FCC cracks the whip on 5G deployment against protests of local governments

FCC cracks the whip on 5G deployment against protests of local governments

The FCC is pushing for speedy deployment of 5G networks nationwide with an order adopted today that streamlines what it perceives as a patchwork of obstacles, needless costs and contradictory regulations at the state level. But local governments say the federal agency is taking things too far.

5G networks will consist of thousands of wireless installations, smaller and more numerous than cell towers. This means that wireless companies can’t use existing facilities, for all of it at least, and will have to apply for access to lots of new buildings, utility poles and so on. It’s a lot of red tape, which of course impedes deployment.

To address this, the agency this morning voted 3 to 1 along party lines to adopt the order (PDF) entitled “Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment.” What it essentially does is exert FCC authority over state wireless regulators and subject them to a set of new rules superseding their own.

First the order aims to literally speed up deployment by standardizing new, shorter “shot clocks” for local governments to respond to applications. They’ll have 90 days for new locations and 60 days for existing ones — consistent with many existing municipal time frames but now to be enforced as a wider standard. This could be good, as the longer time limits were designed for consideration of larger, more expensive equipment.

On the other hand, some cities argue, it’s just not enough time — especially considering the increased volume they’ll be expected to process.

Cathy Murillo, mayor of Santa Barbara, writes in a submitted comment:

The proposed ‘shot clocks’ would unfairly and unreasonably reduce the time needed for proper application review in regard to safety, aesthetics, and other considerations. By cutting short the necessary review period, the proposals effectively shift oversight authority from the community and our elected officials to for-profit corporations for wireless equipment installations that can have significant health, safety, and aesthetic impacts when those companies have little, if any, interest to respect these concerns.

Next, and even less popular, is the FCC’s take on fees for applications and right-of-way paperwork. These fees currently vary widely, because as you might guess it is far more complicated and expensive — often by an order of magnitude or more — to approve and process an application for (not to mention install and maintain) an antenna on 5th Avenue in Manhattan than it is in outer Queens. These are, to a certain extent anyway, natural cost differences.

The order limits these fees to “a reasonable approximation of their costs for processing,” which the FCC estimated at about $500 for one application for up to five installations or facilities, $100 for additional facilities, and $270 per facility per year, all-inclusive.

For some places, to be sure, that may be perfectly reasonable. But as Catherine Pugh, mayor of Baltimore, put it in a letter (PDF) to the FCC protesting the proposed rules, it sure isn’t for her city:

An annual fee of $270 per attachment, as established in the above document, is unconscionable when the facility may yield profits, in some cases, many times that much in a given month. The public has invested and installed these assets [i.e. utility poles and other public infrastructure], not the industry. The industry does not own these assets; the public does. Under these circumstances, it is entirely reasonable that the public should be able to charge what it believes to be a fair price.

There’s no doubt that excessive fees can curtail deployment and it would be praiseworthy of the FCC to tackle that. But the governments they are hemming in don’t seem to appreciate being told what is reasonable and what isn’t.

“It comes down to this: three unelected officials on this dais are telling state and local leaders all across the country what they can and cannot do in their own backyards,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement presented at the vote. “This is extraordinary federal overreach.”

New York City’s commissioner of information technology told Bloomberg that his office is “shocked” by the order, calling it “an unnecessary and unauthorized gift to the telecommunications industry and its lobbyists.”

The new rules may undermine deployment deals that already exist or are under development. After all, if you were a wireless company, would you still commit to paying $2,000 per facility when the feds just gave you a coupon for 80 percent off? And if you were a city looking at a budget shortfall of millions because of this, wouldn’t you look for a way around it?

Chairman Ajit Pai argued in a statement that “When you raise the cost of deploying wireless infrastructure, it is those who live in areas where the investment case is the most marginal—rural areas or lower-income urban areas—who are most at risk of losing out.”

But the basic market economics of this don’t seem to work out. Big cities cost more and are more profitable; rural areas cost less and are less profitable. Under the new rules, big cities and rural areas will cost the same, but the former will be even more profitable. Where would you focus your investments?

The FCC also unwisely attempts to take on the aesthetic considerations of installations. Cities have their own requirements for wireless infrastructure, such as how it’s painted, where it can be located and what size it can be when in this or that location. But the FCC seems (as it does so often these days) to want to accommodate the needs of wireless providers rather than the public.

