FCC may make 150 MHz of spectrum available for broadband

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FCCThe Commission on 4/3 took steps to provide more spectrum for general consumer use, carrier-grade small cell deployments, fixed wireless broadband services, and other innovative uses, through the creation of a new Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The Commission proposed rules for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that advances the Commission’s efforts to meet the growing demand for spectrum by proposing to make 150 megahertz available in the 3.5 GHz Band.


The FNPRM proposes innovative spectrum sharing techniques to unlock the value of the spectrum between 3550 MHz and 3650 MHz, and seeks comment on extending the proposed service to 3700 MHz.  Specifically, the FNPRM proposes a three-tiered access and sharing model comprised of federal and non-federal incumbents, priority access licensees, and general authorized access users. Together, the proposals seek to promote flexibility and innovation by leveraging advancements in technology to facilitate sharing between different users and uses, including incumbent government uses.

Federal and non-federal incumbents would be protected from harmful interference from Citizens Broadband Radio Service users.  Targeted priority access licenses would be made available for a variety of uses, including mobile broadband. General authorized access use would be permitted in a reserved amount of spectrum and on an opportunistic basis for a variety of consumer or business-oriented purposes, including advanced home wireless networking.

Access and operation within the 3.5 GHz band would be managed by a spectrum access system, a dynamic database or databases that incorporates technical and functional requirements necessary to manage access and operations across the three tiers.  In addition, the FNPRM seeks comment on technical, auction, and allocation rules.

The FNPRM builds on a substantial record already developed through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Public Notice, and two public workshops, and is the product of cooperative work with incumbent federal users.

Chairman Wheeler, Commissioners Clyburn, Rosenworcel, and O’Rielly with Commissioner Pai concurring.  Chairman Wheeler, Commissioners Clyburn, Rosenworcel, Pai and O’Rielly issued statements.

Statement of Commissioner Michael O’Rielly:

Re: Amendment of the Commission’s Rule with Regard to Commercial Operations in the 3550-3650 MHz Band, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, GN Docket No. 12-354.

Today, we take another step towards allocating the 3.5 GHz Band for additional wireless uses. Currently, this valuable spectrum is used for federal and non-federal services, such as radar systems and satellite earth stations. In the future, it could be opened up for use by small cell systems, wireless backhaul, or the next innovative wireless technology. But, we are faced with balancing the introduction of new wireless services with the challenging task of protecting incumbents from harmful interference.

That is why I strongly prefer clearing federal government users and reallocating over sharing. In this unique case, however, it may be worthwhile to pursue sharing to move forward quickly instead of waiting for a better solution or for clearing to be completed. To this end, the 3.5 GHz Band will be one big experiment in terms of the proposed sharing design and licensing scheme. We place a lot of trust that this novel effort will be successful. But, if it does not meet expectations, we are not precluded from altering it in the future. Accordingly, I will vote in favor today’s further notice that seeks to ask questions, acquire additional information, and obtain necessary data on how this experiment should best proceed. While I will keep an open mind as the record develops, I have several concerns that I would like to see addressed before any final rulemaking.

First, I worry that the proposed exclusion zones are too large to attract adequate interest and investment in this band. Despite evidence in the record showing that low-power small cell systems will not require such large exclusion zones, there has been no progress in reducing their size, even for this limited purpose. Today’s further notice walls off the same 60 percent of the United States population as introduced by NTIA in 2010 and put forth in the Commission’s original notice in December 2012.1 The 3.5 GHz Band would be largely unusable on the east and west coasts and along the Gulf. As you can see from the slide, New England, Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana; almost all of New York, Virginia, California; and half of Texas are in exclusion zones.2 I hope and trust that they can be substantially reduced and that there will be opportunities for the new wireless operators and federal incumbents to coordinate in these areas.

Second, I am concerned that the proposed term and geographic size of the Priority Access Licenses, or “PALs,” may also hinder investment and innovation. For example, the PALs may be licensed for one year terms that may be aggregated up to five years. There is no certainty that, after making the capital expenditure during that time, a licensee would be able to continue its priority access. Additionally, the item proposes to license PALs by census tracts, which means there would be approximately 74,000 licenses.3 As a result, applicants could face the difficulty of bidding on thousands of licenses in order to cover any one metropolitan area.

Third, this further notice supports a three-tiered use system that includes incumbents, PALs, and General Authorized Access (GAA) users. If this is not complicated enough, the Commission proposes to reserve up to 20 megahertz of spectrum for critical users within indoor facilities and may expand this preferential treatment to certain outdoor facilities. This could reduce available spectrum for GAA users. And, although we have not fully defined this class of users at this stage, it does not appear that many hospitals, public safety entities or local governments are actively seeking this spectrum. Why not eliminate Contained Access User set-asides and allow GAA or PAL providers to offer services to these users? Similarly, if critical users have a need, why can’t they apply for GAA spectrum or PALs?

Further, this item proposes spectrum aggregation limits for PALs in the 3.5 GHz Band which I believe to be completely unnecessary. Given the propagation characteristics of this spectrum and its ease of reuse, there will be plenty of opportunity for operators to deploy any number of devices and services in this spectrum.

Finally, the 3.5 GHz Band is ideal for placement of small cells which are helping carriers manage network congestion as data use increases exponentially every year. We need to do all we can to enable more efficient small cell deployment to bring better wireless broadband service to Americans. Therefore, I hope that the Commission will expeditiously conclude this proceeding to make the additional spectrum available for this purpose. At the same time, we should work to finalize the proceeding to implement section 6409 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, or separate off for its own proceeding consideration of just small cells, whichever can be done faster. If we want the 3.5 GHz experiment to work, we need to move on small cell siting.

I thank the dedicated staff from the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, the Office of Engineering and Technology and the International Bureau for all of their efforts so far, including sensitive and complicated negotiations with NTIA and other federal agencies, and for all the work that lies ahead to get this rulemaking across the finish line.


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Carl has been with RBR-TVBR since 1997 and is currently Managing Director/Senior Editor. Residing in Northern Virginia, he covers the business of broadcasting, advertising, programming, new media and engineering. He’s also done a great deal of interviews for the company and handles our ever-growing stable of bylined columnists.