September 22, 2016 —
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told an audience that the FCC is taking concrete steps to foster competition where it exists in rural areas and subsidize service in rural areas, which lack service, in his keynote at the Competitive Carriers Association’s annual conference in Seattle this week.
“At the FCC, we want to protect competition where it exists, and promote competition where it may not be fulsome,” Wheeler said. “While nurturing competition is always going to be option A for maximizing consumer benefits, that is not an option in many parts of the country. Indeed, many rural areas do not have access to robust rural broadband at all.”
Wheeler spoke about how important roaming was to fostering competition in the wireless industry in the 1980s, especially making it possible for smaller, rural carriers to survive. The commission tried to bring roaming into the broadband 4G data era in 2011 but not everyone has been pleased with the results.
After received multiple complaints about high rates charged by larger carriers, Wheeler is going to call on the commission to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Commission’s data roaming framework by the end of the year.
“There are currently two roaming frameworks; a ‘just and reasonable’ standard for voice roaming and a ‘commercially reasonable’ standard for data roaming,” Wheeler said. “CCA has been vocal calling on us to apply uniform roaming standards across voice and data services. We’ve heard you, and we’re ready to act.”
Wheeler also noted that rural areas exist where theirs is still no 4G LTE wireless coverage. Excluding Alaska, he said, 11 percent of the nation’s road miles have no 4G LTE coverage at all, including no subsidized coverage. All told, 550,000 miles of roads are unserved.
“We now know that 16 percent of all square miles have no LTE coverage or only subsidized coverage. And 1.4 million Americans currently have no access to LTE coverage at all, and 1.7 million live in areas where the only LTE coverage relies on a subsidy,” Wheeler said.
The commission reoriented the Universal Service Fund from subsidizing voice service to data services in 2011 through the creation of the Mobility Fund. As the commission moves forward with Phase II of the Mobility Fund by the end of this year, it will use new, more specific, data targeting areas without LTE coverage, which need subsidies.
“If the first key to the Mobility Fund’s future is better measurement, the second is using this new data to make sure our investments are properly focused, and that focus is clear: unserved areas,” Wheeler said. “As we’re gearing up for 5G, we can’t consign parts of the country to second-class digital citizenship by settling for 3G service.
Wheeler said the commission realizes there has been reliance on these subsidies for the provision of duplicated service, which must be phased out.
“That’s why the third big challenge for the Mobility Fund is going to be phasing out support in a way that is fair to those who have been receiving universal service funding in duplicative situations,” he said. “But let’s be clear: the FCC’s mandate is to support service where there is none, and diverting dollars from that purpose is not in the long-term public interest.
July 14, 2016 — To maximize the opportunities promised by new 5G-type technology, more backhaul will be needed to moves the data back to the wireline network, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Communications and Technology during the FCC oversight hearing on Tuesday.
“To seize the opportunities to increase the deployment of mobile networks and to move towards 5G connectivity, we’re going to need a lot more backhaul to handle the massive increase in data traffic,” Wheeler said in his written statement.
In April, the FCC launched its Business Data Services proceeding to address the increasing need for dedicated access that carriers need to backhaul cell towers and small cells to their networks, as well as by enterprises, schools, hospitals and universities to move large amounts of data.
“In many areas, however, competition in the supply of Business Data Services remains limited, and that can translate into higher prices for wireless networks and then higher prices for consumers,” Wheeler wrote. “Lack of competition doesn’t just hurt the deployment of wireless networks today, it also threatens to delay the build out of 5G networks with its demand for many, many more backhaul connections to many, many more antennas.”
The Business Data Services proposal is technology neutral and will encourage innovation and investment, Wheeler said. He plans to conclude the proceeding by the end of the year.
FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler called on the Commission to approve his plan to allocate spectrum for 5G in a speech before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. yesterday. Last October, the FCC proposed to authorize mobile operations in the 28 GHz band and the 39 GHz band, Part 15 unlicensed operations in the 64-71 GHz band and a hybrid licensing scheme in the 37 GHz band.
“High-band spectrum will be the focus of our decision next month,” he said. “These bands offer huge swaths of spectrum for super-fast data rates with low latency, and are now becoming unlocked because of technological advances in computing and antennas.”
Wheeler noted that 5G-type hardware and firmware are being tested by the OEMs and carriers are set to trial next generation technology in the field in 2017, with the first commercial deployments at scale expected in 2020. (Not to mention final 5G standards)
“This timeline requires that we act to pave the way today,” Wheeler said. “With the new rules I am proposing in our Spectrum Frontiers order, we take our most significant step yet down the path to our 5G future.”
The Chairman drew a distinction between this approach and the tact taken by other countries that plan to study 5G before allocating spectrum.
