Forget the lazy, hazy days of summer. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association has been busy in the last month, lobbying hard for access to spectrum in small geographic areas in the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), which it thought it had sewn up three years ago.
Back in 2015, when it created the CBRS, the FCC designed Priority Access Licenses (PALs) to consist of 10-megahertz channels, each covering a census tract (a small, relatively permanent statistical subdivision of a county) as part of the CBRS. Up to seven total PALs were to be assigned in any given census tract. Then in 2017, the FCC launched a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would increase the size of the geographic area of the licenses and make other changes better suited to carrier control of the spectrum.
The proposed rule changes have frustrated WISPA President and CEO Claude Aiken. The response to the original auction rules brought in additional non-traditional players who had not be able to bid on the larger geographic area licenses, including Industrial IoT players such as FedEx, Port of Los Angeles and others, he said.
So now Aiken is fighting an uphill battle to save rules that passed unanimously in favor of his industry three years ago. He has spoken before the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, made an exparte presentation before the FCC (cosigned by 182 WISPs) and has written editorials, explaining why census tract licenses in the CBRS band are critical to his members’ ability to provide broadband to more rural consumers.
“We have been working hard. This issue is incredibly important to our members. It is the policy issue that we have been spending the most time on,” Aiken said.
As the wireless carriers and WISPs and others came to loggerheads, the FCC responded by asking for a compromise.
“There have been a lot of industry negotiations that led to compromise licensing framework proposals, one of which was supported by WISPA and a broad coalition of potential bidders, and the other supported by the carriers,” Aiken said.
The wireless industry proposed a two-tier system, with different geographic areas between urban and rural areas (based on counties). WISPA urged the Commission to maintain two of the seven census-tract licenses in all areas of the country.
Aiken maintained that WISPs are ideally suited for cost-effective, rapid rural deployment without government subsidies.
“5G isn’t just for the mobile industry. What we need to focus on is spectrum policies that are balanced, which will enable 5G in urban areas but also allow our members, who are already deploying broadband in rural areas to continue to do so,” he said. “Having good spectrum policy can, in a lot of ways, be a substitute for subsidies. Our members provide service in areas, without subsidies, where other companies say they need subsidies to provide service.”
During last week’s FCC congressional oversight hearing, Rep. Doyle (D-Pa) made his support for census-tract licenses very clear with a rhetorical question.
“How does making changes in the CBRS band to make it less accessible to rural broadband providers, who are deploying broadband in hard to reach communities enhance the Commission’s and this committees shared goal of bridging the digital divide?” he said.
Later in the hearing, Doyle bluntly asked each Commissioner if they would commit to the use of census-tract licenses. Commissioner O’Rielly, just as bluntly, said “no” he wouldn’t commit, while Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel supported them, saying “We are going to need smaller license sizes if we are going to get wireless providers to serve rural areas in this band.” Commissioner Brendan Carr said he was were undecided, while Chairman Ajit Pai told the hearing that Commissioner O’Rielly is taking the lead in working with staff on the 3.5 GHz proceeding and he was not going to presuppose the outcome of that work.
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 29 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. Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: [email protected]