Genachowski Gone—no Bang, no Whimper… just hold FCC’s revolving door, please.

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Possibly the least effective Chairman in the history of the FCC departs in yesterday’s ignoble Friday afternoon news dump, two years after Wikipedia predicted so. The sequester didn’t stop FCC from hiring consultants to scrounge up revisions to his Wiki history: “entries were added that tout accomplishments such as his work with Mexico to prevent stolen cellphones from crossing the border.” {Washington Post} Of course the fence he built to stop the illegal cell phones is only 8-inches high.

And that ‘hardened Internet’ he promised in bold headlines—well, just check contemporary headlines about cyberwarfare and hacking. And how about that unified National Emergency Communications program that can perform under cyberattack—nope, no progress since 9/11. Ever much the lawyer, clueless on technology—he held an “ask Julius” Twitter session at Twitter, which failed for his not knowing how to tweet.

“If someone like him upholds compromise, it quickly leads to capitulation, which is what he’s done. He folds, folds, folds to the pressure of big companies.”——Derek Turner, head of policy analysis at public interest group Free Press.

FCC Leadership: Headless, Gutless, Senseless

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Revised: 20120602

This is too sad to belabor. But you need to know that the agency that promises to protect us from cyberwarfare by hardening the internet cannot even protect us from Google.

In obvious pre-election fear of the new web robber-barons, after a two-year effort FCC just punted and fined Google $25,000 for illegally gathering servers full of personal communications with their street snoops. Does anyone imagine Google officers chastened and dissuaded, or simply laughing their asses off as they unroll a well-planned series of strategic workarounds?

For perspective, FCC routinely levies minimum fines of $17,000 against wayward FM pirates, CBers, hams, and restaurants with cell phone quieters. FCC just fined Clear Channel $22,000 simply for vague contest terms. They got ripped off! For only $3,000 more, Clear Channel could have bought the rights to data-mine all of the country’s personal online activity.

FCC’s purported investigation was stymied simply by one engineer claiming the 5th Amendment and hence offering no information on those who green-lighted the project. Though its Chairman is an admittedly brilliant Communications jurist and former Supreme Court clerk, FCC was curiously unable to uncover essential evidence despite this stonewalling. (Notably, several European agencies are not so timid either in their fines or continuing investigations.)

Now FCC implies that Congress missed something; as if we don’t have enough laws and precedent against invasion of privacy, illegal wiretapping, to say nothing of that pesky 4th Amendment protecting personal security. In fact, Mr. Genachowski has been legally advising the FCC since the early 90s, specifically assisting two previous Chairmen by writing their telecommunications legislation; and now twenty years later finds enough loopholes surrounding encryption to obstruct his own decisiveness on behalf of the public? Ultimately, Google got off simply because you didn’t encrypt all of your love letters and other private information. Their theory is that you invited data rape. That is how your FCC is protecting you today; by deciding your digital life is all fair game for the unseen.

Effectively, Chairman Genachowski just told every internet service they could do whatever they like by simply adding $12,500 per year to their cost of doing business. What nonsense be this? Was he oblivious to privacy issues when writing the laws or only now while incapable of respecting them? You cannot call this incompetence: he is too smart. We are left only to suspect the accelerated collusion and corruption surrounding this budget-strapped and weakened FCC since Genachowski’s rise to stardom with The 1996 Telecom Act—which also dissolved your rights against cell towers in your back yard.

Julius, can we just cut through the crap? Any ambiguity here resides only in the minds of the industry that put you there and continuously pushes the limits of conspiracy to steal personal data for profit. Otherwise there would have been no basis for action at all, no need for over two years of continuing international investigation, no grounds for anyone to claim the 5th, no need for bullshit excuses about encryption, no need for House Energy & Commerce to investigate you as a paradigm study for needed reforms, and finally, no need for the U.S. public to live with Federal acquiescence in this cover-up and continued erosion of our rights to privacy.

Mr. Genachowski, again, please exit through the gift shop with your former colleagues via that golden revolving door that you have so publicly applauded. I was going to refrain from saying that you have ill-served the President, until finding that Wikipedia already predicted you to be gone in 2011: “criticisms have become numerous and increasingly vocal among consumer groups and legislative supporters about his lack of substantive accomplishments to date.”

Yes, it gets worse. This update notes a March 11 report from The Hill that oxymoronically reports the White House wants to move Genachowski out of FCC because of his inaction, to Commerce Secretary, which needs a more active leader. I can only conclude that no one can make sense of this without further information that is apparently not public.

Revised: 20130323: Mr. Genachowski has resigned.

Jameco Re-Purposes ‘Cognitive Radio’ Article

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It was fun working with editor Frances Reed to address her diverse newsletter audience. My Story: Cognitive Radio

A comparison to the original (Cognitive Radio is Here) shows her having set a broader context, while simultaneously pulling out from me the three figures for more detail.

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Since that story there has been a further important, related development for Software-Defined Radio (SDR), which I discuss here:

Bid, Baby, Bid! Software-Defined Radio Poised To Gush!

Cognitive Radio is Here

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The American Radio Relay League (ARRL)—the mothership for U.S. ham radio—just reported an FCC action which should interest all observers of wireless policy. Medical devices have become miniaturized to the point where they can communicate within the body. As this is indubitably noble work, they have been authorized to use certain radio frequencies. What is initially surprising is that while we would traditionally expect these devices to be given an exclusive, protected spectrum, instead they must share it with other radio services. The full story [please follow the link below] contains important details and implications for all radio operations.

