By this Notice, we propose to harmonize our rules, and allow airlines to provide mobile communications services on aircraft equipped with Airborne Access Systems at altitudes above 3,048 meters (10,000 feet), consistent with appropriate technical rules. If adopted, these proposals would facilitate the use of mobile data services onboard aircraft, to the benefit of air travelers in a way that would not cause harmful interference to terrestrial networks.
Pursuant to sections 1.415 and 1.419 of the Commission’s rules, interested parties may file comments and reply comments on or before the dates indicated on the first page of this document. Comments may be filed using the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). See Electronic Filing of Documents in Rulemaking Proceedings, 63 FR 24121 (1998).
Electronic Filers: Comments may be filed electronically using the Internet by accessing the ECFS: http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs2/.
Paper Filers: Parties who choose to file by paper must file an original and one copy of each filing. If more than one docket or rulemaking number appears in the caption of this proceeding, filers must submit two additional copies for each additional docket or rulemaking number.
Filings can be sent by hand or messenger delivery, by commercial overnight courier, or by first-class or overnight U.S. Postal Service mail. All filings must be addressed to the Commission’s Secretary, Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission.
All hand-delivered or messenger-delivered paper filings for the Commission’s Secretary must be delivered to FCC Headquarters at 445 12th St., SW, Room TW-A325, Washington, DC 20554. The filing hours are 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. All hand deliveries must be held together with rubber bands or fasteners. Any envelopes must be disposed of before entering the building.
Commercial overnight mail (other than U.S. Postal Service Express Mail and Priority Mail) must be sent to 9300 East Hampton Drive, Capitol Heights, MD 20743.
U.S. Postal Service first-class, Express, and Priority mail must be addressed to 445 12th Street, SW, Washington DC 20554.
People with Disabilities: To request materials in accessible formats for people with disabilities (braille, large print, electronic files, audio format), send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at 202-418-0530 (voice), 202-418-0432 (tty).
For additional information on this proceeding, please contact Amanda Krohn Huetinck of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at Amanda.Krohn@fcc.gov.
Ex Parte Rules
The proceeding this Notice initiates shall be treated as a “permit-but-disclose” proceeding in accordance with the Commission’s ex parte rules. Persons making ex parte presentations must file a copy of any written presentation or a memorandum summarizing any oral presentation within two business days after the presentation (unless a different deadline applicable to the Sunshine period applies). Persons making oral ex parte presentations are reminded that memoranda summarizing the presentation must (1) list all persons attending or otherwise participating in the meeting at which the ex parte presentation was made, and (2) summarize all data presented and arguments made during the presentation. If the presentation consisted in whole or in part of the presentation of data or arguments already reflected in the presenter’s written comments, memoranda or other filings in the proceeding, the presenter may provide citations to such data or arguments in his or her prior comments, memoranda, or other filings (specifying the relevant page and/or paragraph numbers where such data or arguments can be found) in lieu of summarizing them in the memorandum. Documents shown or given to Commission staff during ex parte meetings are deemed to be written ex parte presentations and must be filed consistent with section 1.1206(b). In proceedings governed by section 1.49(f) or for which the Commission has made available a method of electronic filing, written ex parte presentations and memoranda summarizing oral ex parte presentations, and all attachments thereto, must be filed through the electronic comment filing system available for that proceeding, and must be filed in their native format (e.g., .doc, .xml, .ppt, searchable .pdf). Participants in this proceeding should familiarize themselves with the Commission’s ex parte rules.
Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis
As required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act,1 the Commission has prepared an Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) of the possible significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities of the proposals addressed in this Notice. The IRFA is set forth in Appendix B. Written public comments are requested on the IRFA. These comments must be filed in accordance with the same filing deadlines for comments on the Notice, and they should have a separate and distinct heading designating them as responses to the IRFA. The Commission’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Reference Information Center, will send a copy of this Notice, including the IRFA, to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration, in accordance with the Regulatory Flexibility Act.2
Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995
This NPRM seeks comment on a potential new or revised information collection requirement. If the Commission adopts any new or revised information collection requirement, the Commission will publish a notice in the Federal Register inviting the public to comment on the requirement, as required by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, Public Law 104-13 (44 U.S.C. 3501-3520). In addition, pursuant to the Small Business Paperwork Relief Act of 2002, Public Law 107-198, see 44 U.S.C. 3506(c)(4), the Commission seeks specific comment on how it might “further reduce the information collection burden for small business concerns with fewer than 25 employees.”
Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED THAT, pursuant to the authority contained in sections 1, 4(i), 11, 303(r), 303(y), 308, 309, and 332 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. §§ 151, 154(i), 161, 303(r), 303(y), 308, 309, and 332, this NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING is hereby ADOPTED.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
Marlene H. Dortch
Part 22 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:
The authority citation for Part 22 continues to read as follows:
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. 154, 222, 303, 309, and 332.
Section 22.925 is revised to read as follows:
§ 22.925 Airborne Operation of Mobile Devices
Devices using frequencies licensed under this subpart are prohibited from operating onboard airborne aircraft except as authorized by § 87.205, et seq.
Part 24 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:
The authority citation for Part 24 continues to read as follows:
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. 154, 301, 302, 303, 309, and 332.
Section 24.3 is revised to read as follows:
§ 24.3 Permissible Communications
PCS licensees may provide any mobile communications service on their assigned spectrum. Fixed services may be provided on a co-primary basis with mobile operations. Broadcasting as defined in the Communications Act is prohibited. Devices using frequencies licensed under this rule part are prohibited from operating onboard airborne aircraft except as authorized by § 87.205, et seq.
