FCC Initiates Rulemaking About Commercial Spectrum Usage For AI And Other Purposes – Telecoms, Mobile & Cable Communications
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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking public comment on the feasibility, benefits,
and limitations of techniques that can help advance the FCC’s
understanding of “nonfederal” spectrum usage. The FCC has
exclusive jurisdiction over all uses of the spectrum, except for
that allocated for federal government use (e.g., it regulates
spectrum use by commercial organizations, nonprofits, and state or
local governmental entities). In particular, the FCC is interested
in how it can leverage new technologies such as artificial
intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) to manage and support
nonfederal spectrum usage. This Update summarizes the new
proceeding, launched through a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) released
earlier this month, in which comments are due on October 3, 2023,
and replies are due on November 2, 2023.
Existing Monitoring of Spectrum Usage
Currently, the FCC has limited access to real-time data
regarding spectrum usage. For instance, its database for most
wireless radio licenses, known as the Universal Licensing System,
contains limited information on the identity of the licensees, the
intensity and patterns of spectrum usage by licensees, the precise
purposes for the licenses, and the spectrum bands in which the
licensees operate. Previous government inquiries have underscored
the barriers to collecting real-time spectrum use data. For
example, in 2014, the National Telecommunications and Information
Administration (NTIA) found real-time monitoring could improve
spectrum management but identified cost, band-specific
considerations, and data collection requirements as challenges to
such efforts. Now, the FCC is hoping recent technological
advancements will improve real-time monitoring.
Definition of Spectrum Usage
One of the key inquiries in the NOI concerns how spectrum usage
should be defined and whether existing definitions are useful to
understanding and managing nonfederal spectrum. Among other things,
the FCC is evaluating which discrete components (e.g., geography,
frequency, time, etc.) could inform such a definition and how to
combine those metrics to obtain a holistic understanding of the
spectrum or band.
Use of nonfederal spectrum also varies by band, with different
bands having different requirements or technical characteristics.
The FCC seeks public input on whether this fact weighs against the
adoption of a single definition for spectrum usage, and if so, how
the definition may change across bands. The FCC also seeks comment
on how it should prioritize data collection based on the specific
issues and challenge of each band.
Data Collection Considerations
The NOI poses questions about how to overcome the barriers to
real-time monitoring and data collection. Among other things, the
FCC is seeking to understand whether costs with respect to data
monitoring have decreased and whether newer methodologies such as
crowdsourcing, external data sources, modeling, and direct
observation can or should be used.
The FCC also seeks public comment on how new collection
methodologies could ensure uniformity and accuracy. It seeks
insight into whether long-standing technical challenges to
obtaining precise data in congested spectrum bands can be overcome.
In this context, the FCC asks whether AI/ML may be leveraged to
improve the collection of data through algorithmic extrapolation
and seeks comment on how accurate and granular the data must be for
Finally, the NOI invites comment on any concerns that may arise
with respect to its data collection goals, particularly those
related to data protection, privacy, and security.
The NOI offers the public a meaningful opportunity to weigh in
on how nonfederal spectrum may be put to best use in the digital
age. Central among those uses is AI/ML. It is particularly
noteworthy that in her statement accompanying the NOI, FCC
Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel highlighted the value that AI/ML
could bring to the Internet of Things, device management, network
resiliency efforts, and a host of other advances. By better
understanding spectrum utilization, the FCC hopes to be able to
allocate spectrum in ways that foster a vibrant and more efficient
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