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O’Rielly: Improve Building Codes With Wireless Spectrum in Mind

FCC commissioner writes to Energy Department to request a coordinated effort

This story has been updated to add a comment from O’Rielly’s office about the relevance to radio.

Modern building techniques can affect wireless propagation, and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly would like the Federal Communications Commission to work with the Energy Department to explore ways to take more advantage of that situation.

O’Rielly wrote a letter to Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette saying explosive growth in wireless communications has resulted in “increasing interplay involving building codes, construction techniques and materials, and wireless communications coverage.”

[Read: 70-Year-Old Antenna Site Rules Up for Debate by FCC]

He’d like to see the FCC and DOE work together to “produce thoughtful building codes that will not only allow the department to fulfill its mission, but also expand wireless spectrum opportunities, and thus facilitate more consumer uses. Further, the commission would benefit from the department’s expertise regarding building materials when formulating our technical rules.”

The commissioner said higher energy efficiency requirements, construction techniques and the use of metal-coated windows, double-pane windows and metal foil barriers have increased “building entry and exit loss,” or BEL, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Broadcasters have been affected for years by reception challenges in buildings. In his letter O’Rielly focused not on improved reception but on new opportunities.

“Better understanding the department’s efforts can allow the commission to authorize and introduce increased wireless functionality in spectrum bands without causing harm to other services, including those of incumbent users,” he wrote. “Higher BEL means that there is less risk of harmful interference from competing signals from inside and outside modern structures, which means there may be opportunities for more flexibility in certain wireless operations.”

O’Rielly would like to see an interagency working group exploring modifications to building codes. He said Chairman Ajit Pai supports the idea.

“Specifically, our respective agencies could further explore the effects of model building codes on BEL; whether the building code-setting process should take into account the potential impact of various energy-saving techniques on BEL; and how this information can better inform architectural and building construction considerations in the future.”

When this article was first posted, Radio World had emailed O’Rielly’s office to ask about possible relevance to radio in this effort, and we since received this reply from Chief of Staff Joel Miller:

“Our intent would be to focus the working group on mobile wireless, wireless broadband and respective radio devices that are sometimes affected by electrical systems, light bulbs, etc., but the group may eventually look to understand the impact in other low bands if appropriate,” Miller wrote.  “There’s still a significant amount of work remaining to even establish a working group if the Energy Department is amenable, so that collaborative process will also inform the direction the group takes and we’d be open to hearing DOE’s ideas as well.”