We have now finished reviewing the dismal (partial) list of historic FCC spectrum management engineering mistakes, and in this final part of the series we’ll look at some suggestions for how the FCC could, ideally, conduct this highly-important function.  The Commission would never adopt any of these proposals, of course, but “even engineers can dream!”

As detailed earlier in this series, too many times the FCC regulators have dipped their pinkies into technology and have tried to force ‘regulated” spectrum management solutions which buck the well-known laws of physics.  Their regulatory development process (at a general level) seems to operate as follows:

 1. Especially under prodding from Congress and/or from specific entrepreneurs or regulated industries, promote development of a new spectrum-using technology by proposing an allocation of a slice of spectrum to accommodate the new systems.

2. After the public discussion and the submission of Comments has ended, ignore recommendations from well-qualified engineers and technical experts, both within the Commission and external to it, which are in full or partial opposition to the proposal as written.

3. Adopt the proposal by using administrative fiats that declare that the opposition’s technical findings are “of no merit” or, alternatively, by issuing their own “administrative fixes” to circumvent any identified problems.

4. After operations of the new technology are implemented, begin receiving complaints from established spectrum licensees/users that their existing operations are becoming affected by the new activities.

5. Transfer the burden of proof that damages have indeed occurred entirely to the complaining parties, while retaining the option for the Commission administratively to dismiss the complaints because of “non-proof” of the claims (at least to the Commission’s satisfaction!) or because of the demonstrated narrow “technical compliance” by the newly established systems with “existing Rules.”  This then leaves the federal judicial system as the only remaining remedy for redress of damages, again at the injured licensees’ own expense.

6. Finally, if matters cannot be resolved in any other easy way, propose an ad-hoc “administrative settlement” together with modified Rules which solve few of the FCC-created problems, leaves no party satisfied, but provides an easy way for the FCC to exit gracefully.

FCC Spectrum Management Universe

The FCC’s historical record in spectrum management is one of repeated poor-to-disastrous engineering decisions, punctuated with occasional successes (for example, the Personal Communications Service [PCS]).  Too much at the FCC has gone too badly wrong for too long a period of time for this level of poor agency performance to be dismissed or to be labeled as “unimportant.”  Their cumulative record is equivalent to leaving Apollo 11 motionless on the launch pad, rather than on its way to a first lunar landing.  At the bottom of it all, this record is one of failure!

The Curmudgeon is an informed citizen who is angry about the quality of regulation that has been historically provided by the FCC.  Not angry because the FCC is a governmental regulatory organization.  Angry, rather, because it has been government done poorly!  Angry because the FCC has always been an organization with grossly insufficient direction from both its own scientists and engineers and those in the outside professional community.  Angry because the people at its top who cannot possibly understand the spectrum management engineering arguments and their ramifications still make the final decisions.

It is generally not the case that the FCC is administered by uneducated bureaucratic dummies who are the “survivors” in the civil service.  (The Commissioners themselves are political appointees, so not much relief can be expected there.)  Their top staff people may well have advanced degrees from well-recognized universities in law, economics, public service, or business.  But they may also carry college academic transcripts that indicate they earned grades of C- or lower in their “introductory survey of physics for non-science majors” or “business calculus” courses, the last technical requirement courses they might ever take.  It would be fascinating to know!

Would you still believe that a solid background in a technical discipline isn’t really a necessity for a successful top manager in that same discipline?  Then you ought to consider the prospects for a hospital surgery department managed by a Wall Street options trader.  Or an airline’s Pilot Training and Certification Department administered by an (non-aviator) economist.  Or a nuclear power plant Reactor Operations department led by a divorce lawyer.  And, for that matter, a clinical psychological counseling group managed by an RF engineer!

There are few easy decisions to be made in the area of RF spectrum management, which, by its very nature, is a highly technical area.  Is it not perhaps reasonable and rational for the regulatory decision makers in spectrum management to be highly qualified in its physics and engineering disciplines?  Is it not reasonable for the regulators to accept, and even to actively seek, engineering advice from non-governmental technical experts?  Certainly lawyers can write the subsequent Rules, and economists can do the industry financial assessments.  But highly experienced engineers need to make the spectrum management decisions!  And by the way, in this new and enlightened era politicians and lobbyists would be nowhere to be seen around the FCC!

What a beautiful, satisfying dream-in-progress experience this was…..which dream was abruptly terminated in mid-course by the clamor of trash cans clanging in the alley behind The Portals in Washington, D. C.!  “And so another typical day at the FCC begins……..”

What do you think?

“Let’s save the universe for RF!”

The Old RF Curmudgeon

Since 1963, LBA has been providing RF equipment and engineering consulting services for radio and television broadcast and wireless communications.


About The Author

The Old RF Curmudgeon

The Old RF Curmudgeon has been poking his beak into the RF world for very close to fifty years. With both commercial and amateur radio experience, close contacts in broadcast engineering, radio site management experience, lots of paper pushed into the FCC, an immense curiosity about “how things work,” and a “real gud college education,” the RF Curmudgeon has seen a lot of telecom evolution. And he remembers almost all of it, can relate historical items to “modern developments,” and has a sharp sense of “what’s proper….and what’s not!”

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