FCC bureau collapses apps into online filing system

The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is getting wired.

Rules adopted last month by the Federal Communications Commission will consolidate 11
of the bureau’s license application and database systems into a single Universal
Licensing System for electronic filing and online database searches.

ULS will reside on an extranet, which applicants and the public can access by dialing a
toll-free telephone number. The system comprises data warehouse products from Sybase Inc.,
hardware from Sun Microsystems Inc. and a geographic information system from MapInfo Corp.
of Troy, N.Y. Computech Inc. of Bethesda, Md., and Sybase Professional Services did the
system design and engineering.

ULS testing began last December on a handful of license applications for commercial
wireless services. Paging service licenses were added in June, and the remaining license
types will migrate to ULS over the next six months.

“The benefits are substantial, as is the amount of work it takes to make the
transformation,” WTB chief Dan Phythyon said. “This is a multiyear process, and
it’s still not completed.”

Electronic filing through ULS is expected to become mandatory for some classes of
licenses by July.

Although FCC has reduced the number of application and other forms from 40 to four,
re-engineering the way they are handled is still being done.

“The staff is being asked to work on the transformation of their jobs,”
Phythyon said. “We’re not quite complete there.”

The bureau inherited its overlapping collection of databases, filing processes and app
forms from the consolidation of the Private Wireless and Common Carrier bureaus in 1994.
The consolidated bureau handles licenses for commercial cellular and paging services,
which usually are sold by auction, as well as those for noncommercial public-safety and
internal services.

FCC’s Mass Media Bureau handles radio and television broadcast licenses.

Requirements analysis for a system to replace WTB’s stovepipe licensing systems
with a single front end and a common underlying data environment began early last year.
The relational database management system originally chosen was Sybase System 11, which is
being upgraded to Sybase’s Adaptive Server Enterprise for data warehousing. Adaptive
Server IQ, a relational query engine designed for analyzing large amounts of data, will
explore the warehouse.

Once the legacy databases are merged in the data warehouse, information in license
applications and other forms will only have to be submitted once. The data already on file
will populate fields on subsequent forms, making life simpler for applicants as well as
for bureau employees.

The public will have online access to the license information. Using a MapInfo GIS,
visitors to the FCC extranet can search for license availability and license holders in a
given area.

The license applications that must be filed electronically are primarily commercial
services sold at auction. Because such auctions already are electronic, WTB judged that
applicants likely would have the appropriate technology.  

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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