Wireless

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
5g, broadband, cities, competition, fcc, wireless



Cities, Counties Say FCC 5G Plan A Massive Handout To Wireless Carriers

from the deregulatory-panacea dept

The FCC is once again being accused of blindly letting the telecom sector's biggest companies dictate federal policy. The FCC this week voted to move forward (pdf) with a plan that the agency claims will speed up deployment of fifth-generation (5G) wireless. Under this carrier-backed proposal, cities will be limited in terms of how much money they can charge carriers to place cell technology like small cells on government property in public rights of way (traffic lights, utility poles). It also imposes strict new timelines and operational restrictions making it harder for localities to stand up to giant nationwide cellular carriers.

On its surface, the FCC is framing these changes as a necessary shift to speed up broadband deployment and eliminate cumbersome bureaucracy as the U.S. engages in a "race to 5G" with other countries. But the upgrading of wireless networks isn't a race, 5G itself has been aggressively over-hyped as a panacea for a broken market, and cities say the FCC's new plan is largely about saving money for wireless carriers, while tying the hands of cities, counties and towns trying to improve connectivity to rural markets.

For example, the city of Philadelphia filed a complaint with the FCC (pdf) stating that the new FCC caps barely cover the costs cities incur for doing due diligence on network hardware placement, and clash with the existing, long-established systems of approval already erected on the local level:

"(The fees) are simply de minimis when measured against the costs that the City incurs to approve, support and maintain the many small cell and distributed antenna system (DAS) installations in its public rights-of-way. "In order to accommodate and support the numerous Service Providers while ensuring public safety and an environment conducive to all uses of the public rights-of-way, the City incurs significant upfront engineering costs to review and inspect each location, including structural analysis review, geographic information system (GIS) updating, and design review and approval."

Those concerns are being echoed by many rural counties (pdf) and consumer groups like Public Knowledge, who say the FCC's order tramples local authority and their ability to extract agreements that actually result in more rural areas (the ones carriers traditionally would rather ignore) from getting next-gen broadband:

"While the FCC is correct to take steps to promote broadband deployment (like its recent Order promoting a one-touch-make ready regime for pole attachments), its proposal to limit state and local oversight of wireless deployments on public property is likely to have little success in promoting deployment, and instead is little more than a brazen wealth transfer of $2 billion from state and local taxpayers to the nation’s largest wireless companies."

While folks tend to beat around the bush on this subject, that's because Ajit Pai's FCC is effectively mirroring incumbent provider interests on largely every subject that comes across their desks, something that was made abundantly clear during the net neutrality repeal. The idea that the FCC's plan is more about saving carriers money than speeding up broadband deployment is a positiojn also shared by former FCC advisor Blair Levin, who says the FCC's proposal "ignores reality," and argues that the gutting of existing relationships between localities and carriers will do nothing to actually speed up next-gen broadband deployment, and, in fact, will likely do the exact opposite:

"The FCC's draft order is based on a fallacy that no credible investor would adopt and no credible economist endorse: that reducing or eliminating costs for small cell mounting on public property in lucrative areas of the country (thus reducing carriers' operating costs), will lead to increased capital expenditures in less-lucrative areas—thus supposedly making investment more attractive in rural areas.

"While the FCC may ignore reality, the carriers and Wall Street understand that increasing profitability in Market A will not make Market B more attractive for investment. Market B will still be an area that is unprofitable or otherwise unattractive for investment, and the new requirement that Market A subsidize carriers by reducing fees will not benefit Market B under these circumstances."

If you're playing along at home, this is all part of a game that's been played at the FCC for the better part of twenty years. One where the telecom industry prods dutiful government agencies to claim that a mindless deregulation of the telecom sector will result in broadband connectivity and competition magically springing forth from the sidewalks. But time and time again, said competition never arrives, consumer protection suffers, prices rise, and carriers pocket the proceeds of government turning a blind eye to rampant competition and coverage problems under the pretense of "encouraging innovation."

You might recall that former FCC boss Mike Powell (now the top lobbyist for the cable industry) used to justify his rampant deregulatory agenda by claiming that things like consumer protections weren't necessary because emerging technologies meant the industry's broadband competition issues would soon be a thing of the past. In his case, Powell was hyping broadband over powerline (BPL), a tech that was interference prone and never suitable for mainstream adoption. Powell's promised broadband competition revolution never arrived, and instead we got giant, even more potent natural monopolies like Comcast.