“Turning innovators loose is far preferable to expecting committees and regulators to define the future,” he said. “Instead, we will make ample spectrum available and then rely on a private sector-led process for producing technical standards best suited for those frequencies and use cases.”
This approach is designed to allow U.S. companies to take a leadership role in 5G similar to the policies that allowed the United States to be a world leader in 4G, according to Wheeler.
“If the Commission approves my proposal next month, the United States will be the first country in the world to open up high-band spectrum for 5G networks and applications. And that’s damn important because it means U.S. companies will be first out of the gate,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said that the FCC traditionally lets technology drive policy, not the other way around. In the case of 5G that is very important because of the different of the different visions people have for the next generation of wireless technology.
“The marriage of Moore’s Law and wireless connectivity involves smart antenna systems, new more-efficient transmission formats, low-energy systems, network virtualization, and much more,” he said. “And on the spectrum side, these technologies require new access to spectrum in multiple bands – the wireless future will not be a one-size-fits-all future.”
To meet the varied needs of 5G, according to Wheeler, spectrum will be needed in the 600 MHz band, known as low band; the AWS-3 and new Citizens Broadband Radio service in the 3.5 GHz band, known as mid-band); and high-band spectrum at 28 GHz, 39 GHz, 64-71 GHz, and 37 GHz band, which will be the voted on by the FCC next month.
“Our 5G proposal is the final piece in the spectrum trifecta of low-band, mid-band, and high-band airwaves that will open up unprecedented amounts of spectrum, speed the rollout of next-generation wireless networks, and re-define network connectivity for years to come,” he said. “I’m confident these actions will lead to a cornucopia of unanticipated innovative uses, and generate tens of billions of dollars in economic activity.”
It was in October 2014 that Labor Secretary Tom Perez welcomed participants to the FCC and DOL Workshop on Tower Climber Safety and Injury Prevention. At that time, we talked about how there had been too many tragedies on towers. In 2013, there were 13 fatalities, and in 2014 there were a dozen fatalities, and somebody had to say, “No, this needs to stop.” The October 2014 workshop focused on how do we do better; how do we say this is not an acceptable situation.
The FCC had a role. The Department of Labor had a role. But the biggest responsibility was the industry’s. The industry stepped up. There were three fatalities in 2015, a significant decrease as a result of a significant increase in effort. I started to say only three fatalities. You can never say only, because that’s still three too many. So there was no celebration of that improvement at kitchen tables in three households. That’s what we have to be continually mindful of as we work through today and then continue forward.
The times that are going to follow will be particularly challenging. The 2016 construction season is about to begin. The fact that wireless is the communications pathway of the 21st century means that there is increased demand. The fact that spectrum is scarce means that cell-splitting will only increase the number of installations. Small cells mean more antennas. We’re also heading into the incentive auction, which is going to trigger two things. The first is a movement in the broadcast space. I know the broadcasters are concerned about their antennas. The second is new construction in the wireless space.
A Coming Increase in Demand
We had a big problem. The problem was addressed, the number of tragedies decreased, and now we are about to see a steep increase in demand, and we must continue and improve upon the record of the last year.
The industry that provides world-class wireless service must have world-class safety for its employees and contractors, period. That means that everybody has to be proactive. The FCC is trying to be proactive. The U.S. Department of Labor is trying to be proactive. The industry is trying to be proactive.
We must have consistency in analysis so we know what’s going on. We have to have best practices that exist more than as a document that is filed away and states, “Oh, here are our best practices.” Those best practices must be manifested on the tower.
We have to have training standards. We have to have expanded training in order to meet this demand, because there is going to be an influx of individuals to do the work.
The progress has been wonderful. But the increasing demand that is coming is going to stress that progress. Our challenge collectively is to make sure that we are ready to deal with that stress.
Tom Wheeler became the 31st Chairman of the FCC on November 4, 2013. Chairman Wheeler was appointed by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. For over three decades, Chairman Wheeler has been involved with new telecommunications networks and services, experiencing the revolution in telecommunications as a policy expert, an advocate, and a businessman. As an entrepreneur, he started or helped start multiple companies offering innovative cable, wireless, and video communications services.
February 18, 2016 — Discussing best practices for improving tower safety was the first order of business as the FCC and the U.S. Department of Labor held the FCC and DoL Workshop on Tower Climber Safety and Apprenticeship Program, Feb. 11, at the FCC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was the second FCC/DoL tower safety workshop in as many years.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler noted in opening remarks that the first tower safety workshop was held in October 2014 after the industry suffered a staggering number of fatalities that year and a similar number of tragedies the previous year. Since then, the wireless industry has rallied to make the tower environment safer, resulting in the creation of a wireless industry worker certification organization, National Wireless Safety Alliance (NWSA). Additionally, the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) was formed to promote training by a joint venture of wireless companies, associations and the DoL. And the number of tower fatalities has dropped significantly.
