NTIA Letter on the FCC's Year 2000 Biennial Regulatory Review

Docket Number: 
WT Docket No. 01-108
Date: 
July 12, 2002

 

The Honorable Michael K. Powell
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554

 

Re: Year 2000 Biennial Regulatory Review -- Amendment of Part 22 of the Commission's Rules to Modify or Eliminate Outdated Rules Affecting the Cellular Radiotelephone Service and Other Commercial Mobile Radio Services, WT Docket No. 01-108

Dear Chairman Powell:

The Commission currently has open before it a proceeding to consider modifying or eliminating certain rules affecting the commercial mobile radio services (CMRS) that may have outlived their original purpose, that may be unnecessary to advance other public interest goals, or that otherwise may discourage innovation.(1) Given the increasing scarcity of available spectrum and the challenges in managing this valuable resource, the Commission's inquiry in this proceeding is not only appropriate, but essential. If spectrum use is to be maximized, policies that interfere with innovation or that deter efficient spectrum use must be scrutinized and, if found unnecessary to further a more important public interest goal, promptly eliminated.

The NPRM in this proceeding considers several rules for possible elimination or modification. This letter addresses one of them - the requirement that each cellular carrier continue to provide an AMPS-type analog service so long as the carrier continues to have analog customers or roamers on its system.(2) Given the widespread availability of digital cellular technologies, which are undeniably more spectrally efficient and secure than analog transmissions, it seems contrary to the public interest for the Commission to continue to mandate the use of this old technology. Further, not only is the original rationale for the requirement (to ensure nationwide roaming) no longer necessary, but the continued mandate to use this less efficient technology constrains innovation and places cellular carriers at a distinct disadvantage vis-à-vis their PCS competitors. On behalf of the Administration, (3) I write to urge the Commission to sunset this requirement with a reasonable transition period to allow the orderly migration of current analog uses.(4)

The Original Rationale for the Analog Transmission Requirement Is No Longer Applicable and May Thwart Competition

As noted in the NPRM, the original purpose behind the analog requirement was to create nationwide technological compatibility of equipment so that mobile phone subscribers to a cellular system in one part of the country would be able to use their existing equipment while roaming.(5) When the rule was adopted, cellular was a purely local enterprise. One of the two licenses in each of the relatively small service areas was reserved for the incumbent local exchange provider. There were no nationwide commercial mobile radio service providers and no indication that roaming would be strongly demanded by the marketplace.

Today, however, the need to have a legal requirement for technical compatibility to ensure roaming is unnecessary. Instead of just two competitors in a market, today's markets have a minimum of four to six CMRS providers, including cellular, PCS, and SMR licensees. Several of these are national carriers that have virtually a nationwide footprint of their own or affiliated facilities. Yet, even carriers that are not national in scope have agreements in place that allow for nationwide roaming of their subscribers. Consumers have demanded nationwide roaming capabilities and the market has responded. This has occurred in the absence of any technical compatibility requirement in the PCS or SMR services. There is no reason to believe that elimination of the analog cellular transmission rule would reverse this broader market trend.

Maintaining the analog cellular rule, however, would have deleterious effects on the public interest. As noted above, analog transmissions are not as spectrally efficient as available digital technologies. Continuing to require cellular providers to deploy this less efficient technology unnecessarily limits the capacity of their network - constraining their ability to serve more customers as well as to deploy more innovative products and services, such as third generation technologies. Further, imposing this requirement on cellular carriers and not on their CMRS competitors inequitably limits the ability of cellular providers to compete effectively, thus thwarting the goal of a full and fair competitive marketplace. For these reasons, the rule should be eliminated.

The Commission Should Set a Reasonable Transition Period to Provide the Opportunity for Migration of Current Analog Uses

As the record in this proceeding reflects, analog cellular technology does support several publicly beneficial uses. The hearing impaired community states that it relies largely on analog technology because of concerns that digital CMRS equipment causes interference to hearing aid devices.(6) Further, telematics systems installed in approximately two and a half million automobiles on the road as well as many in development rely on analog cellular technology as the means of transmitting their potentially life-saving road safety communications.(7) These are important applications to be sure - applications too significant to be marginalized to rapidly disappearing first generation technology. For this reason, in sunsetting the analog cellular requirement, the Commission should set a reasonable transition period to ensure the orderly migration of these applications if market forces do not warrant the retention of analog capabilities.

