Commissioners Divided Over Shared 37 GHz Access


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Commissioners fought tooth and nail Friday over how to make millimeter wave spectrum available for 5G, the Internet of Things, and other advanced spectrum-based services, including satellite broadband services. The action is a necessary step toward the auction of the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz spectrum bands, slated to begin in December.

But the item is controversial, and some Commissioners and other parts of the federal government, like the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, wanted the FCC to wait for the vote. The item establishes a coordination process to accommodate the military’s potential need for additional sites in the Upper 37 GHz band. The agency says the process protects the interests of non-federal licensees in the band.

Wireless carriers including T-Mobile and AT&T pushed back on the draft order, warning it could inject uncertainty into the airwaves auction. NTIA Administrator David Redl wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on the eve of the vote, laying out NTIA’s version of how the sharing process should work, and asking the Commission to wait to resolve more complex issues.

“I believe bidders should know with certainty…that they will be able to use what they are purchasing at auction,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. She agreed the Commission action, “injects a whole lot of uncertainty into the viability into parts of these bands just months before they are set for commercial auction.” Instead of offering “clear transparent guidelines about how the spectrum coordination with the DoD would work, the item “raises more questions” and “lacks specificity.”

The FCC vote split along party lines, with the three Republicans voting for the item and the two Democrats partially voting for and against it. GOP Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, said he reluctantly voted for it, saying, “This deal is far, far, far from ideal.” He said the item allows the DoD to access spectrum in the upper 37 GHz band post-auction. He called that, “a sharing model that should never be replicated and should not serve as a precedent for future auctions.”

O’Rielly did note the federal access would only occur for DoD operations that can’t be accommodated in the lower 37 GHz band, “strictly for defense applications or national security purposes.”

Part of the item allows fixed-satellite service earth stations to be individually licensed to transmit in the 50 GHz spectrum band so those operators can provide faster, more advanced services. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said satellite companies could use the uplink capacity for their own internet service. They note, “the earth stations point upward toward space and so are unlikely to cause interference with terrestrial use,” he said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in order to auction the bands this year, the agency needed to resolve pending issues regarding DOD’s ability to access the upper 37 GHz band. “This order does just that.”  Comments? Email Us.

by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

April 15, 2019

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