Tales from the Towers Chapter 51: Once a Lobbyist, Always a Lobbyist – the Tom Wheeler Story

When Tom Wheeler was appointed to the head of the FCC, it was just another broken promise by the Obama administration to not put lobbyists into his government. The cellular and cable industry finally got their own boy to head the agency. Considering how much taxpayer money is confiscated from the taxpayer through the telecommunications industry under the guise of taxes, laundered through the FCC, and then reallocated back to the cellular and telephone companies in the forms of grants and subsidies (and paybacks to successful lobbyists), this decision was like appointing a new Capo di tutti capi to head the family. And what an awesome appointment it has become.

T-Tommy Wheeler is probably one of the best investments the cellular and cable industry has ever had (only second to Hillary’s investments in futures which makes you wonder why she isn’t an investment banker instead of a lawyer) appointed by the most crooked, feckless, and dishonest president I’ve seen in my lifetime (and I watched the Beverly Hillbillies when they were first broadcast so that’s a long time). If you think that I’m being paranoid, after watching the destruction of net neutrality, thus allowing his former and future lobbyist clients to charge for data use on the front and the back end, Mr. Wheeler has found a way to completely cripple the WISP industry. He is totally bent on destroying the one band that actually works to make rural Internet possible and efficient without government subsidies and outside the clutches of his golfing buddies at Verizon and AT&T (this little rule change must be getting him a year’s worth of Mulligans).

If you can’t tell by now, this is article is going to be far more political than technical. Although the changes to the rules are of a technical nature, the reasons for the changes are a little murky (look up political favors in Wikipedia). Basically, the FCC and T-Tommy want to change the rules in the UNI-II upper band to make the equipment far more expensive and to limit its range and useable spectrum. So, I’m giving advanced warning to those of you who have complained that I’m too political in what should be a technical article. I’m giving you fair warning which is more than the FCC did. I’m opening the floodgates on this one or I’ll have to start binging on HoHos to deal with it. I do want to say though, I’m not advocating any political party; they have both become sleazy, power-hungry, and more about keeping career criminals, err politicians, in office until they need a Power Scooter to get around Washington. I’m also against the lying, secrecy, and hypocrisy that they use to stay in power. In this case, we are going to cover how the politics are destroying the free market and small business which happens to be our livelihood and how T-Tommy “Gunn” Wheeler is the front man for it. For those of you who think I shoot (even I like how I set this one up) from the hip, I guarantee you this doesn’t make me popular as a consultant and directly affects my HoHo budget so I don’t do this lightly. But as Jimmy Stewart so famously said, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”.

When it comes to the destruction of ethics in the political process by career politicians, believe me, I don’t like what either party does. Between McConnell extorting Republican Senators to pony up money to reelect a professional pawn, oops, politician like Cochran (whose own campaign stooped to new lows with their disgusting racist accusations) to Cummings trying to block any investigation in the IRS and Benghazi, I’m pretty much done with any incumbent and the stuff they get away with. The system is corrupt and the FCC is just another branch of a system designed to help large corporations and the status quo at the expense of the taxpayer and small business.

I’ve probably mentioned (okay, I’m beating this poor drum to death) how taxpayer subsidies through bureaucratic agencies corrupt the idea of capitalism and cheat the taxpayers although most of them are too uninformed to realize it. The way it works is ingenious actually. The politicians create some goober tax, funnel it to an agency that can then distribute it through the various agencies with subsidy programs nobody can really audit, and then dump it into the companies that wrote the programs with their teams of lawyers so they can call it taxpayer subsidies. Like some puppet politician who probably hasn’t worked in private industry since the Apollo lift-off has any idea of what the free-market really looks like. If you doubt that, ask them if they are in Social Security or the Obama Health Care System. I hate to tell you, they get to avoid the world’s longest running and totally broke Ponzi scheme along with a health care plan that is so expensive and incompetent, even the courts can’t figure out how it works and the Obama administration changes more than my underwear (in full disclosure, I change my underwear more than 40 times a year but I’m not disclosing whether it’s boxers or briefs unless someone files a FOIA with my wife).