Part 27 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:
The authority citation for Part 27 continues to read as follows:
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. 154, 301, 302, 303, 307, 309, 332, 336, and 337 unless otherwise noted.
Section 27.2 is revised to read as follows:
§ 27.2 Permissible Communications
(a) Miscellaneous wireless communications services. Except as provided in paragraph (b), (d), or (e) of this section and subject to technical and other rules contained in this part, a licensee in the frequency bands specified in § 27.5 may provide any services for which its frequency bands are allocated, as set forth in the non-Federal Government column of the Table of Allocations in § 2.106 of this chapter (column 5).
(e) Devices using frequencies licensed under this rule part are prohibited from operating onboard airborne aircraft except as authorized by § 87.205, et seq.
Part 87 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:
The authority citation for Part 87 continues to read as follows:
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. 154, 303 and 307 (e) unless otherwise noted.
New sections 87.205-207 are added to read as follows
AIRBORNE MOBILE SERVICE
§ 87.205 Scope of Service
Aircraft Station Licensees shall be permitted to provide mobile broadband service under this rule part subject to the following conditions:
mobile broadband services shall be authorized only within aircraft cabins;
mobile broadband service shall be authorized only over the frequencies designated in section 87.206;
Aircraft station licensees must utilize an airborne access system that complies with the technical rules set forth in section 87.207.
The Airborne Mobile Service shall be authorized only at altitudes above 3,048 meters (~10,000) feet. No transmissions shall be authorized over designated frequencies below this altitude.
§ 87.206 Frequencies
The frequencies 698-757 MHz, 775-787 MHz, SMR spectrum within the bands (806-821 MHz, 851-866 MHz, 896-901 MHz, and 935-940 MHz), 824-849 MHz, 869-894 MHz, 1850-1915 MHz, 1930-1995 MHz, 1710-1755 MHz, 2000-2020 MHz, 2110-2155 MHz, 2180-2200 MHz, 2305-2320 MHz, and 2345-2360 MHz are authorized for airborne in-cabin use consistent with the requirements and 87.205, et seq.
§ 87.207 Technical Requirements
Airborne access systems on licensed aircraft must:
utilize only frequencies authorized in section 87.206 for the provision of Airborne Mobile Service;
manage all in-cabin transmissions from mobile devices transmitting on frequencies listed in section 87.206;
prevent in-cabin mobile devices transmitting on frequencies listed in section 87.206 from operating at power levels sufficient to potentially cause harmful interference to terrestrial mobile networks;
ensure that each transmitting component of the airborne access system maintains minimal emissions, as measured outside the aircraft cabin, to ensure that airborne operations do not cause harmful interference to terrestrial mobile networks;
otherwise comply with technical rules applicable to terrestrial base stations operating on the frequencies listed in section 87.206;
Part 90 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:
The authority citation for Part 90 continues to read as follows:
AUTHORITY: Sections 4(i), 11, 303(g), 303(r), and 332 (c)(7) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. 154(i), 161, 303(g), 303(r), 332(c)(7).
Section 90.423 is revised to read as follows:
§ 90.423 Airborne Operation of Mobile Devices
Devices using frequencies licensed under this rule part are prohibited from operating onboard airborne aircraft except as authorized by § 87.205, et seq.
Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis
INITIAL REGULATORY FLEXIBILITY ANALYSIS
As required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980, as amended (RFA),1 the Commission has prepared this Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) of the possible significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities by the policies and rules proposed in this Notice. Written comments are requested on this IRFA. Comments must be identified as responses to the IRFA and must be filed by the deadlines for comments on the Notice. The Commission will send a copy of the Notice, including this IRFA, to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration (SBA).2 In addition, the Notice and IRFA (or summaries thereof) will be published in the Federal Register.3
Need for, and Objectives of, the Proposed Rules.
By this Notice, we propose to allow airlines (or more specifically, station licensees) to provide mobile communications services on aircraft (mobile communications services on aircraft). Currently, the Commission’s rules prohibit airborne use of mobile devices in the 800 MHz cellular band and restrict use in the 800 MHz SMR band, while the rules governing other commercial mobile spectrum bands are silent. Since a previous Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that sought to address these restrictions was terminated in 2007, more than forty jurisdictions, including the European Union and Australia, have authorized the use of mobile communications services on aircraft. To the best of our knowledge, there have been no reports of these services causing any harmful interference to terrestrial networks. We believe that it is in the public interest to bring the benefits of mobile communications services on aircraft to domestic consumers and that the proposals set forth in this Notice further our recent efforts to expand access to airborne broadband services.
We propose to allow mobile communications services on aircraft by: (1) removing existing restrictions on airborne use of mobile devices in the 800 MHz cellular and 800 MHz SMR bands; (2) harmonizing regulations governing the operation of mobile devices on airborne aircraft across all commercial mobile spectrum bands; and (3) implementing a comprehensive regulatory framework to promote airborne mobile data use using all commercial mobile spectrum bands.
Under our proposal, we would add the authority to provide mobile communications services on aircraft across all commercial mobile spectrum bands (as categorized below) to the existing Part 87 aircraft station licenses of domestic airlines. Alternatively, the Notice seeks comment on whether we should permit inflight mobile wireless service using an alternative authorization method. Alternatives could include: 1) non-exclusive licenses by which applicants, an airline or other entity, could file to provide airborne wireless services; 2) terrestrial license leases whereby an airline could provide service through lease agreements with mobile wireless service licensees; 3) auctioned “sky licenses” covering nationwide or geographic markets that would be assigned pursuant to competitive bidding, or; 4) unlicensed use or license-by-rule whereby eligible entities would be permitted to operate without the Commission issuing individual licenses.
