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The Aftermath of the FCC Receiver Proceeding: Our Expectations

The Federal Communications Commission has concluded its official comment cycle for the Notice of Inquiry “Promoting Efficient Use of Spectrum through Improved Receiver Interference Immunity Performance.” As expected, most industry comments support a hands-off, industry-led approach to governing receiver performance, while academics and policy doyens argue for more comprehensive and stringent policies, including the adoption of actual rules, such as to establish harms claims thresholds for receivers.

We expect that under current leadership especially, the commission will pursue a middle-of-the-road solution that would not involve the adoption of new rules but would likely include the issuance of a policy statement on receiver performance. While a policy statement may not be on the top of the FCC’s agenda, this is certainly something that the staff can be working on during the fall, and while the comment period has closed, parties still have the opportunity to meet with the commission to influence any potential action. We expect that many will do so.

What could a Receiver Policy Statement look like? We believe that it could contain the following elements.

Voluntary….ish

A large number of parties, including large industry associations, made clear that they oppose receiver regulation, with a number arguing that the development of specific rules would be difficult if not impossible to draft or meet. For this reason, and because without a full commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is in a unique political position, we expect that a policy statement would set out voluntary measures.

The statement could include references to receiver performance criteria developed by industry groups such as standards-setting bodies and trade associations. If the FCC does put in the time to develop and issue a policy statement, it is likely to include some stern warnings not to expect protection of receivers that are not robustly designed to ensure that they do not receive interference from users in other bands. Such language could be directed at future users and those with devices and systems already deployed.

Carveouts

The draft NOI was revised somewhat to seek more specific responses regarding whether certain users should be exempt from any receiver immunity requirements. Public safety systems were the primary focus. These users tend to receive more protections, and there is always concern about the cost of equipment for state and local law enforcement and other public safety agencies. Additionally, other types of systems, such as passive users or satellites, have different operational or technical requirements and may be made exempt from any policy.

The commission has issued major policy statements in the past, such as on flexible spectrum use policy and net neutrality, which served to shape future policy and rules. If the commission does move forward with issuing a policy statement on receiver performance, we may expect similar outcomes over the long term, with industry taking good receiver design more seriously and expecting it of other users.

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