Why The FCC Is Important To You
Lee H. Badman
July 30, 2010
As an organization, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may not seem as relevant as the WiFi Alliance or as technologically astute as the standards folks at the IEEE, but the FCC is becoming ever more important to the IT community on a number of fronts. The agency is a worthy subject of study for anyone who cares about pending changes in the wireless world.
Established in 1934, the agency regulates interstate and international communications on behalf of the United States. The FCC has a long history with the radio, television, and telecommunications industries. Wireless networks, be they WiFi, WiMax, or WiWhatever, exist in the US because FCC regulations allot them specific spectrum and set allowed power levels and similar parameters. The FCC certainly didn't invent wireless networking technologies, but the agency's regulations provide the framework that each specific wireless technology operates in, whether it be licensed or unlicensed. Big deal, right? Actually, the FCC's impact on the future of networking in the US is very much looming large even today.
Last year in the US, we all experienced the FCC-guided switch to digital TV. The analog television signals that many of us grew up with were forever put away in favor of more spectrally efficient digital channels. The impact on IT? Much of of the frequency resources recovered from the digital conversion will be repurposed for consumer wireless broadband connectivity. To help the public understand which agencies and industries have privileges in specific frequency bands, the FCC has recently made its new Spectrum Dashboard available via the agency's website. If kept updated, this tool could be valuable in helping consumers to understand the changes that will result as spectrum is reallocated after frequency auctions are held and new technologies come to fruition.
The FCC is also behind the Obama Administration's National Broadband Plan, which represents a paradigm shift for the agency. Rather than simply being the regulatory hand that guides and polices any technology that happens to transmit, the Broadband Plan makes the FCC a unique and innovative force that will shape the future of the Internet. The nuance may seem subtle, but for an agency that is often criticized for being behind the times, this new role is significant in that it arguably makes the FCC an industry partner as it works toward the Congressional goal of connecting the estimated 100 million Americans that today do not have access to broadband. The plan envisions a vastly expanded wireless infrastructure in the US, and an overhauled regulatory climate that accommodates the innovation that will be required to improve the country's standing as a connected nation. Wireless industry leaders are no doubt in touch with the Broadband Plan, as it prominently features wireless as the means to achieve the plan's goals. Anyone in IT should have a working knowledge of the Broadband Plan as well, as we will all be affect as both users and administrators.
As the technologies outlined in the Broadband Plan become more pervasive, questions will (rightfully) emerge about the health implications of being constantly bathed in the output of countless transmitters. The FCC has that covered as well: its Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) has detailed information regarding Radio Frequency (RF) safety for all types of wireless equipment. You can find all you ever wanted to know about specific absorption rates by the human body for different frequencies and output power, and see why wireless equipment makers can promise that their gear is safe in accordance with FCC regulations. Given the explosive growth that wireless industries will continue to experience into the foreseeable future, there's no time like the present to get to know who's making the rules.