We propose to allow mobile communications services on aircraft only if managed by an Airborne Access System (Airborne Access System), which would control the emissions of onboard portable electronic devices by requiring them to remain at or near their lowest transmitting power level and prevent such devices from causing harmful interference to terrestrial networks. We also propose to limit mobile communications services on aircraft to aircraft travelling at altitudes above 3,048 meters (10,000 feet).
This action is taken under Sections 1, 4(i), 11, and 303(r) and (y), 308, 309, and 332 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. §§ 151, 154(i), 161, 303(r), (y), 308, 309, and 332.
Description and Estimate of the Number of Small Entities to Which the Proposed Rules Will Apply.
The RFA directs agencies to provide a description of, and where feasible, an estimate of the number of small entities that may be affected by the proposed rules, if adopted herein.4 The RFA generally defines the term “small entity” as having the same meaning as the terms “small business,” “small organization,” and “small governmental jurisdiction.”5 In addition, the term “small business” has the same meaning as the term “small business concern” under the Small Business Act.6 A “small business concern” is one which: (1) is independently owned and operated; (2) is not dominant in its field of operation; and (3) satisfies any additional criteria established by the SBA.7
In addition, we have adopted criteria for defining three groups of small businesses for purposes of determining their eligibility for special provisions such as bidding credits. We have defined a small business as an entity that, together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues not exceeding $40 million for the preceding three years.8 A very small business is defined as an entity that, together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues that are not more than $15 million for the preceding three years.9 The SBA has approved these small size standards.10
In the following paragraphs, we further describe and estimate the number and type of small entities that may be affected by the proposals set forth in the Notice. If our proposals are adopted, small airlines that choose to implement mobile communications services on aircraft could be required to modify their existing Part 87 licenses and comply with new regulatory requirements, including as to the mobile communications services on aircraft equipment.11 Such compliance would involve, to varying degrees, the services described below. Under our proposals, an airline would be permitted to negotiate commercial agreements with the entities described in the following. It is possible that an airline could negotiate agreements affecting all communications services listed, or an airline may reach agreements involving only certain categories.
The Notice also request comment on whether we should permit inflight mobile wireless services through alternative licensing methodologies. In such cases, any eligible entity (airlines or others) would be permitted to provide mobile wireless services onboard aircraft. In such cases, the authorized parties could be any of the service providers listed below. In addition, any device manufacturers that choose to manufacture devices for mobile communications services on aircraft use will have to ensure that such devices comply with any rules adopted in this proceeding.
Small Businesses, Small Organizations, and Small Governmental Jurisdictions. The proposals set forth in the Notice, may, over time, affect small entities that are not easily categorized at present. We therefore describe here, at the outset, three comprehensive, statutory small entity size standards that encompass entities that could be directly affected by the proposals under consideration. As of 2009, small businesses represented 99.9% of the 27.5 million businesses in the United States, according to the SBA. Additionally, a “small organization” is generally “any not-for-profit enterprise which is independently owned and operated and is not dominant in its field.” Nationwide, as of 2007, there were approximately 1,621,315 small organizations. Finally, the term “small governmental jurisdiction” is defined generally as “governments of cities, counties, towns, townships, villages, school districts, or special districts, with a population of less than fifty thousand.” Census Bureau data for 2007 indicate that there were 89,527 governmental jurisdictions in the United States. We estimate that, of this total, as many as 88,761 entities may qualify as “small governmental jurisdictions.” Thus, we estimate that most governmental jurisdictions are small.
Wireless Telecommunications Carriers (except Satellite). Since 2007, the SBA has recognized wireless firms within this new, broad, economic census category.12 Prior to that time, such firms were within the now-superseded categories of Paging and Cellular and Other Wireless Telecommunications.13 Under the present and prior categories, the SBA has deemed a wireless business to be small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees.14 For this category census data2007 show that there were 11,163 establishments that operated for the entire year.15 Of this total, 10,791 establishments had employment of 999 or fewer employees and 372 had employment of 1000 employees or more.16 Thus, under this category and the associated small business size standard, the Commission estimates that the majority of wireless telecommunications carriers (except satellite) are small entities that may be affected by our proposed action
Similarly, according to Commission data, 413 carriers reported that they were engaged in the provision of wireless telephony, including cellular service, Personal Communications Service (PCS), and Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) Telephony services.17 Of these, an estimated 261 have 1,500 or fewer employees and 152 have more than 1,500 employees.18 Consequently, the Commission estimates that approximately half or more of these firms can be considered small. Thus, using available data, we estimate that the majority of wireless firms can be considered small.
Wireless Telephony. Wireless telephony includes cellular, personal communications services, and specialized mobile radio telephony carriers. As noted, the SBA has developed a small business size standard for Wireless Telecommunications Carriers (except Satellite).19 Under the SBA small business size standard, a business is small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees.20 According to Trends in Telephone Service data, 413 carriers reported that they were engaged in wireless telephony.21 Of these, an estimated 261 have 1,500 or fewer employees and 152 have more than 1,500 employees.22 Therefore, more than half of these entities can be considered small.
Cellular Licenses. The Cellular Radiotelephone (Cellular) Service is in the 824 – 849 and 869 – 894 MHz spectrum range. The most common use of cellular spectrum is mobile voice and data services, including cell phone, text messaging, and Internet.
