FCC Votes to Open 100 MHz of Mid-Band Spectrum for Auction

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Next-gen 5G wireless took center stage at the FCC’s monthly meeting Wednesday as Commissioners voted on auction rules for October’s next mid-band spectrum auction.

The agency seeks public input on the rules for Auction 110, the auction of 100 MHz of spectrum for flexible use licenses in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band. The band is now used by the Department of Defense on a primary basis and non-federal licensees on a secondary basis.

The Second Report and Order adopted yesterday establishes a framework for the 3.45 GHz band that the agency says will enable commercial use by an array of service providers, while also ensuring that federal incumbents are still protected from harmful interference where and when they need continued access to the band. The FCC envisions federal services operating under the shared framework while secondary users would be moved to the 2.9 to 3.0 GHz band.  

The proposed auction would offer 10 licenses in each Partial Economic Area in the contiguous U.S. for a total of 4,060 licenses. They would be labeled block A through J in the clock phase of the auction, similar to the C-band bidding. There would be two license categories; sharing requirements for blocks A through D would differ from those in blocks E through J. Entities would be allowed to bid for up to four licenses per PEA.

Another similarity with the recent C-band auction is this one also would have a clock phase and an assignment phase. Bidders would be publicly named after bidding closes.

Commissioner Brendan Carr said during the vote: “There’s a lot we get right today, including our decision to license spectrum over geographic areas that line up with our approach in C-band and that are well suited for macro operations.” He disagreed with the choice to adopt an upfront 40 MHz spectrum aggregation limit, saying “Studies of bidding restrictions imposed by regulators around the world show that these efforts routinely fail to achieve those governments’ goals of determining winners and losers in spectrum auctions.” He still voted for the item.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, who also voted for the item, said the proposed cooperative sharing agreement with the DoD incumbent users “create[s] a sensible framework that protects incumbents … while also preventing harmful interference to nonfederal licensees outside the[ir] locations.”

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said during the 4-0 vote that most of the country has yet to experience the benefits of “a true 5G network.” For consumers, she said, “It’s confusing with carriers providing different versions of 5G, which can sometimes feel a lot like the 4G they already have.”

That’s true, in part, she said, because “carriers don’t always have the spectrum they need to provide consistent and widespread coverage. Today, we take action to change that. Mid-band spectrum has been the critical component that is missing, and our action here helps fix that.”

Rosenworcel said to think of the action as a “spectrum stimulus for 5G.” Looking ahead, she’s working with federal partners to consider the 3.1 to 3.45 MHz band for the next mid-band spectrum to auction.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief 

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