Lobbyists buy influence with politicians by promising to funnel money into their election campaigns and Super PACs (and employing family members and friends). No surprise there and it’s been going on for years. It’s such a corrupt system that neither the House nor the Senate can pass an anti-corruption bill to even keep themselves from being ethical that has any teeth in it. The goal is to keep incumbents in office and pass laws that provides tax breaks or puts taxpayer subsidies into the pockets of the constituents who grease the wheels. In the old days, this would be called bribing a government official, but the system and the political process are so much better at hiding corruption today that taxpayers, the people who elect these officials, are clueless as to how they keep being ripped off from both ends.

A great example is “speaking fees” used to funnel money to Bill and Hillary Clinton for their influence while they were in office or in case they get into office again. If you think I’m wrong, please tell me who on the planet is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars just to flap their lips other than Warren Buffet (well, maybe Chelsea Clinton who gets $75K per event for all her worldly and business experience).

The EPA, as an example, executes the will of the President and the lobbyists who own the party. The EPA is currently in the process of destroying the coal industry (and will probably move onto all carbon-based energy suppliers eventually) as an energy supplier by arbitrarily changing the rules for pollution emissions. They want to now make coal-fired plants use technologies that either don’t exist or are too expensive to use, thus making it unprofitable for the industry to stay in business. So far it has cost thousands of jobs in Kentucky alone and the tally is climbing daily (Kentucky could always try to elect this guy, http://honestgil.com, at least he is honest about being dishonest and he’s really funny). What’s interesting is that the state that supported Barack Obama and his EPA is now one of the states getting hit the hardest economically as these plants and mines close. Don’t you just love irony? And don’t even get me started on the bogus data, hidden emails outside the federal government shared between the EPA and environmental groups, and stonewalling the EPA did to Shell in Alaska. Hold on another paragraph and we will get to the new FCC.

Unless the other political party holds power in the House and the Senate, the bureaucratic agencies that make up the real power in the federal government can pretty much get away with what the President wants or whatever their political/financial will is. If you doubt it, just look at how corrupt the IRS has become and its influence in an election year under a President with unfettered access to everyone’s financial data. And that’s just the stuff we know about. Not much is written about how the IRS and the Democrats have strong-armed people into silence like Dr. Ben Carson over his charity efforts. That’s the second part of the scandal that will never come to light. And that’s where placing Tom Wheeler as the head of the FCC comes into the story.

Ahh, a long story but what does that have to do with T-Tommy Wheeler and the FCC? I’ve told you those stories to give you the background and reasoning for the absolutely supposedly inexplicable decisions being made by the FCC. Unfortunately, inexplicable isn’t really the reason Tom Wheeler is going out of his way to destroy the only industry that competes with his buddies at Verizon, CenturyLink, AT&T, and the rest of the cellular and telecom industry. As the WISP industry has grown, it has become evident to the big players that they are vulnerable in rural areas because the WISP industry has successfully lobbied the FCC to deny telecoms the public tax subsidies that the telcos believe they are entitled to. Note I say “entitled to” which in itself is a sad statement in an entrepreneurial society and a supposedly free market economy.

The destruction of the unlicensed bands started in 2006 with the first foray into the 902-928MHz band by Progeny and the FCC. For years, that slim 26MHz band was the only sub 1GHz bandwidth that was unlicensed. Since lower frequencies are better for tree penetration, this band was the best choice for rural, high-vegetation and rural environments. Although it’s not the best option, it was still the only way signal was getting through miles of forest. Cambium’s Canopy 900MHz product owned the market then and in many cases, it is still the dominant product because it just works. It’s not fast, but FSK is a pretty good way to get signal into no man’s land. But when somebody got to the FCC and told them we apparently needed a more accurate GPS positioning system and that the 900MHz band was perfect for that, the FCC jumped. Progeny and several other companies were more than happy to get into the game, so who could blame them? So $2M later, Progeny got the right to destroy about a 1/3 of the band. Even better, Progeny got it for less than 1% of what the cellular companies paid for their bandwidth and at the expense of everyone else in the band. SCADA operators are having conniptions because Progeny is causing all sorts of interference in the band.

So Progeny destroys about a third of the band and the FCC thinks that’s an efficient use of sub-1GHz frequencies. But wait, there’s more. They couldn’t make it work with existing power limitations so they asked to use up to 30 Watts. In comparison, WISPs can use 1W transmitters with 6dBm antennas which is 4W EIRP. Progeny’s use of the band with their power output and limited masking means the band is pretty much trashed down to around 916Mhz. Keep in mind that with increased SCADA use and the power output violations that municipalities typically do in this band, it means the band is almost unusable now. Kind of interesting that a band that is supposed to be unlicensed gets licensed if you know someone in the government. As a side note, ask if they have the same emission mask that WISPs are being asked to use in 5.8GHz with T-Tommy’s new rule.