The Commission adopted initial rules governing allocation of spectrum for commercial Cellular service, including the establishment of two channel blocks (Blocks A and B), in 1981.23 To issue cellular licenses, the FCC divided the U.S. into 734 geographic markets called Cellular Market Areas (CMAs) and divided the 40 megahertz of spectrum into two, 20 megahertz amounts referred to as channel blocks; channel block A and channel block B. A single license for the A block and the B block were made available in each market. The B block of spectrum was awarded to a local wireline carrier that provided landline telephone service in the CMA. The A block was awarded to non-wireline carriers. The wireline/non-wireline distinction for cellular licenses no longer exists.
The licensee of the initial license was provided a five-year period to expand coverage within the CMA. The area timely built out during that five-year period became the licensee’s initial Cellular Geographic Service Area (CGSA), while any area not built out by the five-year mark was automatically relinquished for re-licensing on a site-by-site basis by the Commission.
The Commission established a two phase licensing approach for areas that reverted back to the FCC. Phase I was a one-time process that started as soon as the five-year period ended and allowed parties to file an application to operate a new cellular system or expand an existing cellular system. Phase I licensing is no longer available. Phase II is an on-going process that allows parties to apply for unserved areas after Phase I ended. At this point, all cellular licensing is in Phase II. On June 4, 2002, the Commission completed the auction of three cellular Rural Service Area licenses.24 Three winning bidders won a total of 3 licenses in this auction. On June 17, 2008, the Commission completed the closed auction of one unserved service area. The auction concluded with one provisionally winning bid for the unserved area totaling $25,002.25 No bidders in either auction received small business bidding credits.
Broadband Personal Communications Service. The broadband personal communications services (PCS) spectrum is divided into six frequency blocks designated A through F, and the Commission has held auctions for each block. The Commission initially defined a “small business” for C- and F-Block licenses as an entity that has average gross revenues of $40 million or less in the three previous years.26 For Block F licenses, an additional small business size standard for “very small business” was added and is defined as an entity that, together with its affiliates, has average gross revenues of not more than $15 million for the preceding three years.27 These small business size standards, in the context of broadband PCS auctions, have been approved by the SBA.28 No small businesses within the SBA-approved small business size standards bid successfully for licenses in Blocks A and B. There were 90 winning bidders that claimed small business status in the first two C Block auctions.29 A total of 93 bidders that claimed “small” and “very small” business status won licenses in the first auction of the D, E, and F Blocks.30 In 1999, the Commission completed a subsequent auction of C, D, E, and F Block licenses.31 Of the 57 winning bidders in that auction, 48 claimed small business status and won 277 licenses. 32
In 2001, the Commission completed the auction of 422 C and F Block Broadband PCS licenses (Auction 35). Of the 35 winning bidders in that auction, 29 claimed small or very small businesses status.33 Subsequent events concerning that Auction, including judicial and agency determinations, resulted in only a portion of those C and F Block licenses being available for grant. The Commission completed an auction of 188 C Block licenses and 21 F Block licenses in 2005. Of the 24 winning bidders in that auction, 16 claimed small business status and won 156 licenses. 34 In 2007, the Commission completed an auction of licenses in the A, C, and F Blocks.35 Of the 12 winning bidders in that auction, five claimed small business status and won 18 licenses.36 Most recently, in 2008, the Commission completed the auction of C, D, E, and F Block Broadband PCS licenses.37 Of the eight winning bidders for Broadband PCS licenses in that auction, six claimed small business status and won 14 licenses.38
Advanced Wireless Services. In 2006, the Commission conducted its first auction of Advanced Wireless Services licenses in the 1710-1755 MHz and 2110-2155 MHz bands (AWS-1), designated as Auction 66.39 For the AWS-1 bands, the Commission has defined a “small business” as an entity with average annual gross revenues for the preceding three years not exceeding $40 million, and a “very small business” as an entity with average annual gross revenues for the preceding three years not exceeding $15 million.40 In Auction 66, 31 winning bidders identified themselves as very small businesses and won 142 licenses.41 Twenty-six of the winning bidders identified themselves as small businesses and won 73 licenses.42 In a subsequent 2008 auction, the Commission offered 35 AWS-1 licenses.43 Four winning bidders identifying themselves as very small businesses won 17 licenses, and three winning bidders identifying themselves as a small business won five AWS-1 licenses. 44
Lower 700 MHz Band Licenses. The Commission previously adopted criteria for defining three groups of small businesses for purposes of determining their eligibility for special provisions such as bidding credits.45 The Commission defined a “small business” as an entity that, together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues not exceeding $40 million for the preceding three years.46 A “very small business” is defined as an entity that, together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues that are not more than $15 million for the preceding three years.47 Additionally, the Lower 700 MHz Service had a third category of small business status for Metropolitan/Rural Service Area (MSA/RSA) licenses —“entrepreneur”— which is defined as an entity that, together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues that are not more than $3 million for the preceding three years.48 The SBA approved these small size standards.49
An auction of 740 licenses was conducted in 2002 (one license in each of the 734 MSAs/RSAs and one license in each of the six Economic Area Groupings (EAGs). Of the 740 licenses available for auction, 484 licenses were won by 102 winning bidders. Seventy-two of the winning bidders claimed small business, very small business, or entrepreneur status and won a total of 329 licenses. 50 A second auction commenced on May 28, 2003, closed on June 13, 2003, and included 256 licenses.51 Seventeen winning bidders claimed small or very small business status and won 60 licenses, and nine winning bidders claimed entrepreneur status and won 154 licenses.52 In 2005, the Commission completed an auction of 5 licenses in the lower 700 MHz band (Auction 60). All three winning bidders claimed small business status.
