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FCC Seeks Public Comment on the Current and Future Regulation of the "Internet of Things"

Initial Comments Requested by November 1, 2021
In a Notice of Inquiry, the FCC is requesting public comment in a proceeding that will help determine the scope and nature of regulation of the “Internet of Things” for the next several decades.
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A link to the Notice can be found here.

What to Know

  • The FCC is examining its regulation of devices and systems operating as part of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) and is requesting comment from the public in a Notice of Inquiry
  • This proceeding is likely to help shape the FCC’s approach to the IoT for the next several decades
  • Initial Comments due by November 1, 2021; Reply Comments due by November 16, 2021

The outcome of this proceeding will be critically important to any company involved with the manufacturing or use of Internet-connected devices that are able to collect and transfer data.

Industries and technologies affected by this proceeding include, but are not limited to, those operating in the following settings:

Industrial/Commercial (devices to monitor, collect, exchange, and analyze data)

 Examples:

  • Providers of Data Services
  • Automotive (e.g., monitoring traffic conditions)
  • Healthcare and Telehealth (e.g., patient monitoring)
  • Precision agriculture (e.g., monitoring rainfall, etc.)
  • Inventory tracking
  • Monitoring of product quality
  • Factory automation
  • Power grid monitoring

Residential (home automation for “connected homes”)

Examples:

  • Lighting
  • Temperature control
  • Appliances
  • Entertainment systems

Public Safety and Government

Applications include improvements to public safety, aiding first responders, such as by providing faster field response, real-time data link with information critical to the safety and abilities of firefighters.
 
The FCC has requested comments by the following deadlines:

  • Initial Comments: November 1, 2021
  • Reply Comments: November 16, 2021

Please let us know if you may wish to file comments on this Notice, or if you would like us to advise you of any comments filed by others, or the outcome of this proceeding.

Broad Categories of Inquiry

Broadly - this proceeding will analyze the following:

  • Whether adequate spectrum is available, or is planned for allocation, for commercial wireless services that could support the growing IoT;
  • If adequate spectrum is not available, how to ensure that adequate spectrum is available for increased demand with respect to the IoT;
  • What regulatory barriers may exist to providing any needed spectrum that would support uses relating to the IoT;
  • What the role of unlicensed and licensed spectrum is and will be in the growth of the IoT.

Specific Issues/Questions on Which Comment is Requested
 

Licensed Spectrum

Historically, the FCC has subjected certain spectrum to a licensing requirement – through auctions or other flexible-use approaches. Such licensing and spectrum use approach permits licensees to adopt technologies and offer services that could support connectivity to IoT devices in addition to traditional mobile connectivity (e.g., cell phones).

  • Is the licensed spectrum that the FCC has made available or intends to make available for flexible use adequate to support the needs of the IoT?
  • How does each frequency band affect the types of IoT services and applications that can be offered?
  • What technology solutions have licensees deployed or plan to deploy to meet the connectivity needs of IoT devices?
  • Are existing technical standards sufficient for IoT implementation in already existing spectrum bands?
  • If the growing need for IoT connectivity is not being met with the current and planned licensed spectrum resources, what steps can the Commission take to address this important use in the future?
  • Are there any spectrum bands not currently being used or planned for IoT services that would be particularly beneficial to expanding IoT use? To the extent any desirable bands have different levels of encumbrances, including existing rules or standards for incumbent protection, what steps can be taken to make such spectrum available for IoT?

Unlicensed Spectrum

Unlicensed spectrum allows anyone using approved equipment to access such spectrum without paying license fees or obtaining spectrum rights through an auction. However, all unlicensed devices operate on a shared basis and must operate on a non-interference basis.
 
Most in-home IoT devices such as thermostats, water or gas leak detectors, and smart home controllers connect to the Internet using unlicensed Wi-Fi connections. Similarly, many factories or manufacturing facilities that have control over their property, can also connect industrial machine-to-machine IoT devices to monitor equipment, assembly lines, etc., using unlicensed devices without worrying about interference as they are the sole user in that location. Most unlicensed operation is at very low power, however in several bands, higher powers are permitted.

  • What role have unlicensed devices played in the growth of IoT?
  • What role is anticipated for unlicensed devices as IoT devices continue to proliferate for home and business applications?
  • Does the lack of interference protection make unlicensed devices unsuitable for some IoT applications?
  • Is the amount of spectrum available for use by unlicensed devices adequate to meet the needs of the IoT?
  • Should additional spectrum be considered for unlicensed operations exclusively for IoT devices and applications?
  • Are there unique properties of IoT devices that would be better served by targeted rule changes to the unlicensed spectrum access rules? If so, what changes would be necessary to ensure increased utility of unlicensed IoT devices?

Potential Alternate Spectrum Allocations and Approaches

  • Are there alternate spectrum bands that have not yet been allocated but would be suited to IoT deployments?
  • Are IoT transmissions different from those of other wireless devices (e.g., those requiring broadband Internet access) such that they do not require exclusive-use licenses?
  • Does the nature of IoT open up additional possibilities for sharing spectrum with other users that were not available for other types of commercial wireless networks?
  • For example, are IoT transmissions sufficiently intermittent and short that they do not present a risk of harmful interference to incumbent users that other types of networks would?
  • In discussing alternative spectrum bands, commenters should consider the impact on existing services, including passive services.

Encouraging the Development and Deployment of IoT Devices

  • Are there FCC rules that could be modified to facilitate greater spectrum access for IoT deployments?
  • How could these rules (e.g., flexible buildout requirements) be adjusted to support the development and use of IoT on dedicated IoT networks using licensed spectrum?
  • Are there other licensing rules, such as license areas and license terms, limiting IoT use in these bands? What can the FCC do to make these licenses more appealing to IoT network operators? Alternatively, are there ways in which the FCC’s leasing rules could be amended to make it easier for IoT operators to lease spectrum for their networks, rather than become licensees themselves?

Addressing Any Regulatory Barriers

  • Are there rules that present regulatory barriers to particular IoT use cases in specific frequency bands?
  • For example, in bands where unlicensed devices are subject to the general radiated limits, the permissible power levels may be lower than what is necessary for IoT devices to communicate.
  • Are there any other regulatory barriers that may exist to providing the needed spectrum access to support uses related to IoT?
  • What steps can the FCC or other government agencies take to reduce or remove these regulatory barriers?

Satellite-Relate Issues

Comment is sought on the role and spectrum requirements needed for IoT applications and services provided by satellites.

  • Does the ubiquity of global coverage by some satellites impact spectrum needs for IoT?
  • What role will satellite connectivity play in expanding IoT?
  • Are there different IoT applications and services that are better facilitated by satellite systems as compared to terrestrial wireless communications?

Digital Equity and Inclusion

The FCC is focused on the advancement of digital equity for all, including people of color, persons with disabilities, persons who live in rural or Tribal areas, and others who are or have been historically underserved, marginalized, or adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.
 
As such, the FCC is requesting comment on any equity-related considerations and benefits (if any) that may be associated with the issues discussed in this proceeding.
 
Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on how topics in this proceeding may promote or inhibit advances in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, as well the scope of the FCC’s legal authority.

Contacts

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