The hearing impaired community has generally relied on older analog technology for its mobile communications because the energy pulses that characterize digital technology may cause interference to hearing aids.(8) While the Administration is very sensitive to the needs and concerns of the hearing disabled community, the answer is not to relegate these individuals to an increasingly scarce and outdated technology.(9) Rather, we need to strive for solutions that include this community in the wonders of the digital future. The use of accessories, such as inductive neck loops and hands-free pieces, in combination with a digital mobile phone result in less interference than using a handset alone by increasing the distance between the transmitter and the user. This is a good first step, but not a final solution. The Administration urges the wireless industry to intensify its efforts to design digital handsets that do not cause interference with hearing aids. Industry should also step up its efforts to work with the disabled community and with hearing aid and implant manufacturers to make hearing aids that are less likely to suffer interference from digital transmissions, such as by increasing the products' shielding or applying other technological solutions. We also urge the Commission to work with the Food and Drug Administration to consider standards for hearing aid design that alleviate interference, similar to those types of standards developed in Australia after that country eliminated its analog service requirement. The record reflects support from the hearing impaired community for a "gradual migration to digital services."(10)

The telematics industry has traditionally relied on analog cellular technology to transmit its road safety communications. These analog systems are now installed in millions of automobiles and there is a public interest in ensuring that they be able to operate nationwide. As the record reflects, however, a digital version of these systems is currently being developed. Over time, this new digital technology can be installed in new production automobiles and can potentially retrofit analog telematics systems still on the road. We at NTIA understand from the record and from our discussions with the manufacturers of these systems that, given current development timelines, it would take a minimum of five years for new digital telematics systems to be widely introduced. (11) This timeframe would also allow for some retrofitting of a substantial number of the analog systems in vehicles still on the road.

Therefore, in eliminating the analog cellular requirement, the Commission should establish a transition period to allow for an orderly migration of these applications over to digital technology. Based upon the information in the record, a reasonable transition period would be 5 years. Establishing a sunset date is critical to ensuring that the development and availability of digital hearing impaired solutions and digital telematics systems proceeds at a rapid pace. A sunset date will also provide consumers with adequate notice as to when providers no longer need to make existing analog transmission available. Nevertheless, the Commission should also require cellular carriers to provide at least one-year's notice to any analog customer of the date on which the carrier actually terminates analog service. This specific and individual notification will ensure customers are aware that their means of receiving service is being terminated and provide them with reasonable time to make other arrangements.

For the foregoing reasons, NTIA urges the Commission to modify sections 22.901 and 22.933 of its rules to sunset the requirement for cellular carriers to provide analog transmissions. This requirement is no longer necessary to ensure its original purpose and its continued existence squanders spectrum capacity, constrains innovation, and creates marketplace inequities. In eliminating the requirement, however, the Commission should establish a sunset date that incorporates a reasonable transition period to ensure compatibility with hearing aids and to allow the orderly migration of current analog uses to new digital technology.

Sincerely,
 

Nancy J. Victory
 

cc: The Honorable Kathleen Q. Abernathy
The Honorable Michael J. Copps
The Honorable Kevin J. Martin
Thomas J. Sugrue, Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau



ENDNOTES:
1 In the Matter of Year 2000 Biennial Regulatory Review -- Amendment of Part 22 of the Commission's Rules to Modify or Eliminate Outdated Rules Affecting the Cellular Radiotelephone Service and other Commercial Mobile Radio Services, WT Docket No. 01-108, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 16 FCC Rcd 11169 (2001) ("NPRM").

2 See NPRM at ¶¶18-31. The relevant sections at issue are 47 CFR §§ 22.901 and 22.933.

3 The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) serves as the President's principal adviser on telecommunications and information policies as they pertain to the Nation's economic and technical advancement, has the authority to develop and set forth those policies, and has the responsibility to ensure that the views of the executive branch are effectively presented to the Commission. See 47 U.S.C. §§ 902(a)(E), 902(a)(I), 902(a)(J).

4 Eliminating the requirement for analog transmissions would not prohibit continued use of this technology. Rather, eliminating the rule would enable the cellular carrier to decide which technology to use to respond to consumer demands and market forces. To the extent that there is demand for continued analog service and the cellular carrier has the capacity to provide it, the carrier can choose to continue this service offering. This way the decision is left up to the market, not imposed by government fiat.

5 NPRM at ¶ 7.

6 See, e.g., Comments of The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Reply Comments of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH).

7 See, e.g., Ex Parte Submission of OnStar Corporation, letter to Thomas J. Sugrue from Kenneth D. Enborg and William L. Ball, dated March 29, 2002; Ex Parte Submission of ATX Technologies, "The Road to Digital: 'Under Construction - Use Alternate Route'," submitted under letter from Gary Wallace and John E. Logan of ATX Technologies, to the Honorable Michael Powell, dated April 3, 2002.

8 See, e.g., Comments of the Telecommunications Industry Association to Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) NPRM at 8; Comments of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association to HAC NPRM at 10-12.

9 For example, it is currently almost impossible to find an analog-only telephone for sale. While dual- and tri-mode handsets can be found, these default to digital service where it is available, which is almost everywhere. Consequently, these multi-mode phones pose the same problems for the hearing-impaired as purely digital ones.

10 See Ex Parte Submission of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Telecommunications Access, the Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc., and the National Association of the Deaf, letter to the Honorable Michael K. Powell from Judith E. Harkins, Gregg C. Vanderheiden, Claude L. Stout, and Nancy J. Bloch, dated May 29, 2002.

11 OnStar, for example, projects a three-year phase-in of digital hardware in new vehicles commencing in model year 2004. See Ex Parte Submission of OnStar Corporation, supra.