In 2007, the Commission reexamined its rules governing the 700 MHz band in the 700 MHz Second Report and Order.53 An auction of A, B and E block licenses in the Lower 700 MHz band was held in 2008.54 Twenty winning bidders claimed small business status. Thirty three winning bidders claimed very small business status.
Upper 700 MHz Band Licenses. In the 700 MHz Second Report and Order, the Commission revised its rules regarding Upper 700 MHz band licenses.55 In 2008, the Commission conducted Auction 73 in which C and D block licenses in the Upper 700 MHz band were available.56 Three winning bidders claimed very small business status.
Specialized Mobile Radio. The Commission adopted small business size standards for the purpose of determining eligibility for bidding credits in auctions of Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) geographic area licenses in the 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands. The Commission defined a “small business” as an entity that, together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues not exceeding $15 million for the preceding three years.57 The Commission defined a “very small business” as an entity that together with its affiliates and controlling principals, has average gross revenues not exceeding $3 million for the preceding three years.58 The SBA has approved these small business size standards for both the 800 MHz and 900 MHz SMR Service.59 The first 900 MHz SMR auction was completed in 1996. Sixty bidders claiming that they qualified as small businesses under the $15 million size standard won 263 licenses in the 900 MHz SMR band. In 2004, the Commission held a second auction of 900 MHz SMR licenses and three winning bidders identifying themselves as very small businesses won 7 licenses.60 The auction of 800 MHz SMR licenses for the upper 200 channels was conducted in 1997. Ten bidders claiming that they qualified as small or very small businesses under the $15 million size standard won 38 licenses for the upper 200 channels.61 A second auction of 800 MHz SMR licenses was conducted in 2002 and included 23 BEA licenses. One bidder claiming small business status won five licenses.62
The auction of the 1,053 800 MHz SMR licenses for the General Category channels was conducted in 2000. Eleven bidders who won 108 licenses for the General Category channels in the 800 MHz SMR band qualified as small or very small businesses .63 In an auction completed in 2000, a total of 2,800 Economic Area licenses in the lower 80 channels of the 800 MHz SMR service were awarded.64 Of the 22 winning bidders, 19 claimed small or very small business status and won 129 licenses. Thus, combining all three auctions, 41 winning bidders for geographic licenses in the 800 MHz SMR band claimed to be small businesses.
In addition, there are numerous incumbent site-by-site SMR licensees and licensees with extended implementation authorizations in the 800 and 900 MHz bands. We do not know how many firms provide 800 MHz or 900 MHz geographic area SMR pursuant to extended implementation authorizations, nor how many of these providers have annual revenues not exceeding $15 million. One firm has over $15 million in revenues. In addition, we do not know how many of these firms have 1500 or fewer employees.65 We assume, for purposes of this analysis, that all of the remaining existing extended implementation authorizations are held by small entities, as that small business size standard is approved by the SBA.
Wireless Communications Services. This service can be used for fixed, mobile, radiolocation, and digital audio broadcasting satellite uses. The Commission defined “small business” for the wireless communications services (WCS) auction as an entity with average gross revenues of $40 million for each of the three preceding years, and a “very small business” as an entity with average gross revenues of $15 million for each of the three preceding years.66 The SBA approved these definitions.67
The Commission conducted an auction of geographic area licenses in the WCS service in 1997. In the auction, seven bidders that qualified as very small business entities won licenses, and one bidder that qualified as a small business entity won a license.
Radio and Television Broadcasting and Wireless Communications Equipment Manufacturing. The Census Bureau defines this category as follows: “This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing radio and television broadcast and wireless communications equipment. Examples of products made by these establishments are: transmitting and receiving antennas, cable television equipment, GPS equipment, pagers, cellular phones, mobile communications equipment, and radio and television studio and broadcasting equipment.” The SBA has developed a small business size standard for firms in this category, which is: all such firms having 750 or fewer employees.68 According to Census Bureau data for 2007, there were a total of 939 establishments in this category that operated for the entire year.69 Of this total, 912 had employment of less than 500, and an additional 27 had employment of 500 or more. Thus, under this size standard, the majority of firms can be considered small.
Scheduled Passenger Air Transportation. Air transportation entities, specifically airlines, are implicated only to the extent that the Commission adopts the proposal to permit airlines to provide mobile wireless services. This proposal would give airlines the choice of whether to enable mobile communications services using an Airborne Access System, as well as the specific services to enable. All elements of the Airborne Access Systems and any permissible airborne mobile devices would be subject to applicable FAA and DoT rules and approval procedures.70
The Census Bureau defines this category as follows: This U.S. industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in providing air transportation of passengers or passengers and freight over regular routes and on regular schedules. Establishments in this industry operate flights even if partially loaded. Scheduled air passenger carriers including commuter, and helicopter carriers (except scenic and sightseeing) are included in this industry.71 The SBA has developed a size standard for this industry, which is, all establishments having 1,500 or fewer employees.72 According to Census Bureau information for 2007, 2,569 establishments operated in that year. Of that number, 1,742 operated with more than 1,000 employees.73 Based on this data, we estimate that 827, or approximately 31 percent of these establishments, are small. However, it must be understood that since use of the technology necessary to provide mobile communications services on aircraft is permissive rather than compulsory, no data are available to indicate what percentage of all such passenger-carrying airlines establishments will use this technology after their Part 87 licenses are modified. Accordingly, the Commission cannot project at this time what percentage of all such licensees will be small passenger air transportation establishments.