No worries though, the FCC promised that more bandwidth would become available when the TV stations turned their spectrum back. WISPs could use the channels between the channels in 6Mhz increments, thus White Space radios were born. Microsoft, Google, Adaptrum, Carlson, and others poured millions of dollars in creating hardware to take advantage of the new spectrum. Three years later, that equipment is just now coming to market. In the meantime, the FCC auctioned a bunch of the television spectrum to the cellular companies and generated billions of dollars for the federal government. Verizon and AT&T snapped up boatloads of spectrum in the 700Mhz arena and started upgrading their networks. That was okay though, since there was still a sufficient amount of bandwidth to go around. Then just as the White Space equipment is coming out, the FCC decides to sell more spectrum (that would have been used as White Space) in the 700Mhz band to cellular companies. In some cities, that means White Space radios will have as little as 1 channel to work with. Another blow to the rural WISP again who doesn’t have the clout to buy a politician or spend billions on spectrum.

Tom Wheeler though, is making a bunch of moves in the FCC to fast track additional spectrum in 5GHz. WISPs started going googoo-eyed thinking maybe he isn’t the puppet lobbyist yes-man we all thought he was going to be. Be real, T-Tommy doesn’t give a hoot about WISPs and taxpayers. The reality is that the cellular industry has been eyeing and using the 5GHz band also, very quietly in fact, to supplement the bandwidth they don’t have between towers and as part of a Qualcomm LTE technology strategy. In addition, the cable and satellite companies are drooling over being able to use more bandwidth in the house for multiple devices with 802.11ac since it reduces their cabling requirements.

Even though adding more spectrum is a good thing for everyone, it really was to make Tom Wheeler’s cable friends happy, not to help WISPS. Tom Wheeler and his crony committee at the FCC have finally figured out how to completely wipe WISPs out of the deep rural market by changing the rules in the 5.730-5.75GHz under the guise of protecting the TDWR band. They are asking manufacturers to change the hardware design to limit out-of-band emissions to a level that is unreasonable for the technology. According to Cambium, which have some of the most highly respected and experienced engineers on the industry, this will have the effect of reducing range, limiting useable bandwidth to about 45MHz, and driving the cost of the equipment up significantly. Mimosa and Ubiquiti engineers, many of whom I’ve met, have also filed briefs rejecting this rule and although I haven’t read theirs yet (these things are long, technical and boring, kind of like reading “Dreams of my Father” but without all the fictional parts). I don’t doubt they are as accurate and insightful as Cambium’s. Now, given the choice between believing a bureaucratic agency that is run by a lobbyist with his own agenda appointed by Barack Obama and engineers from private industry that have created and helped develop this industry from its inception, I have a tendency to believe the engineers. That leaves us with the inescapable conclusion that there is either a political or financial motive for the FCC to change rules that will damage the industry. This just smells bad and their reasoning stinks even worse since the rules governing the band are already in place.

The FCC is saying that since a few lawbreakers installed bogus firmware, they caused problems for Doppler radar. Assuming that is true, why then are we punishing the law-abiding citizens for the acts of a few criminals. This is the same twisted mentality that anti-gun advocates use. Criminals use guns so no law-abiding people should have them. Apparently that logic works so well, Chicago, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, only had 60 people shot over the 4th of July and each weekend is an adventure in dodging bullets. Unfortunately criminals aren’t getting the message they shouldn’t use guns the same as the morons who modify firmware that interferes with the TDWR band. But please, let’s destroy an entire growing industry and jobs because of a few unethical people. Brilliant logic and totally expected by the federal government except that it the reasoning may not be based on factual information.