Wireless companies complain that the rules are overly restrictive or subjective, and differ too greatly from one place to another. Municipalities contend that the restrictions are justified and, at any rate, their prerogative to design and enforce.

“Given these differing perspectives and the significant impact of aesthetic requirements on the ability to deploy infrastructure and provide service, we provide guidance on whether and in what circumstances aesthetic requirements violate the [Communications] Act,” the FCC’s order reads. In other words, wireless industry gripes about having to paint their antennas or not hang giant microwave arrays in parks are being federally codified.

“We conclude that aesthetics requirements are not preempted if they are (1) reasonable, (2) no more burdensome than those applied to other types of infrastructure deployments, and (3) published in advance,” the order continues. Does that sound kind of vague to you? Whether a city’s aesthetic requirement is “reasonable” is hardly the jurisdiction of a communications regulator.

For instance, Hudson, Ohio city manager Jane Howington writes in a comment on the order that the city has 40-foot limits on pole heights, to which the industry has already agreed, but which would be increased to 50 under the revisions proposed in the rule. Why should a federal authority be involved in something so clearly under local jurisdiction and expertise?

This isn’t just an annoyance. As with the net neutrality ruling, legal threats from states can present serious delays and costs.

“Every major state and municipal organization has expressed concern about how Washington is seeking to assert national control over local infrastructure choices and stripping local elected officials and the citizens they represent of a voice in the process,” said Rosenworcel. “I do not believe the law permits Washington to run roughshod over state and local authority like this and I worry the litigation that follows will only slow our 5G future.”

She also points out that the predicted cost savings of $2 billion — by telecoms, not the public — may be theorized to spur further wireless deployment, but there is no requirement for companies to use it for that, and in fact no company has said it will.

In other words, there’s every reason to believe that this order will sow discord among state and federal regulators, letting wireless companies save money and sticking cities with the bill. There’s certainly a need to harmonize regulations and incentivize wireless investment (especially outside city centers), but this doesn’t appear to be the way to go about it.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

FCC slaps robocaller with record $120M fine, but it’s like ’emptying the ocean with a teaspoon’

FCC slaps robocaller with record 0M fine, but it’s like ’emptying the ocean with a teaspoon’

Whoever thought we would leave telemarketing behind in this brave new smartphone world of ours lacked imagination. Robocalls are a menace growing in volume and even a massive $120 million fine leveled against a prominent source of them by the FCC likely won’t stem the flood.

The fine was announced today during the FCC’s monthly open meeting: a Mr Adrian Abramovich was responsible for nearly 100 million robocalls over a three-month period, and will almost certainly be bankrupted by this record forfteiture.

“Our decision sends a loud and clear message,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “This FCC is an active cop on the beat and will throw the book at anyone who violates our spoofing and robocall rules and harms consumers.”

That sounds impressive until you hear that these calls took place in 2016, and meanwhile there were 3.4 billion robocalls made last month alone. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel applauds the fine, but questions the practicality of pursuing damages when actions need to be taken to prevent the crimes in the first place.

“Let’s be honest,” she wrote in a statement, “Going after a single bad actor is emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.”

She points out that a set of rules designed to prevent robocalls was overturned a couple months ago, and that 20 petitions to the FCC under those rules for legal exemptions and such have yet to be addressed. And a technology designed to prevent robocalls altogether, recommended in a report more than a year ago and currently set to be implemented in Canada in 2019, has no such date here in the States.

As someone who gets these robocalls all the time, I fully support both this fine and the more serious measures Rosenworcel suggests. And the faster the better, I literally got one while writing this story.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

FCC dings T-Mobile $40M for faking rings on calls that never connected

FCC dings T-Mobile M for faking rings on calls that never connected

T-Mobile will pay $40 million as part of a settlement with the FCC for playing ringing sounds to mislead customers into thinking their calls were going through when in fact they had never connected in the first place. The company admitted it had done so “hundreds of millions” of times over the years.

The issue at hand is that when someone is trying to call an area with poor connectivity, it can sometimes take several seconds to establish a line to the other party — especially if a carrier itself does not serve the area in question and has to hand off the call to a local provider. That’s exactly what T-Mobile was doing, and there’s nothing wrong with it — just a consequence of spotty coverage in rural areas.

