Pai’s FCC moves forward on cellular power, interference rules in 800 MHz, robocalls and more

During its open meeting today, the FCC voted on a number of actions including a proposal to reform what the agency said are outdated rules for power output and interference governing cellular operations in the 800 MHz band. The actions were framed as an effort by the newly installed chairman of the agency, Ajit Pai, to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of consumers and businesses, including wireless operators.

On the rules for the 800 MHz band specifically, those in the agency argued they would help wireless operators more quickly deploy LTE in 800 MHz.

“This is critical for efficient deployment of LTE and other mobile broadband services in the cellular band. The revised power rules would allow cellular licensees to choose technology that work best for their wireless service to consumers without being disadvantaged by rules designed for the era of narrowband technologies,” said Nina Shafran, attorney advisor for the mobility division of the FCC’s Wireless Technology Bureau, during the meeting today. “These reforms will allow cellular licensees to respond more quickly and at lower cost to changing market conditions and consumer demand.”

But FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly said the action was long overdue. “The commission must ensure that its rules are current,” he said. “My only critique of today’s item is that the petition requesting this change was filed in 2012. The commission must ensure that its rules are current and technology neutral to promote flexible use. When they are not, it can’t take five years to update them.”

Specifically, the FCC voted to move forward on rule changes that the agency said would:

  • Change rules to permit cellular licensees to transmit the same amount of power across the spectrum band, whether they are deploying a legacy (narrow bandwidth) technology or modern (wider bandwidth) technology like LTE.
  • Retain cellular-specific interference resolution rules and procedures for interference with public-safety operations.
  • Treat cellular spectrum consistently with other similar commercial wireless spectrum bands.
  • And eliminate unnecessary rules and burdens related to application filings, domestic and international coordination, and comparative renewal.

“To accommodate continued skyrocketing demand for mobile broadband, the revisions adopted today will allow providers to use cellular spectrum to provide mobile broadband service to the public more efficiently, reduce barriers to innovation and investment and ease administrative burdens,” the agency concluded in a release.

In separate actions, the FCC also voted on new rules it said would help prevent spammers from placing unwanted robocalls to Americans, partly by allowing carriers to block spoofed caller ID numbers associated with phone lines that do not actually dial out, without running afoul of FCC rules requiring carriers to complete all calls. Among other elements, the proposed rules would also allow carriers to continue to block calls upon the request of the subscriber to an originating number, like IRS lines not used for outbound calls.

The agency also voted on rules it said would improve video relay services (VRS), which make audio communications available to people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech disabled.

The votes are noteworthy as Pai works to assert his changes to the agency. His appointment by the Trump White House represents a decided departure from the previous chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, who championed topics ranging from net neutrality guidelines to an “unlock the box” campaign against the cable industry’s set-top box business practices.