In the Matter of ) ) Allocation of Spectrum in the 5 GHz Band ) RM-8653 To Establish a Wireless Component of the ) National Information Infrastructure )
I am filing as an individual who has, for the past 20 years been a nationally recognized advocate and hands-on practitioner (1993 Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation), originator, operator, developer-installer for the highest level of connectivity at the lowest possible cost for the most remote and least-connected American public - both individually and institutionally. With particular attention to the problems of public education, and rural areas.
'Universal Access' - to information and communications services by all individuals and institutions - should guide all public telecommunications decisions. All public officials have proclaimed this as a desirable national goal for the National Information Infrastructure. But this proposed 'NII' band takes the first major step in the wirelesss domain to make that an economic possibility for all. For it clearly focuses on regulating only the technological devices which use the spectrum, and does not grant sprectrum licences for exclusive use by commercial service providers who can then dictate the terms underwhich the bands can be used.
With the recent, and projected, auctions by the FCC of important segments of the electromagnetic spectrum to the highest bidders for exclusive licenceing arrangements, there will ample availability of commercial services for the public. But there is simply no compelling reason why the public spectrum should be all commercialized, or retained by government or sector-specific purposes given the current and forecast advanced in technology which can be used, freely, by that same public without significant interference.
The American Public is surely as entitled to its Public Spectrum, using only radios bought on the open market, if corporate America or Government are entitled to theirs.
For 15 of the 20 years I have been engaged in grass roots public telecommunications I have explored the use of digital wireless technologies, integrated into wired networks for public and private education, both rural and urban, small businesses - down to individual self-employed, work-from-home - urban telecommuting, and personal 'self-education.'
I have used everything from Ham-developed Terminal Node Controllers in licenced business bands, through analog radio, to spread spectrum radio under FCC Part 15 bands to attempt to extend affordable connectivity to all sectors of the US society. I have been repeatedly frustrated by the either the domination of the 'public' spectrum by commercial interests who seek to control the spectrum - which neither they nor the United States governmnet 'capitalized' or invented in the first place - for their own private interests - as if that is identical with the 'public interest' - which it is not. Or by the severe limitations imposed on use of the spectrum by FCC regulations born in an era when there was no alternative way to prevent interference.
As I understand the history of government regulation of the electromagnetic spectrum, such regulation has only been required because the technical devices required to communicate successfully could cause unacceptable levels of interference. But now the processing power of chips in extracting information from noise at ever lower power of radiation has reached the point, already, when the very need for regulation of the bands of the spectrum itself can legitimately be called into question. Thus the treatment of the spectrum as if it will forever be a scarce resource, or that it should only be treated as private property auctioned off to the highest bidder - on the theory that is the only way to get the maxium use out of it - seems to fly in the face of revolutionary technological change which makes it ever more possible for it to be used by everyone, simulaneously, without interference, so long as the devices used capitalize on those technologies.
There are several sectors which are still being excluded by
access issues rooted in the economic cost of bringing digital
signals from networked points of presence, to end users. The 'last
The reason for districts being so far behind is simple
economics, multiplied 11,000 times across the country as the
following will show:
* Very few schools have even one dial-up modem line running to classrooms, which can support up to 28.8 bps affordable modems. And none can conceive of 'one line per student' with modems on seperate dialup lines. Even where the modems, and computers are affordable, as a one-time cost, the lines are not.
* The most cursory survey of schools will demonstrate that virtually none are using, or will even consider, commercial 'cellular' phone services to meet their student-centered data needs.
* Thus internal wired lans have to be multiplexed to local servers in school buildings, which themselves have to be connected to the outside by higher speed lines. But it requires an absolute minimum today for a small school, to be connected at 56kbs, requiring dedicated lines. For any larger school, or for the multiple-simultaneous use by students of higher bandwidth applications - such as graphical web pages, or video conferencing, fractional or full T-1 is required at the minimum. Even when a school can justify ONE commercial T-1 service being extended to an urban district, it CANNOT sustain the costs of 'distribution' within the district of that bandwidth. For today that either requires very costly internal cable-laying between buildings and schools, or by seperate contratual telephone services for seperate dedicated lines. The reality is very few schools, except the most affuent, have even attempted to provide connectivity by such costly solutions, which are exacerbated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of US public K-12 schools are not even in operation for 3 vacation months a year - but dedicated commercial services costs are continuous.
