Co-location Makes FCC Voting Agenda

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The FCC has a plethora of telecom items to vote on later this month. Co-location of wireless equipment on existing towers is a top item, as are rules to create a new rural 5G fund.

5G networks will require deployment of a significant number of additional antennas. Many of those antennas could be placed on existing infrastructure, but existing towers may need additional ground equipment to support the new gear, says FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a blog.

“To facilitate the co-location of antennas and associated ground equipment, the Commission will vote on a proposal to further streamline the state and local government review process for limited modifications to existing wireless infrastructure,” writes Pai. Congress limited state and local jurisdictions’ authority to deny these modifications in 2012, under section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act. Under the order, the agency will vote on this month, “excavation and deployment up to 30 feet in any direction outside of the existing site would not ‘substantially change’ the physical dimensions of the facility, and therefore would not disqualify the co-location from streamlined state and local review,” says Pai.  

Monday, he circulated rules to establish a 5G Fund for Rural America. The new program would use multi-round reverse auctions to distribute up to $9 billion in two phases, to bring voice and 5G broadband service to rural areas that would not likely see the deployment of 5G-capable networks without subsidies. 

Building upon lessons learned from the Mobility Fund, the Commission would adopt its proposal to determine which areas will be eligible for 5G Fund support based on improved mobile broadband coverage data that will be gathered through the Commission’s new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. This is what the agency has been working on to standardize and improve the data it receives from carriers about broadband coverage. 

“This approach won’t be the fastest possible path to the Phase I auction,” he acknowledges, “but it will allow us to identify with greater precision those areas of the country where support is most needed and will be spent most efficiently.”

Another item aimed at increasing 5G to rural America involves TV White Spaces, which are 600 MHz frequencies between stations that are not being used for other authorized services. Unlicensed devices operate in TV White Spaces. This spectrum has excellent “propagation characteristics,” according to the Chairman, “which makes [600 MHz] particularly attractive for delivering wireless broadband services in rural areas and areas where fewer broadcast television stations operate.”

The Commission intends to vote to expand the ability of unlicensed devices to provide broadband coverage in rural and unserved areas while still protecting television broadcasters in the band. The Order would also facilitate the development of new and innovative narrowband Internet of Things devices in TV White Spaces, according to the agency. 

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