But the chairman said more needs to be done as tower work is set to increase in the coming years.
“The problem [of tower fatalities] was addressed [in the first tower safety workshop]. The tragedies came down. But we are about to see a steep increase in construction on towers through cell splitting, small cells, [and because of the] additional 600 MHz spectrum obtained through the incentive auction and the broadcast re-pack,” Wheeler said. “To meet this demand there is going to be an influx of individuals to do the work. The new demand will stress the progress we have made. Our challenge is to be ready to deal with that stress that we know is coming.”
Contractual Controls Promise Safer Towers
The tower industry has made strides forward toward requiring all tower workers to be certified as competent, according to Kevin Schmidt, NWSA board member.
“There are contractual controls that will be put in to place,” Schmidt said. “The top national carriers have agreed to add into their contract language that anyone working on their site is going to have to be NWSA approved, starting later this year or early next year. That will eliminate the companies that send out the newer people that are not trained or certified and don’t know exactly what they are doing.”
Wade Sarver, blogger at Wade4Wireless.com, called for independent safety audits to ensure that contractors are living up to the agreement to hire certified climbers.
“How do we know there are certified climbers on the site when there are three contractors between the carrier and the tower service company?” Sarver said. “If a climber sees someone that is not certified on the tower, there should be a number for them to call to report the incident.”
Culture of Safety Another Key to Eliminating Fatalities
Don Doty, National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE), said that the industry needs to go beyond contract language to emphasize supervision to ensure that rules are followed 100 percent of the time.
“One of the keys to safety is supervision and oversight. We have found that the most important quality of a crew chief is one that will mentor the other climbers. It creates a trust environment. Having that open culture is very important,” Doty said.
Schmidt added that it all boils down to certified, competent climbers individually taking matters into their own hands to be 100 percent tied-off to the tower and to stop working if things seem unsafe.
Each tower service company should be open to communication about safety issues. But, in the cases where they aren’t, there should be a safety valve, according to Sarver, and fellow tower climbers should police each other. Additionally, the upper management in the company should be trained in tower safety so the culture of safety can trickle down.
“If you have a designated safety person you can go to openly and easily explain the situation after the climb, maybe you could get ideas as to what could have been done better,” he said. “If somebody screws up you have to let them know. It has to be a team effort.”
Long Hours Threaten Climber Safety; Planning Can be the Answer
Tower work can include long travel time and extended days on tower to meet tight deadlines, which can create pressure for workers to go up on the tower when they are less than 100 percent. John Parham, Jacobs Engineering Group, said from a safety perspective, the long hours of the job concern him most.
“We have extremely dedicated and hardworking employees, who work on an hourly basis,” Parham said. “We have to balance allowing them to work hard and provide for their families and constricting their hours so that they stay safe and well rested. It is a challenge we face every day.”
Parham said that one of the answers is for engineering firms to plan tower projects at least 12 months in advance and to form closer relationships with contractors. Instead of submitting bids for individual tower projects, Jacobs Engineering partners with several subcontractors so it can schedule the tower work in advance throughout the year.
“It’s a lot of work upfront, but it is less than the amount of time we spent on revisits, troubleshooting, or tracking down a crew that completed a site and is now back in another state and you are trying to get closeout documentation back to the wireless carrier. It saves time, effort and money in the long run,” Parham said.
Jacobs Engineering invites strategic partners to collocate putting their management into the Jacob’s office and operating their crews out of its warehouses. “It puts us on the same team because we see each other every day,” Parham said.
Sarver agreed, “I am a big fan of partnering. You know more about what the company is capable of doing, how qualified they are, how many crews they have and their specialties,” he said. “It’s important to know their skillsets.”
Tower Design Also a Key for Safe Workers
Panel members called for better engineered towers as an element of a comprehensive tower worker safety program.
Doty said processes and procedures should be developed to deploy anchorages where there aren’t any at this time, working in conjunction with engineers. “Engineers like [the late] Ernie Jones have taken that step forward to help,” he said.
Angela Jones, Union Wireless, (no relation to Ernie Jones) would like to see better towers upfront, with more room for tower workers to do their work at height.
“We need better engineering upfront in tower design. I would like to see a lot more platforms on the towers; there are not nearly enough of them,” Jones said. “Obviously there is more cost associated with designing safer towers. Union Wireless does not balk at that. We are willing to take that on, but we would like to see that adopted across the industry.”