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Blog Posts by Roger C. Sherman

Using Technology to Enhance Rail Safety

May 15, 2015 - 09:46 AM

Like the rest of the nation, we are deeply saddened by this week’s fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia. We send our condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and our gratitude to the first responders for their efforts.

As National Transportation Safety Board investigators seek answers to questions about the crash, some questions about Positive Train Control (PTC) have been raised.  I thought it would be helpful to explain what it is and give an overview of the FCC’s role in its implementation.

PTC systems are intended to reduce the risk of rail accidents caused by human error, such as derailments caused by excessive speed.   PTC technology is designed to enable real-time information sharing between trains, rail wayside devices, and control centers, which, for example, would notify a train engineer about dangerous speeds.   If an engineer does not reduce speeds to a safe level, the PTC system is designed to slow it down automatically to a safe level.

In 2008, Congress passed a law requiring Amtrak and other commuter and freight railroads to deploy interoperable PTC systems by December 31, 2015, but did not designate spectrum, a finite resource, for PTC use or make funds available for railroads to acquire access to spectrum. 

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration has primary authority to ensure PTC systems are activated and work properly.  As the nation’s communications agency, the FCC helps facilitate spectrum acquisition by freight and commuter trains. We also manage the mandatory historic preservation and environmental reviews of PTC system infrastructure.  

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AWS-3 Update: The Licensing Process Continues

April 29, 2015 - 12:33 PM

The AWS-3 auction was a blockbuster success – 1,611 new spectrum licenses, 31 winning bidders, and more than $41 billion in net revenues--not to mention that it made available an additional 65 megahertz of spectrum for consumers’ mobile broadband use.  The story of this historic auction is still being written as we undertake our review of the “long-form” license applications filed by winning bidders. We do not yet know if every winning bidder is qualified to receive licenses and/or bidding credits, which is why the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is undertaking a thorough and comprehensive review of all applications.

Today, we released the second “Accepted for Filing” Public Notice in connection with the license applications filed by the winning bidders in the auction. This means that, following its initial review of the applications, including requesting additional information from some applicants, Bureau staff has determined that nine more AWS-3 license applications are now complete, in addition to the applications that the Bureau staff previously accepted for filing. Given the intense public interest in this process, it is important to understand what today’s public notice does and, perhaps more importantly, does not do.

Today’s Accepted for Filing Public Notice is just that – a notice to the public that certain applications are now complete and available for public review.  The Notice does not opine on the merits of any of the applications, nor does it make a finding that any of the applicants who have requested small business bidding credits are eligible for – or will receive – them. 

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Putting Auction 97 in the History Books

January 29, 2015 - 12:18 PM

The bidding in Auction 97 – the AWS-3 auction – has concluded. There will be a lot of discussion about the results over the days, weeks and months ahead, and rightly so – this was an historic auction. Although winning bidders must still make payments and submit applications prior to the grant of licenses, by any measure it’s safe to say that the auction was an overwhelming success. Based on the information available at this time, here are the highlights:

  • 65 megahertz of spectrum made available to meet the Nation’s demand for wireless broadband;
  • $7 billion to fund the Nation’s first nationwide broadband public safety network;
  • $300 million for public safety communications research;
  • $115 million in grants for 911, E911, and NextGen 911 implementation;
  • More than $20 billion for deficit reduction; and
  • Funding for relocating Federal systems.

With all the buzz about the auction revenues, let’s not forget the ultimate purpose of this auction – to make more spectrum available for wireless broadband. Additional spectrum resources will improve wireless providers’ ability to meet capacity and coverage needs across the country. This means better wireless service – faster speeds and greater access – for consumers.

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Evolution in the Cellular Service

October 2, 2014 - 11:40 AM

In the 1980s, the FCC launched the 800 MHz Cellular Service, the first “cell phone” spectrum band, sparking a worldwide mobile revolution.  Three decades later, Cellular has been, by any measure, an incredible success.  Using these frequencies, wireless operators have deployed multiple generations of wireless networks covering more than 99% of the U.S. population.  Yet, with the passage of time, it has become clear that many of the rules governing the Cellular Service have not kept pace with changes in technology and in the overall regulatory landscape.  The time has come to upgrade the Cellular Service rules for the 21st Century.

Today, Chairman Wheeler circulated a draft Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that puts forth major changes to modernize and streamline the Commission’s rules and application processes for Cellular Service licensees.   This reform would fulfill a recommendation in the Staff Report on FCC Process Reform by reducing regulatory burdens and fostering the deployment of new generations of Cellular Service across the country. 

Since the Commission first adopted rules governing the Cellular Service, mobile service and mobile devices have evolved from analog-based voice communications using suitcase-style devices, to high speed mobile broadband using pocket sized computers.  The Cellular Service licensing rules have not kept pace.

Over time, many of the Commission’s legacy Cellular rules that were instrumental in developing a successful service have outlived their usefulness and some now burden the timely deployment of the latest technologies.  

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Empowering Small Businesses

August 1, 2014 - 11:01 AM

Today, Chairman Wheeler circulated a proposal to open new opportunities for small and growing businesses in the mobile marketplace. Although the proposal may sound technical – updating the Commission’s approach to small business participation in wireless auctions— the purpose is simple: To provide innovative, smaller companies the opportunity to build wireless businesses that can spur additional investment and bring more choices to consumers.

Think about the wireless industry today. Consumer demand is exploding, data usage is growing exponentially, and faster 4G networks enable even more data services. That kind of growth should naturally lead to more opportunity for more businesses to serve more consumers.

But current FCC rules stand in the way. The current rules are a by-product of an earlier time— before data services became ubiquitous, before Congress instructed us to make more spectrum available to wireless networks, and, equally important, before consolidation in the wireless industry accelerated.

When the rules were first written in the 90s, we believed that bidding credits for spectrum auctions should be used only to acquire licenses by companies that would engage exclusively in building their own networks to provide retail or wholesale services – often referred to as “facilities based” service. That made sense when the wireless industry was in its infancy.

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3.5 GHz Spectrum Access System Workshop and Online Discussion

January 13, 2014 - 03:25 PM

Part of our job at the FCC is to keep pace with new technologies and, indeed, to create an environment in which innovation can flourish. This is perhaps most true in the dynamic and ever-changing wireless sector. One focal point of our innovation strategy is the 3.5 GHz band, which presents novel opportunities to advance to the state of the art in spectrum management.  Ideally, we can do this in a way that unleashes creative forces in industry to provide more wireless bandwidth using new techniques like small cells and dynamic spectrum access.

The 3.5 GHz band is currently reserved for use by federal agencies – primarily the military, which uses the band for radar operations. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) proposed in 2010 that this band could be made available to commercial entities who would share the spectrum with incumbent federal users. In 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) proposed that sharing of the band be dynamically coordinated through a Spectrum Access System (SAS). Later that year, the Commission issued a proposal to effectuate these recommendations and adopted a Public Notice on a revised licensing framework in November 2013.

Several of the central and most novel questions in this proceeding revolve around the SAS. What functions should it perform? How will it manage multiple tiers of spectrum access? Should there be multiple third-party SAS providers, and how would they interact with one another and the FCC? How can we ensure the integrity of the system to protect existing uses of the band?

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