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What's up (down) with the FCC?
The ULS is radio silent. Plus: will there be a miracle at the Titanic wreck site?
Unless you are a broadcast engineer, or a cellular operator, or—like me—an amateur radio operator, you likely haven’t heard that the FCC’s licensing system, called the ULS, has been down for over two weeks, with no availability date for the foreseeable future. I guess this isn’t a big deal, except the day it went down, my 13-year-old son passed his Technician exam so he could join me in Ham-land. But he can’t because the FCC, which normally issues a call sign within three days, can’t process applications. The ULS is radio silent.
The agency put out a cryptic statement that has been reported in a couple of places:
The FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS) is currently down and not accessible to the public. This includes the Commission’s License Manager, License Search, Application Search, Tower Construction Notification System, E-106 System, Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) Online Filing, ASR Application Search, ASR Registration Search, TOWAIR, and all ULS Specialized Searches.
The systems are anticipated to be down until at least next week. During this time, no applications may be filed through the database.
The FCC said that since parties have not and will not be able to make electronic filings or view the contents of the affected systems while they are unavailable, they are extending the filing deadlines for all regulatory filings that needed to be or will need to be made in these systems starting June 9, 2023, and until the Commission announces normal ULS operations, for at least three business days after access to the systems resumes.
What they didn’t say is why this happened. I only access the FCC’s ULS site once every ten years or so, to renew my license, so it’s not like I track it often. But from what I understand, this is an extremely long outage, way outside the “norm” for the agency’s aging computer infrastructure.
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In fact, if I had to guess (and yes, I’m going to guess), I’d say that the FCC has been hacked. Either that, or there’s been some catastrophic failure of the underlying technology, which I must say is pretty old. The system was developed in the 1990s and is fairly behind the technology curve. In 2016, the agency announced a modernization effort to “a new, integrated, cloud-based platform that will enable…” a whole bunch of stuff that I am not sure has happened. The ULS I see still looks very 1990s. I’d show it to you but you can’t see it since it’s down.
I wonder if someone at the FCC might read this and tell me the real skinny. If the system is hacked, I am wondering what value it could have to the hackers. It’s not like you can actually access satellites or control cell systems from the administrative licensing system. And of course, the “CORES” system that the agency uses to collect money is still operating just fine. That’s the one I’d expect hackers to hit.
If it’s down because the technology failed, I would also not be surprised. Another agency known for its hidebound cleaving to very old systems is the FAA. The “NOTAM” system (which always meant “Notice to Airmen” until the Biden administration decided to make it the non-gendered version “Notice to Air Missions”—I suppose “pilot” now means “air missions person”) failed on January 11 of this year, causing thousands of flights to be delayed or cancelled since flight plans on commercial flights require a full and current set of NOTAMS for the departure, destination and enroute airports.
That failure was determined to be human error. A contractor unintentionally deleted some files which broke the system. The NOTAM system, from an operational standpoint, is much more important than the radio licensing system. However, if you’re a 13-year-old boy waiting for his call sign, that doesn’t much matter, does it?
We need a miracle at the Titanic site
A Canadian aircraft reported it detected “underwater sounds” in the search for the missing Titan submersible, which was last heard from Sunday as it made its way down to the 12,000-foot deep home of the Titanic wreck in the north Atlantic.
It would take a miracle to save the tourists and crew aboard the five-person sub. First, the submersible, at best, has another day’s worth of air left. That is if it’s intact. Second, if the craft is located, it may be far too deep for all but the most specialized recovery equipment to reach. The U.S. Navy possesses this kind of gear, which can operate down to 20,000 feet. But getting the gear to the right place is quite a challenge.
The joint U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard and combined navies command requested the Flyaway Deep Ocean Salvage System, along with associated recovery equipment. The Navy and U.S. Transportation Command flew the gar from Buffalo, N.Y. to Newfoundland on three C-17 aircraft.
The main questions are: can the Titan be found, searching for a tiny grain of sand in an area the size of Belgium, before its air supply is depleted? If it is found, can the recovery gear be put into action at that location, given weather and the logistics involved, in time to rescue the vessel and its occupants, alive?
“You’re trying to find a minivan in the Atlantic right now,” [Sal Mercogliano, associate professor of history at Campbell University] said.
Getting the Titan back with all hands alive would be something like the Apollo 13 rescue mission at this point. Actually, it’s even more challenging, because we never lost radio contact with the crew, and NASA always knew exactly where the spacecraft was, on a free return trajectory to Earth. The Titan is, as of this writing, lost. It could be floating on the surface, or it could be resting at the bottom of the sea.
I’ll be praying for those aboard, in any case. Miracles can happen, and we really do need one.