* Rural schools have an additional problem - distance from each other and from points of presence for interconnectivity to long distance networks. With the national trend toward deregulation of the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCS), and thus the severe reduction or termination of 'rural subsidies' of phone services by urban service, the RBOCs are either 'bailing out' of unprofitable rural areas (US West is vigerously selling off its rural exchanges), or raising prices greatly. Cellullar commercial telephone services are simply out of the question for schools - even where it reaches them. Dedicated data services are not only more costly for rural schools, they simply do not exist for many. ISDN is barely being offered in limited large urban centers now.
There is another aspect of K-12 education which will grow in importance. And that is access to the school, as an 'information' center and educational 'gateway' to networks by students from their homes, teachers, parents, and the public which has to pay all the bills in the form of taxes. The ability to use shorter range, local access, wireless from homes and offices to nearby 'community' schools without the necessity for schools providing banks of modem-equipped commercial telephones will be a giant assist in better connecting up schools to the surrounding public, on an intermittent, no added cost (for commercial communications service) basis.
This wireless NII proposal goes to directly to the heart of the American 'networked education' problem. It corresponds to the fact that US K-12 education, nationally, is organized locally, in local school districts where there is a rough correspondence to population densities and geographic school district boundaries. The proposed 'range' of the permitted wireless NII bands, ('10-15km or more') is an excellent 'fit' to local school-centered, education.
Any arguement that says that the current Part 15 FCC bands, where educational use of spread spectrum is sufficient, misses a very important point. Such use would still be be 'subordinate' to other specialized uses, and if, for example, in congested urban areas any 'superior' priority users, claiming interference, could shut down the entire wireless networks of urban schools and colleges. The recent FCC ruling permitting high power automobile tracking commercial systems in Part 15 areas, is just such a threat to attempted use of current Part 15 frequencies for public education. No school system is going to invest in, and rely on, Part 15 frequencies if they know there is a chance they will be shut down by higher-priority users.
Education needs to depend on frequencies that only the laws of
physics impose limitations on, not the laws of man.
However advances in the power and complexity of online communications has put greater and greater demand on the required 'bandwidth' which has to be used to get and stay competitive, and for individuals with small servers - such as Unix, OS2, or NT type operating systems - to present today's sine qua non of business - web pages, with its bandwidth-intensive graphics. Ordinary twisted pair lines at tariffed rates are rapidly becoming insufficient, even with the fastest modems now manufactured - 28.8kbs modems. At least 56kbs of bandwidth is needed already today. In fact my understanding of Shannon's Law would hold that modems can never get about about 34kbs.
This then compells any small business to go to 56kbs lines - which are a substantial investments (DSU, CSUs, Routers), the installation by commercial telephone companies of dedicated lines, and substantially higher - than business phone lines - monthly costs, ONLY to reach ISP services, which carry their own costs.
This Proposed NII band will permit them to connect up
with ISPs, with non-interfering, and non commercial-service
links of 56kbs and higher, for only the cost of the radios and
interface. My caclulation is that that will reduce their costs
for 'access' by from 25 to 40% of the total cost, and bring it
more into line with the proportionate costs of local loop
communications with respect to all other costs. Thus it will
be stimulative of small business entrepenurship.
But in ever more cases being reported to me, is the need for higher-than-plain telephone service bandwidth being needed. Buying commercial dedicated line services at 56kbs is overkill, ISDN is not available, or likely to be available everywhere. Internal company Public Spectrum wireless makes all kinds of sense for this 'internal company network' purposes. And could stimulate an increase in the proportion of American workers economically telecommuting, which in turn takes pressure off of other public infrastructures, and is therefore in the broad public interest.
It is rather ironic that AT&T, who opposes this Petition, is trying to take leadership in 'telecommuting,' has 35,000 managers who telecommute, and is sponsoring the national 'Telecommute America' coalition, promoting work at home or from outlying centers. But it is clear that their employees may enjoy highly subsidized access using their own circuits - which, in the current Congressional rage of deregulation - will probably permit them to extend their own local loop circuits to their own employees.