Description of Projected Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other Compliance Requirements.
Under the Commission’s proposal, all Airborne Access System devices must comply with technical and operational requirements, including: Measures that may be taken to limit power include, but are not necessarily limited to, mobile power restrictions, aircraft picocell power restrictions, network control unit power and/or technology limitations, altitude restrictions, and methods to prevent an airborne mobile phone from accessing the ground-based commercial mobile networks.
While our proposals would require small airline businesses to modify their existing Part 87 licenses if they want to provide mobile communications services on aircraft, airlines are not required to install and operate mobile communications services on aircraft Licensees would be permitted to contract with third parties to install equipment for or offer mobile communications services on aircraft. In addition, modifying existing aircraft fleet or station licenses to include proposed mobile communications services on aircraft use should not impose significant administrative burdens on airlines, and they would have the opportunity for an additional revenue stream. On balance, this would constitute a significant benefit for small business.
Steps Taken to Minimize Significant Economic Impact on Small Entities, and Significant Alternatives Considered
The RFA requires an agency to describe any significant, specifically small business, alternatives that it has considered in developing its approach, which may include the following four alternatives (among others): (1) the establishment of differing compliance or reporting requirements or timetables that take into account the resources available to small entities; (2) the clarification, consolidation, or simplification of compliance or reporting requirements under the rule for small entities; (3) the use of performance, rather than design, standards; and (4) an exemption from coverage of the rule, or any part thereof, for small entities.74
In the Notice, the Commission proposes that domestic aircraft operators that want to offer mobile communications services on aircraft be required to file for a modification of their existing aircraft station or fleet licenses to include the newly designated use. Also, terrestrial commercial mobile providers would have the option of entering into permissive commercial contracts with airlines to provide access to wireless subscriber services.
The Notice specifically solicits alternative licensing proposals, especially those that would not incur significant and undue adverse impacts on small entities. We also specifically solicit comment regarding the affect our proposals may have on small business entities that may lack the financial and technical resources necessary to deploy mobile communications services on aircraft. We seek comment on factors that may minimize any undue impacts on parties, including small and very small businesses, that may be affected by our proposals. For example, we request comment on whether our proposals have a disproportionate financial impact on small businesses, e.g. smaller air carriers as compared to larger entities, e.g. large airlines. Will our proposals affect the ability of small businesses to compete with larger entities that may more easily afford to deploy an Airborne Access System? If so, we request comment on whether there are factors that could offset such impact. For example, could a small business enter into business agreements with other entities that would make the provision of mobile communications services more feasible for such entities? We seek comment on how to lessen potential burdens on these small carriers, including any factors or arrangements that could make the provision of mobile communications services more practical for small entities.
Federal Rules that May Duplicate, Overlap or Conflict with the Proposed Rules.
14 C.F.R. §§ 91.21, 121.306, 125.204, and 135.144.
CHAIRMAN TOM WHEELER
Re: Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, WT Docket 13-301.
Today’s proposal to remove outdated rules and expand access to mobile wireless services during air travel is pro-free market, pro-competition, pro-consumer, pro-technology, and de-regulatory. It has also garnered a great deal of attention and been widely misunderstood.
Let me say up front that, I get it. I don’t want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else. So then why are we still moving forward with this item?
To answer that question, let’s look at what this proposal does and does NOT do.
First off, today’s action represents the beginning of a process to collect information and consumer input. As always, we will review input from the public before taking any final action.
Next, the status quo requirement that cellphones may not be used in-flight would be retained. The prohibition, in fact, would be explicitly expanded. The current rule applies only to phones operating on the 800MHz frequency band and ignores all other cellular frequencies. This regulatory inconsistency is poor policy.
The rule change on which we seek comment would extend that prohibition to all frequency bands unless the aircraft is outfitted with on-board equipment that manages a cellular signal before it has the potential to interfere with terrestrial networks. Absent such equipment, the ban would remain in effect.
However, if an airline installs new on-board equipment, the FCC’s ban is no longer necessary. Our engineering belief (on which comment is sought) is that it is technically safe to use the new onboard equipment to prevent interference with terrestrial networks. The proposal would not require airlines to either install such equipment, or to offer mobile wireless services aboard their aircraft. Airlines would be free, within the confines of the rules of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation (DoT), to make their own decisions. We simply propose that because new technology makes the old rule obsolete the FCC should get government out from between airlines and their passengers. Where there is not a need for regulation, the free market works best to determine the appropriate outcome.
So how might this play out for consumers? If an airline decides to install an on-board access system consumers would be permitted to use their existing mobile devices and not be limited to signing up for WiFi. And the airline would be in total control of what types of mobile services to permit. A mobile device can send texts and emails, and can surf the Web. A mobile device can also make a voice call. The technology allows for the differentiation among such services. Thus, airlines would be free to make their own determination whether to program the new equipment to block voice calls while permitting texting, email and Web surfing, consistent with the rules of the authorities on aviation safety and consumer issues: the FAA and the DoT. I am pleased that the DoT today announced that will begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning in-flight calls.
Today’s proposal is intended to solicit input. It is not a final decision. We look forward to the technology and consumer input this proposal will generate. We invite all interested parties to participate and file comments.
