Controversial Changes to 3.5 GHz CBRS Closer to Reality

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Inside Towers has been reporting the fight between Google and rural internet service providers versus large carriers over the licensing of the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. The FCC proposed increasing the size and length of CBRS licenses to use the mid-band spectrum; CTIA and T-Mobile petitioned the FCC for the changes. They want carriers to be able to use the spectrum for 5G. Small carriers and rural ISPs say the changes will crowd out other users — like them.

The FCC voted to begin a Notice of Public Rulemaking yesterday, and proposed including longer license terms with the possibility of renewal and larger geographic license areas. Proponents said the modifications could help increase incentives for investment, encourage more efficient spectrum use, and promote robust network deployments in both urban and rural communities.

Other countries are updating their policies for the 3.5 GHz band to enable core network deployments of 5G, and the U.S. must do this as well, noted Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Looking to “fix the previous Commission’s missteps,” he called the current definition of the license geographic areas “flawed.”

While Commissioner Mignon Clyburn “would have preferred we not launched this NPRM” because it “sets us on a path to undo” changes happening in the marketplace to spur wireless network deployment, she voted for the item. The changes made in 2015 were made so wireless technology could be deployed in retail areas like malls, areas that “need interference protection,” and would “require the use of small cells.” Shorter license terms and small geographic areas make such licenses affordable for retailers and small school systems, for example. However the language in the text will allow licenses for a mix of geographic sizes, to level the playing field for all size licensees, she explained.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is not convinced and she alone opposed the item, saying “instead of continuing in innovative spectrum policy we are in retreat. This rulemaking takes what was innovative and casts it aside for current business models as our national providers grow bigger and fewer in number.”

The Wireless Infrastructure Association praised the move. WIA President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein commended Commissioner O’Rielly “for his ongoing efforts on this issue and appreciation for creating a more predictable business environment.” Adelstein, himself a former FCC Commissioner, said: “The proposals the FCC is considering will spur greater investments as the wireless industry continues to develop new and innovative technologies that serve us all. We look forward to working with the FCC as it forges a path toward flexible use in the 3.5 GHz band to encourage the deployment of 5G and other important mobile services.”

CTIA, too, was thrilled with the FCC action. Scott Bergmann, CTIA Vice President for Regulatory Affairs called the modifications “common sense changes” to the “3.5 GHz band in a way that will not delay new wireless service to Americans.”

Published October 25, 2017

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