Reviewing the article for the non-ham, FCC’s main job is to prevent radio interference. It divides different radio uses into “Services.” When a Service has a secondary allocation, in most cases its receivers must tolerate and defer to signals from the primary Service, and to the extent it creates any disruption there, a secondary must cease transmission. The ARRL was concerned not just to defend its own secondary spectrum, but humanitarianly and justifiably concerned that classifying medical devices as secondary, where they might be legally exposed to significant power from primary or other secondary Services such as ham radios could be dangerous. FCC’s response was politically bold, technically profound, and its significance can not be overlooked.

The first hint comes with mention of ‘spectrum-agile radios,’ and the other shoe drops with Genachowski’s saying: “MMNs [Medical Micropower Networks] have been shown to reliably operate in spectrum shared with other services and are a model for making more efficient use of radio spectrum by using advanced technologies such as monitoring the quality of the radio link, switching frequency bands, notching out of interfering signals and error correction coding.”

I must admit, FCC seems to have caught me off-guard here by doing something extraordinarily progressive. The technology under discussion is in fact called Cognitive Radio because the radios are smart. Their design departs from the traditional hardware model; more resembling a cell phone whose features change with the application. Cognitive radios go even farther though, essentially containing knowledge of their operational purpose, context and applicable regulations (which can vary radically internationally), in addition to wide sensitivity to their electromagnetic and physical environment.

In a broader sense, Cognitive Radio is extremely important to the future of communications because it seems to be the only strategy by which regulators can quickly respond to the dynamic needs of this wireless world, as well as to be able to efficiently allocate the spectrum available for maximum advantage. Politically, Cognitive Radio stands the 1934 Communications Act paradigm on its head: instead of blocks of spectrum and disparate radios built specifically for them, we’ll have one general-purpose radio constantly redefined in real-time with its privileges and limits according to the needs of higher-priority Services. The six or ten radios per person we now have—cell phones, Wi-fi, remote controls, security systems, garage-door openers, Family, General Mobile or Citizen’s Band—are in principle replaced by one device that implements whatever radio function is needed as it is needed through software. And to preserve its battery and respect other radios it will only emit the minimum radiation required to do its job.

While to the experienced ham the concept of a Cognitive radio that might offer different features depending on when and where you are may be unsettling, in ten years it could also well be the only feasible solution to the problem of constantly increasing spectrum demand. One can also look at this evolution as reinventing and distributing for each user our beloved and forgotten, problem-solving FCC Field Engineers, albeit robotically. But, challenging questions will arise. For example, what happens to short-wave listening (SWL) and radio distance (DX) operating skills if the radios are regulated to use the most reliable routes at the least power? And when all radios (that is, phones) have adaptive emergency response capability will the traditional social justification for Amateur Radio even remain or be allowed? Finally, while dynamically inter-filling the spectrum may give more users better service through fewer, lower-power transmitters, the technique can potentially raise the population’s aggregate daily radiation exposure as it is adopted by more Services.

ARRL appropriately emphasizes that much more experimentation remains to ensure the safety of MMNs under secondary status. Both the developers and the FCC seem willing to address those challenges. And no, I don’t think my Aug 19 demand had anything to do with it. Innovative programs like this require smart people rendering considerable sustained interdisciplinary effort. That they are now willing to subject their concept to the acid-test of intimately serving life itself speaks enormously of both their commitment to an urgent new vision for radio in general, and the performance promised by Cognitive Radio specifically. I wish the entire effort good luck. Its success will profoundly affect and advance radio communications policy for the rest of the century.

Julius Genachowski: GO AWAY!

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Genachowski’s incompetence burns brightly. As of November 18th, while national protests spread, he has spent his time in judicial retrospection—dismantling the bedrock Fairness Doctrine (among others) as suddenly discovered to be “a threat to free speech.” Yet, concerning contemporary free speech issues, his agency is vacant and aimless.

While FCC’s three-month search for BART’s plausible deniability plods, we notice throughout that challenged as they are to ensure both safety and rights, no other U.S. municipality has dared to cut cell phone service. COULD THAT BE BECAUSE RESPONSIBLE POLITICIANS—seemingly excluding BART and Julius’s FCC—KNOW IT IS AN ILLEGAL, DANGEROUS, and INCENDIARY ATTACK UPON FREE SPEECH?

Dear President Obama, I can understand why you would want FCC to just raise money through spectrum sales. But this admittedly under-funded agency is rapidly losing credibility. To say nothing of being oblivious to the challenges of civil media rights and contemporary Emergency Communications, it has so lost focus that local police agencies are now forced to do FCC’s fundamental job—and original raison d’être—of preventing interference to legitimate radio services, for example, from spreading pirate FM stations.

Apparently, Congress somewhat agrees with this criticism. Earlier this year I learned from Rep. Greg Walden’s office that Genachowski’s inexplicable performance was already under investigation by The House Energy and Commerce Committee; which just responded (Nov 16) by crafting legislation specifically targeted to increase transparency and efficiency at FCC. Thus, Mr. President, the next step needed to stem further embarrassment to your administration is for this wireless industry puppet to resign.

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