Regulatory Shorts for September 2016

Wi-FiToday’s blog contains a few items that are cautionary tales of things not to do.

FCC Funding for Broadband. The FCC recently rejected three petitions for reconsideration filed by companies that had been awarded the experimental broadband grants last year, but then failed to meet the grant criteria. Two of the companies were start-ups and did not have audited financial statements. Another had an audit but filed it after the grant-specified deadline. The FCC refused to give the three companies the grants since they didn’t meet all of the requirements.

The cautionary tale here is that anybody filing for a grant should make certain ahead of time that they meet all of the requirements. There were a lot of applicants who received broadband grants out of the stimulus funding a few years ago that did not qualify, but for whom the government accepted waivers. However, that was an extraordinary circumstance due to the huge size of the grants and the desire of the government to use the funding. In more normal circumstances it’s exceedingly hard to get a waiver for a company that doesn’t meet all of the qualifications.

Fines for Unauthorized Wireless Connections. The FCC recently fined AT&T $450,000 for using licensed wireless connections that were made without FCC authorization or that had not been properly licensed. These were mostly fixed microwave connections, something that is relatively easy to get licensed.

The cautionary tale is to be sure to take care of the paperwork when deploying wireless systems. It’s becoming fairly routine for companies to deploy microwaves to provide wireless backhaul for point-to-multipoint wireless networks or for serving cellular sites. There are also now licensing requirements for anybody deploying subscriber radios that use the 3.65 GHz spectrum. Failure to obtain the microwave licenses could end up with fines like AT&T just paid. But since there are places in the country where it’s not legal to deploy the 3.65 GHz radios, failure to clear it first with the FCC could even end up in having your systems shut down.

Blocking WiFi. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has asked the agency to investigate a seeming restriction of WiFi for those attending the first presidential debate. Apparently, Hofstra University had blocked people from establishing WiFi hotspots from their cellphones and instead wanted journalists to buy a $200 connection for the evening. The FCC in the past has come down hard on this kind of blocking against Marriott hotels and others. The FCC has levied large fines in almost every such case brought to their attention.

The cautionary tale here is not to block WiFi. Companies and cities are often tempted to do this as a security measure and the technology to block WiFi is readily available. But WiFi is a public spectrum and it’s always against the law to block somebody from establishing their own hotspot.

Using E-Rate Broadband Off-Campus. Two school districts have petitioned the FCC to allow them to extend broadband that is subsidized by the E-Rate program to students and others living close to the campus. Under current rules, if an E-Rate network is used for applications other than the school, then the cost of the system has to be allocated between the school and other uses. These petitions ask that the FCC allow them to use the school broadband to serve students and other parties that can benefit from the broadband, without having to allocate the costs.

There is both a caution here as well as an opportunity. The caution is to beware if an E-Rate broadband connection is used by more than the school. For example, it’s not unusual (particularly with private schools) to have other organizations or entities collocated with the school. In such a case the E-Rate applicant needs to make sure to allocate the costs between the school and the other entities. Failure to do so could end up with a loss of the E-Rate subsidy. But the opportunity also exists with wireless networks to provide home broadband to students who live close to the school. If these petitions are successful it could open up many possibilities for schools to benefit nearby residents.

One thought on “Regulatory Shorts for September 2016

  1. I think the Wi-Fi blocking was done by using technology to find those using hotspots and then telling them they had to stop or leave. I don’t think the FCC can do anything about this because it is not jamming. Hofstra is a private space and allowed to act in bad ways if it chooses – a good reason to have debates at places that aren’t shaking down the audience for ridiculous prices to access Wi-Fi.

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