Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is a geophysical technology that radiates short bursts of radio-frequency energy into the ground, ice, water, and manmade materials, to allow noninvasive exploration of features not visible at the surface. GPR is a widely used tool with geologic, hydrologic, and environmental applications. Information gained by using this technology is beneficial for public safety, maintaining good roadways, and scientific research. Because of this use of radio-frequency energy, GPR is categorized as an ultra-wideband (UWB) device that uses frequencies in the 30MHz to 1GHz range of the radio spectrum, meaning that the use of devices within this range falls under the jurisdiction of the FCC. Historically, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has not strongly enforced the UWB regulations, but the increasing use of UWB technologies in a range of sectors has spurred the agency to propose new regulations for the spectrum. The question now is how will these new regulations affect the use of GPR.
Most Recent Action
On July 12th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a new policy that will ease restrictions on the use of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). According to an FCC press release: "Under the new procedure, eligible users may operate under a blanket waiver to Part 15 regulations provided that they register their devices with the Commission." The new procedure would also expand the definition of who may qualify as eligible operators -- the FCC originally restricted GPR use to "law enforcement, fire and rescue organizations, to scientific research institutions, to commercial mining companies, and to construction companies." Under the clarified procedure, GPR may be used for one of the previously listed uses but "need not be operated directly by one of the described parties," opening the door for private contractors. The impact of FCC rules on GPR has been of great concern to the environmental geophysics community. Additional information is available from the FCC press release and the full announcement. (8/9/02)
Action in the 107th Congress
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing on June 5th to discuss recent FCC regulations for UWB use of the radio spectrum. A key focus of the hearing was the impact that these regulations would have on GPR. These regulations have produced an outcry from independent geophysicists concerned that they will be unable to legally use this technology. Their concerns were shared at the hearing by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA), who argued: "This technology has too many promising applications to stifle it based on unfounded, and unproven, concerns." At the hearing, an FCC representative indicated the agency's willingness to consider waivers and to conduct additional review and refinement of the regulations. The July 2002 issue of Geotimes includes a news note on this topic by Lisa Pinsker at http://www.geotimes.org/july02/NN_gpr.html. (7/31/02)
On May 16, 2002, the FCC's proposed UWB regulations appeared in the Federal Register. These regulations include language restricting UWB use to frequencies below 960 MHz and between 3.1 and 10.6 GHz. The use of UWB devices within this limited range is "restricted to law enforcement, fire and rescue organizations, to scientific research institutions, to commercial mining companies, and to construction companies." Individuals who fall outside of these disciplines, including those who use GPR, would be unlicensible for UWB use. While the military has been the main driver of this legislation, the FCC has been criticized for its acceptance of large sums of money from the wireless industry, as the wireless industry is also a strong force pushing for the restriction of UWB use. Both the military and the wireless industry are concerned about potential interference of UWB devices with their global positioning systems (GPS). The extent of interference of various devices with GPS is debatable; however, the geophysics community argues that they have managed to use GPR and GPS side by side for years without experiencing the signal disruption feared by the wireless companies. (8/9/02)
The widespread use of UWB devices has been largely ignored by federal regulators for decades. In 1998, three companies applied for approved use of UWB devices. The Chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology granted waivers to the three groups to allow limited marketing of devices that carry out several of the typical GPR functions including the detection of buried objects, such as pipes and hidden flaws beneath roads, bridges, and airport runways. While the companies were granted waivers for GPR use, news of these waivers motivated William Hatch, Acting Associate Administrator of the Office of Spectrum Management, to encourage the FCC to revisit its spectrum policies. Hatch was unsettled by the fact that these UWB devices had been used unlicensed before the companies applied for the waivers and that the devices were emitting radio frequency in the restricted spectrum bands. He requested investigation of any interference with other technologies that this use may cause.
In the spring of 2002 the FCC established a Spectrum Policy Task Force that further evaluate existing spectrum policies and suggest ways by which the policies could be improved. The task force was to address several issues regarding spectrum use including concerns over increasing spectrum congestion and the encouragement of use of spectrally efficient technologies. The task force requested public comments, and several workshops to discuss spectrum policies were arranged during July and August of this same year. By October, the task force is expected to send a report containing their policy recommendations to the FCC.
Several members of Congress, including Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Representative W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-LA) have expressed their discontent with the proposed FCC regulation changes. Kerry's office has been instrumental in working to prevent the new FCC regulations for fear of severe impacts on small businesses involved with GPR. Tauzin has gone on record saying "I don't want our military operations to be interfered with, and I don't want our planes to fall out of the sky. But I want real-world evidence that tells us whether ultra-wideband devices, on a stand-alone or cumulative basis, would cause these things to occur."
The Bottom Line
On June 5th, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing to examine the government's spectrum management process. A key focus of the hearing was the impact that these regulations would have on ground-penetrating radar (GPR) -- a geophysical technology that radiates short bursts of radio-frequency energy into the ground, ice, water, and manmade materials, to allow noninvasive exploration of features not visible at the surface. The new rules would restrict GPR system operations at frequencies below 960 MHz and between 3.1 and 10.6 GHz to "law enforcement, fire and emergency rescue organizations, to scientific research institutions, to commercial mining companies, and to construction companies." All use between 960 MHz and 3.1 GHz would be banned. These regulations have produced an outcry from independent geophysicists concerned that they will be unable to legally use this technology. Their concerns were shared at the hearing by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA), who argued: "This technology has too many promising applications to stifle it based on unfounded, and unproven, concerns." At the hearing, an FCC representative indicated the agency's willingness to consider waivers and to conduct additional review and refinement of the regulations.
|Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman
Billy Tauzin (R-LA), Full Committee Chairman
Cliff Stearns (R-FL)
John M. Shimkus (R-IL)
Charles Pickering, Jr. (R-MS)
Charles Bass (R-NH)
|Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member
Thomas C. Sawyer (D-OH)
Gene Green (D-TX)
Karen McCarthy (D-MO)
On June 5th, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing to examine the government's spectrum management process. Opening statements were dominated by representatives expressing the great promise of ultra-wideband (UWB) technology and their concerns that the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules may be too conservative. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) expressed concern that the FCC regulations were over protective, particularly considering that there is a tremendous volume of data suggesting that UWB devices do not interfere with other uses of the spectrum. The potential uses for UWB technology are too important to stifle their implementation and that "sound spectrum management" must be enacted. Reps. Karen McCarthy (D-MO) and Charles Bass (R-NH) expressed frustration with the new restrictions posed on GPR systems. They explained that GPR is a well-established technology that has shown no interference with other uses of the spectrum.
Six witnesses were present to testify. Michael Gallagher, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA); Stephen Price, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Spectrum, Space, Sensors and C3 Policy at the Department of Defense (DOD); Jeff Shane, Associate Deputy Secretary for the Department of Transportation (DOT); Julius Knapp, Deputy Chief of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Office of Engineering and Technology; Ralph Gregory Petroff, Chief Executive Officer for Time Domain Corporation; and Dennis Johnson, President of Geophysical Survey Systems, Inc.
Gallagher provided a brief history of the rule-making process for the authorization of UWB technology use and information about the measurements and analysis done on UWB devices, including testing done on the interference of devices with global positioning systems (GPS). He then explained the FCC's resulting amendment to the Part 15 rules. While recognizing that the amendment is conservative, Gallagher felt they had managed to "develop a technically sound test of regulations for the safe and effective authorization of UWB technology while preserving public safety and national security." The new FFC rule will go into effect in July 2002.
Price commended the FCC and NTIA for their cautious UWB ruling, deeming it "a 'win-win' approach to a very complex and intricate rulemaking proceeding . . . They did not accept the alternative, which was to embrace unacceptable risk, with unknown consequences." Price acknowledged that the spectrum has important uses for all sectors but offered several examples to express the importance of the spectrum to the military, maintaining that spectrum accessibility to the military must be a top priority. As a result of this level of importance, the DOD played an active role in the rule-making process. Price explained that once groups are authorized to use a certain technology it is almost impossible to take that privilege away. Therefore, it was crucial that the new rules aired on the conservative side, with room for expansion. Free reign of the spectrum for UWB devices was simply not a realistic or safe option.
Shane seconded Price's opinion that the FCC must take a conservative approach when making rules regarding UWB use. Shane also noted that the lack of equipment able to detect UWB devices, particularly when they are malfunctioning and need to be located, offers an additional reason for taking a cautious approach. He expressed the importance of the spectrum in maintaining safe, efficient, and secure transportation systems, as the industry has become increasingly reliant on communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) systems that use various bandwidths of the spectrum. Shane called for rigorous enforcement of the FCC UWB rules.
Knapp began by speaking of the great promise UWB technology has for all sectors of society. He cautioned, however, that the use of UWB devices has the potential to interfere with already existing applications, hence the need to impose restrictions on the use of UWB technology. The FCC has decided to separate UWB devices into three categories. The first category, imaging systems, is the one of most interest to the earth science community as GPRs are included in it. The new rules will allow for use of imaging systems within certain bands of the spectrum by restricted groups including "law enforcement, fire and emergency rescue organizations, scientific research institutions, commercial mining companies, licensed health care practitioners and construction companies . . . The FCC will coordinate the operation of all imaging systems with the federal government." The FCC will review the standards it has set for UWB devices within the next year. The results of its studies will be available to the public.
Petroff was also pleased that the FCC has established a solid set of UWB rules. He spoke of Time Domain Corporation's experience of spending 13 years working to gain regulatory approval -- noting that this is much too long. There is currently a "worldwide race to deploy UWB." As the founders of this technology, the US should be able to take full advantage of the spectrum. Petroff was optimistic that the new FCC rules will help to expedite the approval process. He was sympathetic to groups who are not eligible to use the UWB technology under the ruling but looked to the research being done within the next year, and beyond, to open up more doors to this technology. Petroff also warned that there is potential for great conflict of interests as the government is both a user of the UWB technology, and its regulator, saying "Our proceedings must operate according to science, not spectrum politics." Increased transparency in the spectrum management process is needed.
Johnson began by separating the remarks he would make from those of the UWB industry at large, explaining that he was there to represent those with interests in the well-established GPR industry. GPR is different from other UWB devices for several reasons: GPR looks down into the Earth and are not meant for air transmission, GPR has a different Pulse Repetition Rate from other UWB devices, and it has been proven that GPR works well with GPS systems. In fact, GPR and GPS are ften used in conjunction. He highlighted the importance of GPR and his disappointment in the proceedings of the rule-making process. Many of the aspects of greatest concern to the GPR community were not a part of the public disclosure and therefore not a part of the debate. Johnson ended by stating that the long-term impact of the current UWB rules, if they remain, will be the collapse of the GPR industry.
A question and answer period followed the witness testimony. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) asked how the GPR problem was being addressed. Gallagher responded that the NTIA understood the concerns and that the new FCC regulations were not meant to limit GPR. Several steps were being taken including enhancing the definition, supplying waivers as needed, and the testing of equipment to look at emissions "leaks". Knapp answered that he was supportive of GPR and that it was mainly a problem of wording that he expected could be resolved relatively quickly.
More about the hearing is also available at http://energycommerce.house.gov/107/hearings/06052002Hearing569/hearing.htm.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed by Summer 2002 AGI/AIPG Intern Sarah Riggen.
Posted October 8, 2002.
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