FCC Urged to Reject 3.5 GHz Proposals

A battle is being waged over whether the FCC should foster access to spectrum for a variety of network solutions, or primarily for the current, large mobile carriers in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The FCC in 2016 opened up the CBRS band for both licensed and unlicensed sharing with U.S. Navy radar operations at 3.5 GHz and satellite earth stations. The FCC wants to make licensed spectrum affordable to deliver high quality broadband internet, cellular offload and capacity densification, and similar connectivity services, like the Internet of Things. Priority Access Licenses (PALs) cover small areas and are re-auctioned after relatively short (three or six-year) terms.

However, CTIA and T-Mobile recently petitioned the Commission to redefine PALs to be like traditional cellular licenses – covering multi-county areas and renewing automatically, arguing that small-area and competitive licenses don’t provide business certainty or an investment incentive, Inside Towers reported. Companies such as General Electric, rural co-ops and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – argue this would make the licenses unaffordable to all but the large national mobile carriers. Companies like these, that want to deploy services on the CBRS band, made the case for the FCC leaving the rules largely intact during a panel discussion at the New America think tank in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.  

Michael Fitzpatrick, Head of Regulatory Advocacy for GE, said his company is interested in using the spectrum for the Internet of Things (IoT). “The fourth industrial revolution is upon us,” he said, likening machine to machine communication to plastics in the movie “The Graduate.” GE licensing the spectrum it needs from a large carrier “introduces more complexity” and cost into the process.

NTCA–the Rural Broadband Association — represents about 850 member companies — typically family-owned telcos offering both wireless and wired broadband. “Spectrum has to be affordable,” said NTCA VP/Assistant General Counsel Jill Canfield. “Our members won’t win when [the spectrum] is up for auction against the big carriers.

Baicells North America specializes in providing LTE networks, including small cells wireless technology. Baicells President Patrick Leary calls CBRS the next WiFi, but better. “The greatest threat to revenue comes from the ability to get low-cost spectrum. I contend it’s the goal of the four carriers to drive up the cost of the PALs,” said Leary.

T-Mobile VP Technology and Engineering Steve Sharkey said his company’s proposal came out of what it’s seeing globally. T-Mobile’s proposal is in line with how other countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia license the 3.5 GHz band for 5G. The short terms and “lack of renewability really undermines the value of the investment.” T-Mobile believes the entire CBRS band should be licensed for 10 year terms and use census blocks, which are bigger than PALs.

Sharkey rejected the concept that nobody can compete against the large carriers at auction. The more interest in the spectrum, the “more investment there is. There’s plenty of room for innovation and competition” in the band if the rules are revised, he said.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

September 22, 2017              

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