The same thing happened when telcos like AT&T and Verizon jumped into the TV business. The local franchise agreements that had worked for years to force cable broadband into rural, lower ROI markets were vilified and replaced by state-level agreements that were often little more than blind wish lists for entrenched ISPs and cable TV operators. The promise: this "streamlining" would result in a wave of new TV competition and lower prices. The reality: more of the same, with fewer consumer protections to help rein in bad behavior in a traditionally anti-consumer sector, and less local pressure to shore up coverage gaps.

Again, deregulation may help already competitive markets by freeing them from nonsensical or unnecessary bureaucracy. But when mindlessly applied to broadband (aka natural monopolies enjoying regulatory capture), it simply makes things worse, and doesn't fix any of the underlying problems. Nothing about this order deals with AT&T and Verizon's monopoly over cell tower backhaul, or the high prices that result. Nor does it address a lack of competition on the retail front, a problem that's about to get worse thanks to the merger between Sprint and T-Mobile.

It does continue the longstanding tradition of gutting all local authority over telecom monopolies under the promise that low prices, better coverage and faster service sits just over the horizon (ignoring state and local rights that used to be deemed important in the process). Someday we'll collectively realize we're just playing a glorified version of Charlie Brown and Lucy football with giant natural monopolies and the politicians paid to parrot their positions, but it's pretty clear we're years away from any meaningful realization on that front.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Oct 2018 @ 5:01am

    'X may not be true, but the ones pushing it pay nicely, so...'

    Someday we'll collectively realize we're just playing a glorified version of Charlie Brown and Lucy football with giant natural monopolies and the politicians paid to parrot their positions, but it's pretty clear we're years away from any meaningful realization on that front.

    I imagine most politicians involved know quite well that the sales-pitch they're being given by the ISP's are complete crap. However, this is balanced out by the fact that the money those ISP's are willing to throw at agreeable politicians is quite real, such that pretending otherwise tends to be very lucrative, giving them a significant advantage in general, and in specific against any would-be politician who sees through it and refuses to be bought out that might be running against them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2018 @ 6:45am

      Re: 'X may not be true, but the ones pushing it pay nicely, so...'

      The pitches being given by local governments are likewise complete c***. Costs are overstated to the point of being comical.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 1 Oct 2018 @ 6:43am

    Can someone point me to...

    ...the actual engineering specs for "5G"?

    IEEE doesn't have them. I've been told that the entire "#G rating" is nothing but advertising hype pulled out of a hat by the various cell manufacturers and providers.

    Is there an actual spec? Anyone know where to find such?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2018 @ 7:42am

      Re: Can someone point me to...

      I can only find theoretical specs on Wikipedia. My guess is that is all you will find till it is actually deployed. Sounds impressive, supposed to be up to 20 Gbps download and be able to support a millions devices in one square kilometer. Something promising though is Norway did a test and was able to achieve 71 Gbps speeds.
      Looking at that, now why the FCC is making people get rid of the 600-700 mhz mics. They sold that to telecom industry.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2018 @ 7:43am

        Re: Re: Can someone point me to...

        They are using no specs required Agile?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 1 Oct 2018 @ 7:56am

        Re: Re: Can someone point me to...

        Theoretical specs we can't read until it's deployed?

        Shades of obamacare "arguments" there.

        If you can't see the spec, how can you build to it? Who "owns" it - it must be patentable.

        20 Gbps on a million devices in a square kilometer? That sounds like Vaporware, or as DEC used to put it, "RSN" (Real Soon Now!). That's 1.08^7 square feet. Ten devices per square foot. At 20Gbps *download*?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          James Burkhardt (profile), 1 Oct 2018 @ 9:44am

          Re: Re: Re: Can someone point me to...

          Your math is off. I agree with your conclusions but....

          Technically, its ~1.8e^7 sq ft, which is a shorthand for 1.8 x 10^7 sq ft. 1.8^7 is about ~61.22 sq ft, rather than 1.8e^7 sq ft which is 18,000,000sq ft. A million devices in a Sq km is ~18 sq ft per device, not 10 devices per sq ft. Or in consistent units, 1M devices in 1 Sq km is ~0.055 devices per Square foot

          Slightly different.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Bamboo Harvester (profile), 1 Oct 2018 @ 9:55am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Can someone point me to...

