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Overarching Principles

FCC May Consider Policy Statement as Next Step on Receiver Standards

With many commenters opposing receiver rules from the FCC, and supporting voluntary, industry-led standards (see 2207280050), the agency hasn’t necessarily reached a dead end on the issue, industry experts said. One potential next step would be a policy statement saying the FCC has the authority and intends to specify expectations about receiver vulnerability on a proceeding-by-proceeding basis. Commissioner Brendan Carr said Friday all options remain on the table.

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Carr told reporters he plans to speak with Commissioner Nathan Simington, who sought the receiver NOI. Simington “put a lot of thought into this proceeding,” Carr said. “There’s nothing at this point that I’m putting off the table,” he said: “I still continue to be very open-minded about the path forward.”

The record is clear that there is little appetite in industry for a build-to-spec regime where the FCC tries to dictate how manufacturers coexist by limiting their design choices,” Simington emailed: “I’m very happy that this record has developed accordingly so that we can focus on other approaches, like defining harmful interference safe harbors, that enjoy broader industry and academic support and that will take industry standards as key inputs.”

A policy statement on receivers would mirror how the FCC has introduced new overarching principles that were then applied in future proceedings, industry experts said. One often-cited example is the commission’s November 1999 policy statement on guiding principles for spectrum management, which promoted flexible-use licenses, now the FCC’s standard approach on licensing.

Even though most commenters object to FCC-imposed receiver standards, the NOI has definitely not reached a dead end,” Pierre de Vries, Silicon Flatirons Center director emeritus, told us. “The logical next step is for the commission to issue policy guidance that lays out how staff should analyze and plan for future spectrum allocations,” he said: “There is wide support for such a step.”

De Vries said the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council started the work with its 2015 white paper, “Basic Principles for Assessing Compatibility of New Spectrum Allocations,” by its Spectrum and Receiver Performance Working Group. “The commission should now take the baton and issue basic principles 2.0, building on the TAC work and taking into account the extensive feedback in the record,” he said. “While some commenters object to the wording or applicability of particular principles, nobody objected to the approach as such.”

A policy statement “makes explicit what has always been implicit, the assumptions the FCC uses to determine the rules to avoid harmful interference,” said Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld. “A policy statement is a widely accepted means in administrative law of advising stakeholders of how the agency intends to proceed,” he said: “It is not a binding rule, thus preserving flexibility. But it allows stakeholders to know what to expect going forward so that they can submit comments relevant to the chosen agency approach.” Manufacturers can still offer "substandard" devices and “accept the risk of harmful interference in exchange for lower device cost,” he said.

The NOI raises issues “that may be too ultra-faceted to yield any proposed rulemaking in the near future,” said Seth Cooper, Free State Foundation director-policy studies. Cooper also sees a policy statement as “a more realistic outcome.” The statement could “identify, at least at a high level, factors or circumstances that would bear on when the commission would require guard bands to protect incumbent users from out-of-band emissions and also offer guidance on when incumbent users could safely boost or expand use of their licensed spectrum without having to be unduly concerned about government intervention,” he said.

It would be pretty hard to push through mandatory, prescriptive rules with the record they have, and there is a decent chance that nothing really comes of this proceeding in the short term,” said Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Broadband and Spectrum Policy Director Joe Kane. “The issue of receiver quality and performance is not going away, but it may have to be addressed band by band as other proceedings arise,” he said. “The record here has a lot of helpful information on how the FCC should look at that,” he said: “Ideas like harm claim thresholds are ripe for experimentation if the commission has a proceeding on a relatively uncomplicated band, and experience gained there could pay big dividends if concepts from the receiver standards proceedings prove workable in the field.”

Many items proposed in the record “are really changes in the approach the FCC should take as it thinks about spectrum policy more generally,” Kane said: “That could drive a more general theoretical shift toward more proactive thinking about the overall interference environment, and that's a plus even if it doesn't take the form of regulations on the books.”

Spectrum management requires optimizing both transmitters and receivers,” emailed Summit Ridge President Armand Musey. There were “lots of comments, not all negative,” he said: “Many are merely suggesting a particular approach. For example, some comments are seeking performance-based standards as opposed to requiring receivers to be designed using a specific technical design. I think that makes a lot of sense.”

Because the commission’s focus should be finding a balance that promotes more widespread and intensive use of underutilized spectrum, an initial policy statement should make it clear that standards related to protecting receivers will not always be voluntary or determined by industry consensus,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at New America:

That can be very problematic, as we see today in the 5.9 and 6 GHz bands, where incumbents required to share with secondary unlicensed use do everything possible to delay or roll back the commission’s determination that more productive spectrum sharing is in the best overall interest of consumers and the economy.” The statement would “establish the commission’s authority and a process for adopting standard receiver requirements on licenses in future spectrum access proceedings” and “put users at the center of the public interest analysis where they belong,” he said.

The FCC’s record is clear -- voluntary industry-led approaches to enhance spectrum performance are the most likely to be successful,” emailed David Grossman, CTA vice president-regulatory affairs: “We would urge the Commission to focus its efforts on promoting participation in voluntary industry-led approaches, which will best set the agency and industry up for success when it comes to improving receiver performance.”