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House Panel Urges Expedited UWB Proceedings

WASHINGTON -- A House panel today sharply criticized a number of federal agencies over their regulatory and bureaucratic delays in the approval process for the use of ultrawide band (UWB) spectrum technology. UWB transmits data at a high speed -- nearly 10 times faster than 802.11b -- across a wide radio spectrum at very low power and is considered a promising technology for the both the private and government sectors.

In February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved amendments to its Part 15 rules to permit UWB devices to operate on an unlicensed basis under limited conditions. The technology operates in the same spectrum as many other commercial and government systems operate, space both the military and aviation agencies have been reluctant to part with or share. The limitations include calling for further testing for UWB device transmissions interfering with other devices operating in the spectrum.

UWB has applications involving imaging systems, vehicular radar systems and communications and measurement systems, has spent more than a decade winding its way through the regulatory process, a point not lost Wednesday on several members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

"The FCC's recent ultra-wideband decision can be called a major step. It can also be called a baby step. The rulemaking was a hotly contested and contentious proceeding. One could argue that it accurately reflected the give-and-take that we should expect with any new technology that defies the rigid confines in which we have previously categorized energy emissions," Rep. Billy Tauzin (R. La.) said. "But that's now how I see it. I watched this proceeding with more than a small degree of horror. I watched certain government bureaucrats and certain industries try their absolute best to stifle this new technology."

Tauzin lectured witnesses from the FCC, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which manages the government's spectrum allocation, and the Departments of Commerce, Transportation and Defense that, "The last time the FCC looked at Part 15 rules was in 1989 and the FCC then had the guts to stand up to the NTIA."

Tauzin pointed out the 1989 ruling by the FCC opened the door for widespread use of cell phones and other wireless devices including PDAs and laptops. At the time, the NTIA, the military and other agencies contended the use of these devices could interfere with applications already running in the spectrum, fears that the FCC ignored and were ultimately proved to be unfounded.

In its February ruling, however, the FCC accepted the NTIA's recommendations for the limited use of UWB, partly based on interference concerns.

"In 1989, the FCC told the NTIA to prove it and not deal in imagined problems," Tauzin said. "Sound spectrum management involves a balancing of governmental and non-governmental interests. While balancing these interests always involves policy issues, good spectrum management requires that sound policy be supported by sound engineering. I don't think that necessarily happened this time."

Tauzin then specifically asked Julius P. Knapp, deputy chief, Office of Engineering and Technology at the FCC, and Michael Gallagher, deputy assistant secretary of the NTIA if "there is any evidence of interference" from UWB devices. Both replied no, but contended there are not currently enough UWB devices operating to empirically prove the point.

"I would note that the FCC indicates through its UWB Order that, based on NTIA recommendations, it was 'proceeding cautiously' and that it was concerned that the standards it was adopting 'may be overprotective and could unnecessarily constrain the development of UWB technology,'" said Rep. Fred Upton (R.-Mich.), chairman of the subcommittee.

The FCC said in February it would review the UWB standards in 6-12 months and issue a further rule making to explore more flexible technical standards and to address additional types of UWB operations and technologies.

"You (the FCC) said you could do something in the next 6-12 months. If have to amend, fine, but the FCC is supposed to be the balance to the NTIA. Let's do some real show-and-tell in the next months," Tauzin said.