The FCC is receiving push back from the Hill concerning its plan to move the Universal Service Fund (USF) — a congressional effort to provide access to telecommunications to rural and underserved communities — to the U.S. Department of Treasury.
The proposed action will have a “devastating” impact on the USF and its programs, according to a letter sent to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai from Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Congressman Steve Pearce, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Congressman Keith Elison.
The Representatives contend that the FCC’s decision to move the USF to the U.S. Department of Treasury was prompted by a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report claiming widespread abuse in the Lifeline program.
“Among other issues, this report’s data does not reflect Lifeline’s 2016 reforms and will have adverse effects to other programs which rely on the USF, such as the Connect America Fund,” the letter said.
The letter expressed support for the USF, which supports telemedicine through the Rural Health Care Program), phone and broadband services for low-income Americans (Lifeline Program) and discounts to schools and libraries (E-Rate Program). And asked the FCC Chairman avoid any step that would harm the programs.
“As FCC Chairman, you have stated your intention to ‘bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans.’ If closing the digital divide is your goal, moving the USF to Treasury is a step in the wrong direction,” said the lawmakers in the letter.
The Enterprise Wireless Alliance will feature a session on antenna structure registration at its 2017 Wireless Leadership Summit, October 11-12, at the Westin Denver Downtown in Denver, Colorado.
The session is designed to bring attendees up to date on the latest FCC rules regarding antenna structures and the requirements to register them with the FCC.
“In recent years, FCC rules regarding towers, including requirements for obtaining an Antenna Structure Registration, have become more complicated,” the association said. “This session provides an overview of FCC, FAA and environmental compliance, any regulatory changes on the horizon, and how the changes may affect your business and customer operations.”
Moderator: Ila Dudley, Enterprise Wireless Alliance
Dean Ballew, Day Wireless
Katherine Patsas Nevitt, Lukas, LaFuria, Gutierrez & Sachs
For more information, visit: www.enterprisewireless.org/wls2017
Cell towers were more resilient during Hurricane Harvey in South Texas than in previous storms, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told an audience during his keynote at the Mobile World Congress Americas today in San Francisco. The news from Florida, however was not quite as upbeat with the affected disaster area losing service from more than 27 percent of the cell towers.
“About 5 percent of cell sites were down [in South Texas], as opposed to 25 percent for Hurricane Sandy,” Pai said. “That wireless connectivity was literally a lifeline for many.”
More than 96,000 calls were made to Houston’s main 911 emergency response center, many of which were from wireless phones.
“Many of the more than 11,000 people rescued by the Coast Guard were found because of wireless calls,” Pai said. “That includes one 14-year-old girl who was saved after telling Siri, ‘Call the Coast Guard.’” Smartphones were used to access social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to summon help and keep tabs on loved ones.
Pai applauded the “heroic efforts to quickly restore communications” of the technicians working to bring Houston and South Texas back online and on the air.
“When the rain was still coming down and the water was still rising, technicians braved the elements to fix service disruptions as quickly as possible,” Pai said.
A Tale of Two Hurricanes
Compared with Harvey, Hurricane Irma affected a much wider area striking with Category 4-force winds, as it steamed up the Gulf Coast of the state. Of the more than 14,500 cell towers located in the disaster area, nearly 4,000 cell towers had lost service as of Sept. 11.
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands saw improvement on Monday with 21.5 of affected towers out of service, compare with nearly 27 percent on Sunday.
“Now, reports so far indicate that communications services in the path of Hurricane Irma have not fared as well due to staggering winds,” Pai said. “But we’re grateful for the hard work people are doing to keep wireless networks up and running for as many people as possible.”
J. Sharpe Smith is senior editor of the AGL eDigest. He joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.
It has been five years since NYU WIRELESS, a multidisciplinary research center with more than 100 researchers, was founded to develop the fundamental theories and techniques for next generation mass deployable wireless devices.
A key focus of the center, based at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, relates to millimeter wave (mmWave) systems operating in the high frequency bands above 10 GHz.
In 2013, NYU WIRELESS Founding Director Theodore (Ted) S. Rappaport published “Millimeter Wave Mobile Communications for 5G Cellular: It Will Work!” which defied common wisdom that that lower frequencies represented the limits of possibility for most wireless communications.
“NYU WIRELESS is playing a vital role in this transformation and in providing its students the technical skills they’ll need to take advantage of the new career opportunities in this field,” said Melissa Arnoldi, senior executive vice president, Technology & Operations, AT&T Communications, which is one of the center’s industrial affiliates.
Research conducted at NYU WIRELESS was a key element in the FCC’s adoption of the Spectrum Frontiers Report and Order in 2016. Additionally, NYU WIRELESS was one of only two academic institutions chosen by the FCC to help test, debug, and provide feedback on a new web-based portal that lets researchers apply for a program experimental license, a development that will reduce barriers to experimentation for universities, research laboratories, health care institutions, and manufacturers.
The research also holds the promise of dramatically improving urban reception and reducing the cost of bringing fiber optic-speed Wi-Fi and wireless service to underserved rural areas, thus democratizing access and helping bridge the digital divide.
Among the research accomplishments of the center, now under the direction of NYU Tandon Associate Professor of Computer and Electrical Engineering Sundeep Rangan, are:
NYU WIRELESS has nearly 20 industrial affiliates including AT&T, CableLabs, Crown Castle, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Interdigital, Keysight Technologies, L3 Communications, National Instruments, NextLink, Nokia, OPPO, Qualcomm, SiBeam, Sprint, UMC, and Verizon.
The technology environment, the regulatory environment, the industry response and the individual response will change what it takes to deploy wireless telecommunications sites, according to Paul A. Roberts, vice president of compliance at American Tower.
