The FCC today took the final actions required to launch its innovative Connect America Fund Phase II auction, which will provide up to nearly $2 billion over the next decade to expand fixed, high-speed Internet service in unserved rural areas.
In a Public Notice adopted today, the FCC scheduled the auction to begin on July 24, set a March 30 deadline for applications to participate, and set out detailed procedures for the auction. The FCC also adopted an Order on Reconsideration resolving all pending challenges to earlier FCC auction implementation decisions.
Nearly 1 million homes and businesses nationwide are in unserved rural areas where providers are eligible for support from the auction. Qualified providers will compete for support of up to $1.98 billion over the next decade to offer voice and broadband service in unserved areas where, absent subsidies, there is no business case for expanding or providing service.
By harnessing market forces, the auction is designed to provide consumers with high-quality, broadband service in an efficient, cost-effective way. The auction is the first reverse multiple-round auction to provide ongoing Connect America Fund support for fixed broadband and voice service in high-cost rural areas.
The auction will also provide opportunities for new entrants, regardless of technology, including rural telco, fixed wireless, satellite, cable, price cap, and electric utility broadband providers. To ensure successful participation by new entrants, the Public Notice details the FCC’s outreach and education plans for potential bidders, including online tutorials, workshops, webinars, and a mock auction.
With characteristic bravado, T-Mobile began lighting up its 600 MHz LTE network in August, switching on a Nokia transmitter on a rooftop in Cheyenne, Wyoming. T-Mobile’s 600 MHz LTE network rollout will initially be in rural America and other markets where the spectrum is already clear of broadcasting. By the end of the year, an additional 600 MHz sites are slated for locations in Wyoming, Northwest Oregon, West Texas, Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, western North Dakota, Maine, coastal North Carolina, Central Pennsylvania, Central Virginia and Eastern Washington.
Jennifer Fritzsche: The broadcast incentive auction will supply T-Mobile ample low-band spectrum at a reasonable price and will open door for a possible merger. Our sense is discussions with tower operators to help with 600 MHz spectrum deployment are already ongoing. We do not see [T-Mobile] capital investment on this spectrum band to go into slowdown mode – even if a [Sprint / T-Mobile] merger is announced.
Ron Bizick: T-Mobile has been very aggressive in acquiring spectrum positions, which will lead to the need for new towers, as well as locating on existing towers. They fully intend to be competitive with AT&T and Verizon. That’s great for the tower industry.
With characteristic bravado, T-Mobile has begun lighting up its 600 MHz LTE network, switching on a Nokia transmitter on a rooftop in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
T-Mobile’s 600 MHz LTE network rollout will initially be in rural America and other markets where the spectrum is already clear of broadcasting. Those deployments and other network upgrades will increase T-Mobile’s total LTE coverage from 315 million Americans today to 321 million.
By the end of the year, an additional 600 MHz sites are slated for locations in Wyoming, Northwest Oregon, West Texas, Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, western North Dakota, Maine, coastal North Carolina, Central Pennsylvania, Central Virginia and Eastern Washington.
In an ex parte meeting with FCC personnel, T-Mobile officials said they expect to have at least 10 megahertz of 600 MHz spectrum ready for deployment across “more than one million square miles” by the end of this year, including “hundreds of thousands of square miles” of rural areas.
T-Mo CTO Neville Ray applauded the speed of the deployment effort in the 600 MHz frequencies.
“This team broke every record in the books with the speed of our 700 MHz LTE deployment, and we’re doing it again. T-Mobile is effectively executing in six months what would normally be a two-year process,” said Ray said. “We won’t stop … and we won’t slow down!”
The operator is using “low-band” spectrum won in the government broadcast incentive auction concluded earlier this year, and yesterday’s announcement came two months after the carrier received its spectrum licenses from the FCC.
The speed of T-Mobile’s rollout is no accident. In February 2016, T-Mobile, in conjunction with Broadcast Tower Technologies and Hammett & Edison, set out a plan to maximize the resources needed to move the TV broadcasters from the band and rollout the needed technology.
T-Mobile worked with Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung and LG to ensure the right transmitter and handset technology would be available when the rollout began. It is also collaborating with the FCC and broadcasters such as the Public Broadcasting System to quickly clear the spectrum.
Moreover, T-Mobile worked with Electronics Research to make sure that adequate broadcast antennas and installation crews would be available for the TV stations’ move to new spectrum. Antenna production capacity was increased by 800 percent by the end of 2016, and production began at the end of the auction when new channels were assigned to broadcasters.
Additionally, T-Mobile went above and beyond the FCC’s spectrum clearing requirements of the auction winner, committing to pay for new low-power facilities used by local public television stations that are required to relocate to new broadcasting frequencies because of the auction.
J. Sharpe Smith is senior editor of the AGL eDigest. He joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.