But the 'rest of us' will not have that kind of subsidized
communications from our homes.
This important extension of local community discourse and organization - paralleling national trends toward decentralization - has spawned large initiatives that seldom make the news in the hype of the national 'Information Highway.' The non-profit Freenets, local computer bulletin-boards, municipal (government) sponsored networks, Senior nets, and kids nets. With whole organizations devoted to their encouragement such as the national Marino Foundation, and the annual 'Ties that Bind' conference devoted to 'community networking.' As a matter of fact, Apple Corporation co-sponsors such conferences. It may not be cooincidental that this NII Spectrum proposal comes from Apple - which appears to have a social conscience that I find distinctly lacking in some of the communications giants who seem only to want spectrum for their business purposes - not for the civic good.
But even though local dial-up systems have been adequate in
the past, it is clear that such systems have increasingly to be
connected to the Internet, if only, within any state or
municipality, to give the public no-cost accesss to community
resources. Public wireless spectrum is one of the few ways that the
costs of connectivity between central small servers, and points of
presence in the community, or to government, library, or university,
or other 'civic' networks - can be held down. High bandwidth, low
cost, in a local region. That is the great need for PUBLIC
The highly developed Colorado public ACLIN (Access Colorado Library Information Network) is a perfect case of what Public spectrum could do, that is now only being done - at taxpayers expense - in a more costly manner.
The Pikes Peak Public Library District of Colorado Springs, for example - the first library in the US which permitted modem dialup to its resources (1981) - and which now is offering connectivity to and through the Internet - now Gopher, later full Web Page materials, has 14 branch libraries in the city. Currently they are connected only by 9,600 baud dedicated phone lines from their character graphic terminals - which is barely adequate for text data base searching. It is wholly inadequate for graphical materials access - such as the Boulder Valley Library which is digitizing its large photographic collection for remote viewing.
The District has been compelled to upgrade its terminals to full PC's, at one-time capital costs. But they are budget limited to upgrade the connection to each of their libraries with 56kbs or fractional T-1 lines via commercial carriers. Fourteen dedicated lines is not a trivial monthly cost. 56kbs wireless with 10 miles range would be a good alternative solution.
In rural areas, with small towns, the problem is not branches, it is the costs of connecting to a server - which could itself be a non-profit government, or educational network. Again public spectrum could permit the connecting up of libraries where there simply would be no budgetary option to do it commercially.
Public Libraries are the one central and major answer for
net access to the general public which does NOT own computers,
commercial network accounts, or the skills to use them. They are the
access points of last resort for the information poor.
I submit, and use the very healthy microcomputer and modem production industry - neither of which are themselves tied to a particular 'service' as examples, that the provision of Public Spectrum will open the door for a comparable research, development, manufacturing, marketing and mass-use of devices, the production of which can be a very healthy economic sector indeed. And it will be a very competitive sector too, as anyone who can technically meet the challenge, be licenced in their devices by the FCC, and compete in the marketplace will be able to grow new businesses in the US. Even in the crowded and limited Part 15 spectrum, I can identify at least 50 companies making devices that operate there.
With a Public NII spectrum that number could rise to hundreds of companies and tens of millions of manufactured radios and associated devices. If 'competition,' 'technolgical innovation' and an economically 'healthy' radio industry is part of the factors which weigh in the FCC decisions - as it appears they have in the matter of licence auctions - then a decision to grant a Public use spectrum, will be a real stimulator of such worthy public policy goals.
And, because the US is ahead in the development of digital radio technology, this can have a followup effect in much of the 3d world, where wireless solutions are the ONLY solution to many of their infrastructure problems. The eventual foreign markets for such devices could be very large indeed, as their host nations also follow the US lead in spectrum allocation involving new technologies.
While I believe that the policy of exclusively licencing
spectrum to existant, high bidding communications giants, is
actually an invitation for reduced-competitiveness in the
manufacturing of devices, and a suppresive hand in technological
innovation. Companies which deploy large numbers of licenced
spectrum devices have less incentive to replace them with better
devices that companies whose only sales will be because their radios
are better than the next company's in using the Public Spectrum.
David R Hughes 6 N 24th Street Colorado Springs, CO 80904 email@example.com