5G for 12 GHz Coalition Forms to Keep Out Satcoms

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More than 20 prominent public interest groups, trade associations and companies in the telecommunications sector Wednesday launched the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition, urging the FCC to act swiftly and modernize what members say are decades-old rules to open up 12 GHz spectrum for 5G wireless use. The FCC is now collecting comments about that possibility, with the first round of input due next week.

The group is trying to overcome SpaceX, which wants to keep others away from the band, which it uses for its Starlink satellite broadband service. Founder Elon Musk personally lobbied then-FCC Chair Ajit Pai over the issue last fall. SpaceX says its investments in satellite broadband would be undermined if the approved uses for these airwaves are expanded. Other telecom interests siding with SpaceX include AT&T and USTelecom, according to Politico

Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell supports the new coalition. He lobbied multiple FCC commissioners and personally holds some of the frequencies he wants to open.

The coalition’s co-chairs are Chip Pickering, head of telecom trade group Incompas, and Clinton-era White House press secretary Joe Lockhart, who now works in public affairs. Other coalition members include Dish Network, RS Access and Public Knowledge, along with rural interests like the Center for Rural Strategies, the Rural Wireless Association and infrastructure provider Tilson. The coalition released several principles it says should guide the release of 5G spectrum, which also safeguards the rights of existing users, like SpaceX.

“The spectrum-sharing environment has changed dramatically since the rules governing this spectrum were enacted in the pre-iPhone era,” said Pickering, one of the Coalition’s founding members, and Co-Chair. “The FCC has an opportunity to enhance U.S. leadership in 5G and strengthen key economic and national security interests.”

Though the FCC has taken some action to bolster connectivity for consumers and open up more mid-band spectrum, the United States is still losing the 5G race to China, ranking last among 13 major wireless markets, according to the group. It says opening the 12 GHz band would immediately propel the U.S. position in available 5G mid-band spectrum, eclipsing China’s spectrum deployment and helping cement U.S. global competitiveness.

“The FCC has a once in a generation opportunity to update current federal regulations, matching today’s technological landscape. This reform would catapult the United States to the forefront of international telecommunications leadership ahead of competitors like China who are currently outpacing the United States in the race to 5G,” said Lockhart, Co-Chair of the Coalition. 

The issue sparked as the FCC considered whether to allow SpaceX to fly its satellites for a planned broadband service at a lower orbit. Commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved SpaceX’s request, Inside Towers reported. But the agency conditioned the okay on compliance with future FCC actions, “including but not limited to the 12 GHz proceeding. Therefore, SpaceX proceeds at its own risk.”

Read the full list of 5G for 12 GHz members.

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