But what is prohibited is implying to the caller that their call has gone through and is ringing on the other end, if that’s not the case. Which is also exactly what T-Mobile was doing, and had been doing since 2007. Its servers began sending a “local ring back tone” when a call took a certain amount of time to complete around then.

As the FCC estimates it, and T-Mobile later confirmed:

Because T-Mobile applied this practice to out-of-network calls from its customers on SIP routes that took more than a certain amount of time on a nationwide basis and without regard to time of day, the LRBT was likely injected into hundreds of millions of calls each year.

It’s not just a bad idea: it’s against the law. In 2014 the FCC’s Rural Call Completion Order took effect, prohibiting exactly this practice, which it called “false audible ringing”:

[O]ccurs when an originating or intermediate provider prematurely triggers audible ring tones to the caller before the call setup request has actually reached the terminating rural provider. That is, the calling party believes the phone is ringing at the called party’s premises when it is not. An originating or intermediate provider may do this to mask the silence that the caller would otherwise hear during excessive call setup time. As a result, the caller may often hang up, thinking nobody is available to receive the call. False audible ringing can also make it appear to the caller that the terminating rural provider is responsible for the call failure, instead of the originating or intermediate provider.

Users and carriers complained after this rule took effect, and also sought remedy with T-Mobile directly. The FCC looked into it and T-Mobile reported that it had solved the problem — but complaints continued. It became clear that the company had been violating the rule for years and in great volume and had not in fact stopped; hence the settlement and $40 million penalty.

T-Mobile will also have to take action within 90 days to stop the practice (if it hasn’t already) and issue regular reports to the FCC every year for the next three years that it is still in compliance. You can read the full consent decree here (PDF).

Update: FCC Commissioner Clyburn points out in a separate statement that despite evidence of widespread consumer harm, there’s nothing for users in the settlement.

[T]here is absolutely nothing in this consent decree to compensate consumers. Prior consent decrees have included direct-to-consumer benefits, such as refunds or discounts, or notifications to customers who have been impacted.

Despite demonstrating a clear and tangible consumer harm, in this consent decree, consumers are treated as a mere
afterthought.

The $40 million civil penalty, which will be paid to the U.S. Treasury, is dwarfed by larger, unpaid fines recently proposed against individual robocallers—and the volume of potential violations here outpaces any robocalling action the Commission has taken. And the compliance plan does not contain any concessions that would explain such a massive discount.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

FCC wants to stop spending on gear from companies that ‘pose a national security threat’

FCC wants to stop spending on gear from companies that ‘pose a national security threat’
The U.S. maneuvers against China’s tech giants continue today with an official announcement from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that the agency may soon ban purchasing anything from companies that “pose a national security threat.” Huawei, ZTE and other major tech manufacturers aren’t named specifically, but it’s clear what is meant.
Pai lists the risk of backdoored routers, switches and other telecoms equipment as the primary threat; Huawei and ZTE have been accused of doing this for years, though hard evidence has been scarce.
The proposal would prohibit any money from the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund, used for all kinds of projects and grants, to be spent on companies beholden to “hostile governments.” Pai mentioned the two Chinese giants in a previous letter describing the proposed plan.
Both companies in question have strenuously denied the charges; perhaps most publicly by Richard Yu, CEO of the company’s consumer business group, at CES this year.
But warnings from U.S. intelligence services have been ongoing since 2012, and Congress is considering banning Huawei equipment from use by government entities, saying the company “is effectively an arm of the Chinese government.”
Strong ties between these major companies and the Chinese government are hard to deny, of course, given China’s particularly hands-on methods in this sort of thing. Ironically, however, it seems that our spy agencies are so sure about this in great part because they themselves have pushed for and occasionally accomplished the same compromises of network infrastructure. If they’ve done it, they can be sure their Chinese rivals have.
The specifics of the rule are unknown, but even a relatively lax ban would likely be a big hit to Huawei and ZTE, which so far have failed to make a dent in the U.S. phone market but still manufacture all kinds of other telecommunications gear making up our infrastructure.
The draft of the new rule will be published tomorrow; the other commissioners have it now and are no doubt reading and forming their own opinions on how to improve it. The vote is set for April 17.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch