FCC Grants WISPs Access to 5.9 GHz to Give Rural Networks Crisis Support

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The FCC granted dozens of rural, fixed wireless broadband providers access to the 5.9 GHz band Friday to support telework, remote learning and telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Special Temporary Authority (STA) will enable 33 companies to use the lower 45 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for 60 days.

The wireless internet service providers (WISPs) serve 330 counties in 29 states. The states involved include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.  

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), helped the companies apply for the STAs. WISPA told the FCC the companies rely primarily on unlicensed spectrum for last-mile connections to end users, including the 5 GHz UNII bands. “Many of the WISPs’ customers have no other alternative to terrestrial broadband services,” WISPA told the agency.  

“The pandemic’s shut-in orders have really increased demand on this nation’s networks,” said WISPA President/CEO Claude Aiken on Friday. “This has been particularly hard on rural Americans, and those effects are only amplified by poorer access to broadband in the heartland of America.” 

The 33 small rural innovators who received their STA grants Friday already operate in the 5 GHz band, according to Aiken. With the temporary authority to use 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band, “They’re set to quickly develop and deliver new high-speed broadband offerings for their rural customers who could really use it,” he explained.

The new capacity will allow fewer network disruptions, facilitating increased telework, distance learning and telehealth. “Our members are seeing over a 35 percent bump in traffic in peak hours, with 90 percent of them getting customer requests to add more speed to their plans,” noted Aiken. “The more capacity they can quickly put into service, the more fortified their communities are against the challenges of COVID-19.” 

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