The FCC is claiming that they had people fanning out all over the country collecting data to show how prevalent that interference with the TDWR band was and what equipment caused it. My first question is this, where is the data? The FCC is claiming this is a problem of epidemic proportions so if that’s the case, show me the proof. How many times did it happen and in what parts of the country? T-Tommy Wheeler should just come out and say he doesn’t have the data because it was on Lois Lerner’s hard drive and it’s been destroyed but we should trust him. At least the IRS has the arrogance to come up with stupid lies to cover their criminal activity even though statistically it’s impossible. Without publishing the actual data and proving that the data is accurate, not some made up projected number to justify such a job killing and taxpayer damaging rule change, there is no case for the FCC to change the rules. After watching the Obama administration stonewall Fast and Furious, the IRS investigation, Benghazi, and so many other scandals that I ran out of fingers and toes counting, I wouldn’t trust one piece of data coming from any branch of our government unless my Grandma herself collected it. If you want to make this fair, the FCC should partner with WISPs and pay an independent company to do an audit, not some government worker from the FCC.

Then again, remember who is running the FCC — Mr. T-Tommy “Cellular/Telcom lobbyist” Wheeler. If he kills the one band that can connect clients at 50 miles or provide decent bandwidth in remote or rural areas, he can justify slipping more FCC subsidies to his buddies at Verizon, CenturyLink, Comcast, and others to make up for the loss of service that he created. Keep in mind that the power output also lets short-range communications work through high-vegetative environment so this is much bigger than just the rural WISP market. It’s so obviously corrupt, it’s laughable that they can even consider it. Unfortunately it’s also legal. Lobbyists have been buying politicians for years. T-Tommy simply bypassed greasing the election fund of the politicians and made himself the executioner for an industry that was just starting to grow and actually compete with the cellular and wireline industries. In the end, jobs get killed, small companies will never be created, and the taxpayer gets hosed again by big money interests running Washington.

A year ago, CenturyLink, a $40 billion company that had already taken billions in subsidies from the federal government, went to the FCC and named over 60 competing WISPS they wanted to put out of business. They knew that the FCC was either so corrupt or so stupid that they asked them for tens of millions of dollars to do it and even named the companies they wanted to damage. How blatant is that? Fortunately, WISPA stepped in and pointed out that the federal government giving money to a behemoth company to crush small businesses was a bad move. The embarrassment is that CenturyLink didn’t even think this was wrong or that the even FCC would consider doing it. Apparently CenturyLink and a few other companies simply bided their time and figured out another way to do it under the guise of “it’s for the children, err, TDWR”. They have definitely now found a way. I’m calling out the FCC and Tom Wheeler for directly doing the bidding of whoever is planning on hiring him and the committee members when they leave government. Here is the famous revolving door policy that is prevalent in Washington and the Pentagon on full display. This is wrong on so many levels that instead of fighting this within the FCC, we should be fighting this with our Congressmen and Senators, at least those that aren’t already in the pocket of big telecom. Or if necessary, file a FOIA and take it to court if that data can’t be produced (here is where we should all hold our breath until it is). If not, the rural WISP industry is going to go the way of the horse and buggy, but at least Mr. Wheeler will have fattened his client Rolodex for his post-FCC career. By the way, if you are wondering what the T stands for, it’s Tool.

[Footnote: Two hours after I sent this article to MuniWireless for publication, this little gem about the FCC giving away spectrum to an Obama donor outside the bid process pops up to support the article. See: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-22/obama-campaign-donor-wins-fcc-waiver-from-auction-rules.html]

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About Rory Conaway

Rory Conaway has been in the IT and Wireless Industries for the past 25 years as an author and consultant. He currently operates a growing WISP operation in Southern Arizona. He consults with investors, manufacturers, and WISPs, and develops financial business models for startups. In addition to writing articles in industry publications such as Mission Critical Magazine, Mr. Conaway also writes the series “Tales from the Towers” that can be found on various such as www.triadwireless.net and www.muniwireless.com. He has also engineered several wireless designs such as S.P.I.R.I.T. and Guerilla Wireless as well as building integrated wireless and video surveillance for airport security, municipal and critical infrastructure, SCADA systems, and hotel/MDU deployments.

Comments

  1. Jimmy Steward was a kind man. Maybe you mean Howard Beale from the movie Network?

    Good rant and way to stick up for the Wisp!

  2. Oops, I got Jimmy mixed up with Howard, good catch.

    As for the FCC commissioners being corrupt, ask where Meredith Attwell Baker went after she voted for the Comcast merger. Gee, seem Comcast just happened to have an opening that she could fill and a substantial salary increase. The FCC commission is just now another corrupt agency that does the bidding of private industry to line their own pockets. Why this isn’t illegal is beyond me but knowing how crooked the attorney general is, it’s no surprise there was no investigation.

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