CTA: FCC Receiver Mandates Could Stifle Innovation

Consumer Technology Association

Big Tech companies are continuing to try and head off any FCC effort to establish what they said would be 'one-size-fits-all" standards for 5G receivers that would work against the FCC's goals of an innovative 5G environment.

The FCC in April opened an inquiry into setting wireless receiver standards, one of several routes the FCC could take, alone or in tandem, to protect signals in increasingly crowded spectrum bands, a roadmap laid out by FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel back in April. "We recognize that a variety of approaches may be appropriate, whether through industry-led voluntary measures, Commission policy and guidance, or rule requirements where other approaches would be insufficient," she said after the FCC approved the Notice of Inquiry (NOI)

The NOI was unanimous, but that was not necessarily an indication of any unanimity on which approach to take. At this stage the NOI is only an effort to collect info on how to improve receiver performance and expand the FCC's traditional focus beyond transmitters alone.

Also: Simington Has Dynamic View of Spectrum Sharing

The heavy lifting will be when the FCC comes up with a proposed new approach--or if, since the FCC has tried to address receiver standards in the past without coming up with a new way forward.

In meetings earlier this month, according to commission documents, Consumer Technology Association representatives told advisors to Rosenworcel and other top FCC staffers that FCC-mandated receiver standards were not the way to go.

While conceding an increasingly congested environment for RF signals that could only become more congested as the FCC opens up more spectrum for 5G, CTA said that "One-size-fits all mandates on receiver performance" would actually undercut reallocation efforts and "stifle" the innovation the FCC is trying to promote.  

CTA said self-regulation in the form of industry-led efforts, have the most likelihood of success, as it says has been proven "time and time again."

That could be a tough sell, particularly if the FCC gets a third Democrat. But even without, there seems to be agreement that the FCC's regulatory philosophy around protecting against interference needs to change with the times.

"[W]ireless communications systems involve transmitters and receivers," Rosenworcel said. "It’s a two way proposition. Both are vital. Both matter. So we need to rethink our approach to spectrum policy and move beyond just transmitters and consider receivers, too."

Republican commissioner Nathan Simington also signaled in April that past performance is no guarantee of future returns in a changed spectrum landscape, though he is on record as saying he would prefer industry do the heavy lifting after getting some pushback for his initial push for receiver standards. "It is time that our regulatory approach goes duplex both receivers and transmitters," he said after voting to approve the NOI. "To proceed with the status quo risks stymying innovative technologies that require intensive use of spectrum adjacent to incumbent commercial allocations."

Simington has in the past taken issue with some of the CTA arguments. As to stifling innovation, he said he is skeptical, saying better standards could put (price) pressure on Chinese manufacturers and make it more feasible for non-Chinese manufacturers, a sort of rising tide of spectral-wave receivers that lifts all boats. That sounds to him like actually protecting innovation, or at least mitigating some of China's dominance in the market.

As to the argument that has been made that the FCC regulates transmissions, not receivers, he said the agency clearly regulates reception since it regulates interference and interference to an end user is part of that process. He agrees that the FCC has not focused on receivers, but does not see an outright prohibition. ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.