A group called the Technical Advisory Council (TAC) earlier this week unveiled eight recommendations for the commission that its members believe are key near-term opportunities for promoting innovation, competition, and job creation in the technology sector. TAC was formed last year to advise the FCC. It’s headed by Tom Wheeler, a former Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) president who now runs consulting company Core Capital Partners. The TAC membership includes representatives from academia, consumer electronics firms, network programming interests, infrastructure companies, online entities and service providers.
Although the eight recommendations are not in any particular order, the first on the list is TAC’s suggestion that the FCC sponsor what it called a race-to-the-top-style program to recognize the cities with the best practices around broadband infrastructure deployment. This contest, as TAC refers to it, could rank cities based on their broadband friendless, which would take into consideration accommodation, infrastructure planning and permit processes on said locations. While the TAC document announcing the recommendations talks about providing cities and towns to an incentive to compete for this designation, Wheeler in a press conference Tuesday joked that the committee doesn’t have a budget and didn’t comment on what form such incentives might take.
“We believe that it ought to be sufficient to say ‘Look at how this municipality is approaching this issue, and it can end up being a de facto guide for others,’” Wheeler commented. TAC also suggests that the FCC formally request that the president issue an Executive Order on broadband infrastructure deployment on federal land and in federal buildings. The order, TAC says, should mandate single document format for permitting; a single federal agency to coordinate the permit approval process; and a 60-day approval time frame for federal rights of way and antenna siting requests.
“Such an Executive Order would place the federal government in a position to advance network deployment and resiliency in communities with federal buildings, especially urban areas where network congestion is most acute,” according to TAC. “In addition, this Executive Order could advance the development of micro cells, distributed antenna systems (DAS), and other innovative broadband infrastructure, demonstrating a path for growth in this market.
To further expedite tower siting, TAC says, “The FCC should propose that states and municipalities employ a shortened ‘shot clock’ for co-locations on existing structures or permit co-location ‘by right’ – absent special circumstances.” Wheeler commented that “TAC recommends the FCC use its existing leadership pulpit to push for this and that how folks respond to that voluntary push should then inform what the next step should be.”
TAC goes on to suggest that the commission create a program to inform states and municipalities on proven ways–including micro-trenching, DAS equipment on city light poles and directional boring–to efficiently deploy broadband. An FCC road show or workshops could help with this effort, according to TAC. There’s also a need for broadband entities to get access to underground facilities in a timely manner, says TAC. To make that happen, the committee is pushing for the development of a web-based tool that localities can use to provide advance notification of planned infrastructure projects and, thus, allow multiple entities to plan excavation simultaneously. (OK, almost done–just three more recommendations.)
As discussed in the National Broadband Plan, TAC reiterates there’s a need to look beyond speed in measuring the quality of broadband networks. And it suggests that the FCC help drive the creation of new metrics to address that. “Simply measuring broadband networks by throughput speed does not provide a full picture nor set sufficient performance parameters to support uses with ‘extended’ quality requirements such as health care monitoring, emergency services, alarms, etc.,” according to TAC. “Although network services that meet such extended criteria may not be offered by all service providers, or included in all service plans, it would be beneficial to have common metrics for them.”
TAC in its recommendations also talks about how, while we’re all moving away from the circuit-based and toward IP-based networks and devices, some vestiges of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) world remain. The committee suggests that the industry needs to define a path to continue to support certain services that now live on the PSTN, an understanding of the costs of making the transition from old to new networks, and revised regulations to address the new world of networking.
“Network providers have huge investments in existing PSTN infrastructure including copper wire, switches, pole space, and software,” TAC notes. “Although new information services are designed for IP networks, many homes and businesses still use devices that depend on specific characteristics of the PSTN (e.g., auto-dialers, alarm systems, ATMs, PoS terminals). These services and devices will have to be replaced and the accompanying construction and inspection ‘codes’ revised.”
Finally, the TAC expresses its interest in having the FCC promote the deployment of small cells, which it seems to me is something that’s already happening. But, specifically, the committee would like to see the FCC join forces with other government agencies, such as the General Services Administration, to create an industry group to accelerate the use of small cells in commercial and government buildings and other high broadband use forums.
What would your top recommendation be for TAC?