At the 2017 Network Infrastructure Forum, a part of the International Wireless Communications Expo, Roberts gave a presentation titled “The Changing Landscape for Deploying Sites.” An attorney and veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Roberts also has experience as the chief information officer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation and as the launch pad manager for the space shuttle program at Kennedy Space Center.
● The Technology Environment
● The Regulatory Environment
● The Industry Response
● The Individual Response
In the technology environment, Roberts said fifth-generation (5G) wireless communications and the densification of wireless networks are pushing development toward a truly heterogeneous network. He said the wireless business is seeing increased use of small cells together with an increase in data communications speeds, more urban development, an upswing in the use of rights of way for antenna sites and massive fiber-optic cable deployment.
The first key area Roberts identified is the increases in available radio-frequency spectrum, with more technology being put to uses to build the U.S. telecommunications system. The second key area he identified is the build-out of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) public safety broadband network. And, a third key area that he said ties in with the FirstNet network is site hardening.
“There are two elements of hardening that we have to look at, and to me, both are equally important,” Roberts said. “One is structural hardening, to make sure that we have a robust physical infrastructure that can support an entire emergency network system. The second has to do with electrical power. You can have the best structure in the world, but if you lose power, you’re dead in the water after four to eight hours, depending on how much backup power you have. If you have back-up power, you may be good. But if you don’t, you won’t.”
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) and ground-based remote control and monitoring equipment. Roberts said drones may not only be an advantage in tower maintenance, but also in the delivery of communications and data.
— Paul A. Roberts, vice president of compliance at American Tower
With respect to regulation, Roberts said a new requirement to mark towers with heights between 50 and 200 feet needs evaluation and assessment with an eye toward pushing for a legislative change to exempt telecommunications towers. If not, he said tower industry representatives would be working with the FCC to see how the requirement could be accommodated in a way that meets the needs of agricultural aviators. “They were having issues with aircraft striking meteorological evaluation towers that typically pop up quickly and that are really difficult to see,” Roberts said. “When the legislation was crafted, we got caught up in that net and so it applies to our wireless infrastructure industry.”
For those who deploy small cells, Roberts said they have been faced with model municipal ordinances, community engagement and jurisdiction reactions. “Remember in the early days when we talked about the NIMBY effect, not in my back yard?” he asked. “Maybe now we’re in the NIMFY effect, not in my front yard. We’ve kind of been down that road before and learned from it, so we can address small cell requirements effectively to meet the need.”
Regulations governing environmental protection, historical properties, rural areas, agricultural land and land under federal and tribal jurisdiction need attention in the continuous push for broadband data service in rural areas. “FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is very passionate about wanting broadband service in rural areas,” Roberts said. In January, Pai announced formation of a new federal advisory committee, the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, which will provide advice and recommendations for the commission on how to accelerate the deployment of high-speed internet access. Roberts said it would be exciting to watch the FCC bring together a group for the idea of innovation and reducing barriers to broadband deployment.
In expecting streamlining efforts at the FCC, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies, Roberts said many new faces would be in play. Those in the wireless infrastructure business not only would have an opportunity to watch, but also to become actively involved. “Maybe now we have an opportunity to rise up and deliver a message,” he said. “We’re strong when we’re together, so let’s keep that in mind.”
Turning to industry response, Roberts said the first measure is to follow the money. He said it seems as though everyone is investing in telecommunications. “People are coming into telecom now that we never thought would have been in our world before,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing. They bring a lot of skills. They bring a lot of innovation for us. It’s truly a wonderful thing.”
Along with the investment and the growth that it brings come some challenges, and Roberts said one of those is the demand for a skilled workforce. He said the wireless infrastructure industry is in the early days of new development, and often in such times many things are not done the way they should be done. “But we do it because we have to do it and we have to get things up and rolling,” Roberts said. “We’re mature enough in our environment now that we’re actually self-measuring. And we’re asking, ‘Are we doing it the right way? Not just doing it, but are we doing it the right way?’ We can do it fast and we can do it quick, and we can do it three or four times because we didn’t do it right the first time. Or, we can do it right the first time.”
In Roberts’ view, doing it right requires focusing on people as the number one resource. In turn, that requires investment in the future growth and development of industry employees. “We have ultimate opportunities to do that, to be able to focus on our workforce,” Roberts said. We have partners willing to join with us and make that happen.” He said the workforce focus is accomplished through organizations such as the National Association of Tower Erectors, the Wireless Infrastructure Association, the National Wireless Safety Alliance, the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program, Warriors4Wireless and the U.S. Department of Labor. Roberts said that, in the telecommunications industry, nothing is more important that accountability for employee safety and health.
Responsibility for the Future
Regarding the individual response to wireless telecommunication deployment, Roberts said each person has responsibility for his own future. “Knowledge is power,” he said. “Experience is your best teacher. So, enhance your knowledge through training and demonstrate it through personal growth. Build a pyramid in which you’re building your knowledge base vertically with your education and where you’re building your capability base horizontally through your experiences. Then, what you have is an ever-expanding triangle that makes you the best that you possibly can be and a true contributor to this industry.”
Roberts urged individuals to communicate. “When you see a better way, share it,” he said. “The best ideas that are unspoken fade to dust. And, most importantly, be careful. We’re going into a new world where we have new tasks and we have new equipment. We have new working environments that we haven’t dealt with before. Recognize hazards and avoid them.”
Don Bishop is the executive editor of AGL Magazine. He joined AGL Media Group in 2004. He was the founding editor of AGL Magazine, the AGL Bulletin email newsletter (now AGL eDigest) and AGL Small Cell Magazine.
A frequent moderator and host for AGL Conferences, Don writes and otherwise obtains editorial content published in AGL Magazine, AGL eDigest and the AGL Media Group website.