. The second question would be what do you do with existing sets? What do you do with existing equipment that's out there? There are millions of sets that are already in existence so even if you could make a new rule that protected something moving forward you've still got the legacy issue which would need to be considered.
Chairman Stevens: Do the rest of you agree that the older sets could be affected by these devices we're talking about? Mr. Kahn, what do you think?
Mr. Kahn: I mean, no. I think our position's pretty clear that we don't want to be transmitting even with low power radios on occupied television channels. The goal here is not for the TVs to put up with interference generated by these devices, the goal here is that the devices are on a different channel. And so we honestly don't see the issue. As I said before, we are interested in television as well. I mean we're seeing increasing pressure from our customers who want to put TV receivers on all their laptops and PCs. So the idea of getting good over-the-air television is important to Intel. We have no desire to see that corrupted in any way. Our position is that it is extremely feasible to operate on channels that are not utilized in a given marketplace and that when you do that you're not interfering with the reception on any television, old or new. So the issue here is can you identify channels that are not in use. Anywhere you go in the U.S. you're going to find channels that are not in use, more in the rural areas, fewer in the high density metro areas, but nevertheless, even in the high density metro areas, lots of channels not in use and then utilize those channels with very low power devices.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you. Ms. Kenney, to the Consumers Union what's the most important item in this spectrum reform concept that we're dealing with?
Ms. Kenney: The most important thing that this Committee could do would be to pass legislation comparable to that which you've introduced on the TV white spaces and Mr. Allen's bill, they have similar goals.
Chairman Stevens: Do you foresee any possibility that people could use that white space to the extent where they build up considerable income but they're still not paying anything at all for that use? That's your suggestion, there be no change in that white space, right? My bill contemplates that. But what if someone does develop just a significant income from that white space spectrum, should they pay something for its use?
Ms. Kenney: Well, the beauty of unlicensed spectrum is that a lot of people can compete within that same space. And we certainly don't have problems with people making money out of offering valuable consumer services.
Chairman Stevens: But you're assuming it's only going to be used in one area, aren't you?
Ms. Kenney: Well, you could have multiple players operating within the same market.
Chairman Stevens: What about one player operating in many markets with that white space?
Ms. Kenney: Well, certainly if that's what is required to offer a competitive service to the dominant wireline providers I'm not sure we would have a problem with that so long as others are allowed to use that space as well.
Chairman Stevens: Alright. Mr. White, I haven't ignored you, I just want you know that I hope that once we get through this bill we can find the time to explore your suggestion. But I don't think we can put that in this bill at this time. I hope you realize that.
Mr. White: Thank you, Senator. Yes, I realize that but we hope that we're getting people to think and think creatively and start understanding the logic of the position of propertization and markets and that next time a major piece of legislation is considered the role of propertization and markets can be centered in that legislation.
Chairman Stevens: I recall when my good friend from Hawaii, Senator Inouye, and I were able to finally get the spectrum bill passed and signed by the President, I called the then Chairman of the FCC and asked him if they had a program at the FCC for bonuses to people who made suggestions that brought in additional funds for the government. He said, well, yes, they did but why was I interested. And I said, well, the President just signed that bill. He didn't think it was funny – I did. But I contemplate the same problem with you though. That's why we want to have a hearing on your booklet and go through it. It's a good suggestion but to get from where we are now to there nationally would be, you know, it's the equivalent of changing from one type of ism to another, you know. And I don't know how you can take this system and transit to your system without serious disruption in communications right now. So we want to hold a hearing and I'm sure other people would like to explore that too. But I've just got to tell you it's too much I think to ask us to be involved in that in this bill.
Mr. White: I understand.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you for coming.
Mr. White: Thank you.
Chairman Stevens: My last request of all of you is if you think of something that you think we should have heard today that relates to this problem we're dealing with on white spaces or spectrum reform, we invite you to send us, not another letter like that one I just got from you, Mr. Hubbard, I think that's going to take me a little while to read, but a short letter. We would welcome your additional comments on what we ought to do in this legislation, alright? And I thank you all very much and thank the witnesses of the first panel for being willing to stay and respond to the questions that my colleagues and I have had. We do appreciate your courtesy in appearing here today. Thank you very much.
Witness Panel 1
Ms. Catherine W. SeidelActing Bureau Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications BureauFederal Communications Commission
Mr. John M.R. KneuerActing Assistant Secretary Communications and InformationNational Telecommunications and Information Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
Ms. JayEtta HeckerDirector of the Physical Infrastructure TeamU.S. Government Accountability Office
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Thomas WalshPresident of the BoardRural Cellular Association
Dr. Kevin KahnDirector of the Communications Technology LabIntel Corporation
Mr. Robert W. HubbardSecretary and TreasurerAssociation for Maximum Service Television
Mr. Thomas J. SugrueVice President of Government AffairsT-Mobile USA, Inc.
Ms. Jeannine KenneySenior Policy AdvisorConsumer Union
Mr. Lawrence J. WhiteCo-Chair of the Spectrum Policy Working Group, The Digital Age Communications Act ProjectProgess & Freedom Foundation