Battle for 3.5 GHz Spectrum Gets More Intense


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CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker is urging the FCC to finish rules for the 3.5 GHz portion of mid-band spectrum in time for the agency’s July meeting. The former FCC Commissioner is also pushing the agency to schedule an auction for that Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in 2019.

South Korea plans to auction its 3.5 GHz spectrum next month, Baker notes in a filing to the agency this week, and other countries are making similar plans. “Given that South Korea, China, and Japan are moving forward rapidly with mid-band spectrum, it is critical we move forward expeditiously to both finalize the rules and set an auction date for 2019,” says Baker.

The future of the 3.5 GHz CBRS band has been fiercely contested between large carriers, who advocate for larger geographic areas and longer licensing terms and smaller carriers who argue to keep the rules the same to allow them to innovate.

Baker referenced the compromise proposed in April by CTIA and the Competitive Carriers Association for what Baker calls “investment-friendly” changes, including longer license terms, license renewal expectation, and larger geographic area licenses. They proposed the agency should license Priority Access License (PAL) geographic license areas using Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the top 306 Cellular Market Areas (CMAs) and use county-based geographic area licenses in the remaining 428 CMAs. “We continue to work with the Commission and other stakeholders on the right geographic licensing approach, and believe that the CTIA-CCA approach represents a meaningful compromise that will maximize the value of the 70 megahertz of PAL spectrum,” writes Baker.

But a group consisting of the Rural Wireless Association, the Rural Broadband Association, Ruckus Networks, Frontier Communications, Motorola and others, presented Commissioner Michael O’Rielly this week with what they say is a more inclusive compromise. They describe their coalition as “the largest yet” in this proceeding. “In the spirit of compromise, all of these diverse parties are willing to accept some obstacles to their own CBRS opportunities in order to ensure that the largest possible group of stakeholders can derive value from the 3.5 GHz band,” they say. They assert their proposed mix of large-area and small-area licensing under a compromise CBRS PALs framework will accommodate the needs of all stakeholders in the 3.5 GHz band.

However, a collection of consumer organizations, calling themselves the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition, oppose any efforts to increase license size. They support neither compromise, saying: “A FCC policy aimed at redefining spectrum rights to fit the business model of very wide-area regional and national coverage networks is neither necessary nor appropriate in this band given the opposition of virtually every other stakeholder to effectively rigging the PAL auctions so that only large ISPs will have either the financial incentive or resources to win permanent and large-area PALs at auction.” The coalition adds: “Very large-area and expensive licenses are simply not a good fit for small cell, high capacity use cases, and are likely to result in spectrum lying fallow for many years, if not indefinitely, in low-density environments outside of central urban areas and well-trafficked venues.”

Published June 1, 2018

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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