Today’s vote is about more than just how you can use your mobile phone on airplanes; it’s about how this agency should do its job.
The FCC is the expert agency on communications. It is charged with making technology-based decisions.
For over 20 years, an FCC rule from the analog era of cell phones has banned the use of mobile devices on airplanes because of the potential to interfere with terrestrial networks below. But on-board mobile access technology has been operational internationally with great success for the last five years. In accord with that experience, and other data, the Commission’s engineers believe that there are no technical reasons to prohibit such technology to operate in the United States. If the basis for the rule is no longer valid, then the rule is no longer valid. It’s that simple.
The FCC is sometimes criticized for relying on outdated rules that do not reflect current technologies or markets. This is a textbook opportunity to do something about eliminating an unnecessary regulation of the FCC and letting the marketplace function. If we are serious about eliminating outdated regulations that serve no purpose, the decision is clear. A vote not to proceed on seeking comments on this issue is a vote against regulatory reform.
Finally, a word on process. Going back to Commissioner McDowell, there have been calls for increased transparency in the matter in which the FCC presents issues to the public, notably that NPRMs should include proposed rules. I support the calls for this reform. Such a rebuttable presumption allows respondents to target their comments. Failure to include a rebuttable presumption from being the focus of debate would not in the spirit of procedural improvement, and that is why I am pleased this Notice adopts such an approach.
We need to update this rule for the benefit of consumers and to reflect accurately changing technical realities. I urge support for an effort to start this process.
Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn
Re: Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, WT Docket No. 13-301.
Proposing rule changes, so consumers can benefit from advances in communications technology, is one of the Commission’s core responsibilities. Currently, the FCC prohibits certain cellular communications services on aircraft to guard against the threat of harmful interference to terrestrial wireless networks. However, over the past several years, we have seen the development of Airborne Access Systems that use picocells and a network control unit to minimize potential interference. This technology has now advanced to the point where providers can offer mobile services on planes while protecting aviation safety.
The item before us, today, stands to promote competition for mobile broadband services on planes and creates an environment in which interested air travelers will no longer be left with one option for data service currently allowed by any particular airline. Allowing other wireless companies to compete with available inflight Wi-Fi services could lead to lower prices and better quality data options for fliers. Initiating a rule making, today I believe, is the best way to create an appropriate forum for the wireless industry to provide thoughtful comment so that our staff can carefully examine the engineering and licensing issues necessary to deploy competitive options.
As we know all too well, the announcement of this NPRM was met with some strong reaction based on the belief that these proposals from the FCC would automatically lead to a rash of annoying telephone conversations on planes during flight. As the item explains, however, our proposed rules would not require commercial airlines to permit voice calls. In fact, the Airborne Access Systems give commercial airlines the capacity to prevent voice calls and provide data services only. So I am confident that commercial airlines will continue to monitor the debate and determine if they should simply continue to limit their passengers’ use of this technology to only “quiet” or data services.
Now I admit, upfront, that when traveling by rail I strive to be among the first in line for the quiet car. However, it is my opinion, that this robust debate about mobile phone call etiquette in-flight should not stop the FCC from removing unnecessary and outdated technical rules that could provide consumers with safe, competitive options for mobile broadband service while traveling by air. If enough members of the consuming public oppose voice calls, during flight, I expect the airlines will hear that opposition and govern themselves accordingly.
I thank John Leibovitz and his team for their presentation and I welcome Roger Sherman as the new Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.
CONCURRING STATEMENT OF
COMMISSIONER JESSICA ROSENWORCEL
Re: Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft, Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking, WT Docket 13-301.
More than two decades ago, the Commission adopted rules prohibiting the use of cell phones on commercial and private aircraft. These rules, specific to the 800 MHz band, were part of an effort to promote safety and prevent harmful interference.
Today, the Commission begins a rulemaking to reassess this prohibition. In this rulemaking, we ask many questions about the use of cellphones on planes, including for voice calls. As a matter of principle, I believe it is good to ask questions—even the hard ones. So I will concur.
But make no mistake, I do not like this proceeding. Because I believe as public servants we have a duty to look beyond these four walls and ask ourselves if our actions do in fact serve the public. When it comes to authorizing voice calls on planes, I think the answer is a resounding no. We are not just technicians. Whatever bureaucratic desire we have to harmonize our 800 MHz spectrum rules does not absolve ourselves of the consequences of our decisions. If we move beyond what we do here today and actually update our rules to allow voice calls on planes, we could see a future where our quiet time is monetized and seating in the silent section comes at a premium. But worse, given the anger this proposal has generated and the negative response of so many of those who work on planes, I fear that our safety would be compromised. This is not acceptable.
I fly a lot. I am a regular resident of the last row and middle seat. I know what it is like to have the person in front of you pop their seat back, leaving you scrambling to hold on to your drink, hold on to your reading material, and hold on to some semblance of peace. It is not easy. This Commission does not need to add to that burden. I, for one, will not.
DISSENTING STATEMENT OF
COMMISSIONER AJIT PAI
Re: Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, WT Docket No. 13-301.
Like most Americans, I fly coach. Each year, the seats feel a little smaller, and my legs get a little more cramped. The airlines charge fees to check luggage, which fuels a mad rush to find space for carry-on bags on packed flights. Going through airport security . . . that’s a whole other set of hassles and indignities. In short, airplane travel these days is often stressful and unpleasant.