            Apologies - I Googled (to get Mike points :)) "square feet in a square kilometer", and screwed it up all on my own from that point.

            Still, a million devices running 20Gbps *download* in a square kilometer?

            The best I can get over cable is 400Mbps, and I've never seen that even get close to topping out - even downloading ISO's of linux releases.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2018 @ 9:45am

          Re: Re: Re: Can someone point me to...

          Yeah. I can't imaging that working. But maybe it will surprise us. Also one thing to note, it isn't really area that matters it is volume. But what really matters is how much does a single tower cover?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Bamboo Harvester (profile), 1 Oct 2018 @ 9:59am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Can someone point me to...

            They claim the reason non-urban areas don't get even half the speed they're paying for is "network congestion".

            At 20Gbps and a million devices per square kilometer, does ANYONE believe they's "solved" not just the current congestion problem, but one at 20x the speed and 100x current standard density?

            That's why I wanted to know if anyone could find the G5 Specification or Standard. IEEE usually handles that type of thing (cost me a hundred bucks years ago for the 9600 Standard), and they have... NOTHING.

            I suspect it's just more of the usual - promise Congress they'll give us telepathy and instant teleportation if they could just see their way to a half billion dollar tax break this year....

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2018 @ 7:42am

    "the FCC is framing these changes as a necessary shift to speed up broadband deployment and eliminate cumbersome bureaucracy as the U.S. engages in a "race to 5G" with other countries."

    Why race with other countries? Seems to be an excuse.
    I don't use 4G, why do I need 5G?

    I think the operative words here are "eliminate cumbersome bureaucracy". Corporations want free rein and apparently the GOP is more than willing to give it to them. Our feudalism underbelly needs to regurgitate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      stderric (profile), 1 Oct 2018 @ 2:10pm

      Re:

      Why race with other countries?

      I dunno about where you live, but here in southern Illinois France and Uzbekistan are doing a pretty good stealing customers away from Verizon with better services and lower pricing. Faster deployment of 5G is Pai's old employer's last shot at survival.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2018 @ 4:27pm

        Re: Re:

        Hmmm, reckon so.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 1 Oct 2018 @ 4:33pm

        Re: Re:

        Faster deployment of 5G is Pai's old employer's last shot at survival.

        First of all, 'old employer'? As if he's not, for all intents and purposes working for them currently?

        As for survival, nah, they can just stick with the good old standby of 'We need piles of money/tax breaks to improve/create an awesome network with undefined capabilities', followed later by 'We need piles of money/tax breaks to improve create an awesome network with undefined capabilities, and also ignore what we said last time.'

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2018 @ 8:12am

    Please add regulatory capture to the tags

    You mention it in the article, but they should be tagged by it as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2018 @ 9:10am

    funny how the FCC never says anything against any of the companies involved in this or other scams against the people. for instance, the DOJ have just filed to take California to court because of the 'Net Neutrality' law it has just implemented and how it is only the FEDS that can make policy, even when it is contra to the people. as has been the case since Pai took control of the FCC, everything the wireless and communications/internet companies want has been granted, is it any wonder, therefore, that a State is trying to protect it's citizens? the Federal government isn't doing so, in fact it seems as if it doesn't give a fuck about anything as long as it isn't harming senators 'income' or businesses bottom lines

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 1 Oct 2018 @ 1:49pm

    Pai, Sessions, and Trump are aggressively proving that they don't simply deserve to be kicked out of office, but that they belong in jail for crimes against the people of this country in their attempts to place corporations and the filthy rich uber alles.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2018 @ 4:31pm

      Re:

      That's why he needs to stack the scotus with his mob buddies so they will rule that he has immunity, can pardon himself or other such silliness. They are presently trying to kill the states ability to go after him. He claimed to be able to murder someone in the middle of main street and no one would hold him accountable - well, that pipe dream may not come to fruition.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 1 Oct 2018 @ 9:06pm

    Adjit Pai as precursor to Dominionist president.

    Can anyone imagine this level of hypocrisy from a potential president Mike Pence?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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