As a result, I wasn’t surprised to be bombarded with e-mails as soon as it was announced that the FCC would vote on a proposal that could allow passengers to make in-flight phone calls. Many of these messages were quite colorful. One person wrote: “It’s bad enough being herded like cattle on these planes without having to listen to boorish idiots have needless conversations on their cell phones.” Another said: “[Being] stuck next to a gabber on a 6 hour flight to San Francisco . . . I fear what I’d do with my cutlery!!!” A third wrote simply: “NOOOO.” And those were just from my family!
Although I’m pretty sure that I could resist the urge to stab a fellow passenger, I understand these sentiments and share these concerns. Like most Americans, I don’t want people making phone calls on planes. But given the proposal before us, our task is to determine whether such use of the nation’s spectrum is consistent with the public-interest standard outlined in the Communications Act.
In my judgment, today’s proposal is not in the public interest, and I must respectfully dissent. My principal objections are twofold; they relate to the proposed licensing framework and concerns about public safety.
First, the licensing framework proposed in this item sets a dangerous precedent when it comes to spectrum policy. Wireless carriers have spent tens of billions of dollars, both at auction and in the secondary market, to purchase spectrum licenses. These licenses provide carriers with exclusive use of specified frequencies in specified geographic areas.
Today’s proposal, however, would infringe upon carriers’ exclusive use licenses. Through administrative fiat, airlines would suddenly be licensed (for free) to use the same frequencies that are currently licensed to carriers. However, the NPRM cites no precedent for taking such action. Nor does it answer important questions, such as: Can anyone use a carrier’s licensed spectrum so long as they’re pretty sure they won’t cause interference? With a series of spectrum auctions on the horizon, now is the not the time to cast doubt on the scope of such licenses.
Additionally, I suspect that neither we nor the airlines will find the proposed licensing framework workable or appealing. Under the approach set forth in the NPRM, I do not see how it would be possible for an airline to allow passengers to make telephone calls unless it chose to become a commercial mobile radio station (CMRS) carrier, presumptively subject to the full panoply of obligations and regulations that apply to such carriers. We therefore may have to comb through our rules and decide which ones should apply to airlines that are CMRS carriers, and which ones should not, and come up with a persuasive explanation for each decision. These burdens on the agency and airlines alike are unnecessary.
Rather than inflexibly proposing one particular framework, I believe we should have proposed multiple approaches or just sought comment on a variety of ideas without favoring any one in particular. For example, we could have also proposed spectrum leasing, a tried-and-true method that respects carriers’ exclusive use of licenses. Or we could have proposed altering our base station rules so that carriers could contract with airlines to place cell service on board. Or perhaps there’s another approach that could work, from auctioning “sky licenses” to unlicensed use. In any event, I believe that it is premature for us to endorse one specific proposal today, especially the flawed one that is contained in this item.
Second, the NPRM does not adequately address public safety and national security concerns. Being annoyed at a chatty passenger during a flight is one thing. But flight safety is quite another. And while today’s item maintains that “issues of onboard security and safety of flight are matters primarily reserved for the FAA,” to me the other issues at play in this proceeding are trivial by comparison.
Back in 2005, when the Commission was considering a proposal similar to this one, the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Homeland Security told us that there were “public safety and national security-related concerns that stem from the Commission’s proposal.” However, their specific concerns are mentioned nowhere in today’s NPRM. For example, these federal law enforcement agencies told us that our proposal could make it easier for terrorists to coordinate hijackings or detonate remote-controlled improvised explosive devices aboard aircraft. Echoing recent comments from flight attendants, the agencies also voiced their opinion that the Commission’s proposal could lead to more air-rage incidents, which would pose difficulties for air marshals who are supposed to remain anonymous, if possible, during flights.
Before coming to the Commission for my first stint, I worked at the Department of Justice, where I concentrated on counter-terrorism policy. One lesson I learned there was the necessity of close inter-agency coordination when it comes to protecting the American people. I was therefore surprised and disappointed to learn that the Commission didn’t consult and engage in a direct dialogue with federal law enforcement officials prior to circulating this proposal. I am also disappointed that the item does not propose or specifically mention the recommendations made by federal law enforcement officials back in 2005 to mitigate public safety and national security concerns. If we do not specifically ask about these proposals here, I am concerned that we will not have a sufficient record to address those concerns and we will not have sufficient legal notice to include necessary measures in our final rules. That won’t serve anyone well in the end.
* * *
I’ve often said that it is important for the Commission to update its rules to reflect current technological and marketplace realities. So while I believe that there are many other rules on our books that cause more harm and deserve our attention, I am sympathetic to the argument that we should allow the Federal Aviation Administration or individual airlines to decide whether to permit phone calls aboard aircraft. Open to moving forward with a rulemaking, I carefully reviewed the item and offered a number of suggestions for improving it. Unfortunately, most of my suggestions were not accepted, and I cannot support the proposal that remains.
For these reasons, I respectfully dissent.
DISSENTING STATEMENT OF
COMMISSIONER MICHAEL O’RIELLY
Re: Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, WT Docket No. 13-301.
I associate myself with the statement of my friend from Kansas, Commissioner Pai, in dissenting on this notice and incorporate his substantive comments by reference. I strongly believe in eliminating unnecessary regulations and the Commission’s ongoing duty to review its rules to determine whether they remain necessary, especially in light of technological or marketplace changes. However, what was originally framed as a deregulatory action – seeking comment on eliminating an outdated rule – was, in fact, accompanied by a proposal for a problematic licensing framework that I am unable to support at this time. The notice also raises important public safety and national security issues that should have been addressed more fully. Nevertheless, I thank the staff for their hard work on this item.