6 GHz Band, 5G Fund, Orbital Debris Items Teed up for April 23

Credit TR Daily

6 GHz Band, 5G Fund, Orbital Debris Items Teed Up for April 23

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced today that the FCC will consider six items at its April 23 meeting, including a draft item making 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available for unlicensed use in the 6 gigahertz band, a draft notice of proposed rulemaking proposing the establishment of a 5G Fund for Rural America, and a draft order updating the agency’s orbital debris rules.

Mr. Pai announced that Commissioners also will consider an order approving Viasat, Inc.’s request to deploy a non-geostationary satellite orbit fixed-satellite service (NGSO FSS) constellation, an NPRM proposing changes to the agency’s video description rules, and an order updating the Commission’s low-power FM technical regulations.

The FCC plans to release the text of the draft items and the tentative agenda for the meeting tomorrow.

A press release on the draft 6 GHz item stressed that it would enable unlicensed devices to share the 6 GHz band “with incumbent licensed services under rules that are crafted to protect those licensed services and to enable both unlicensed and licensed operations to thrive throughout the band.”

“From Wi-Fi routers to home appliances, Americans’ everyday use of devices that connect to the Internet over unlicensed spectrum has exploded,” Chairman Pai said in the press release.  “That trend will only continue.  Cisco projects that nearly 60% of global mobile data traffic will be off-loaded to Wi-Fi by 2022.  To accommodate that increase in Wi-Fi demand, the FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet: making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use.  By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five.  This would be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation.  It would be another step toward increasing the capacity of our country’s networks.  And it would help advance even further our leadership in next generation wireless technologies, including 5G.”

In a blog posting today, Mr. Pai said that he is proposing to free spectrum “for unlicensed use in four segments of the 6 GHz band (5.925–7.125 GHz). This band is currently populated by, among others, microwave services that are used to support utilities, public safety, and wireless backhaul.” He added that “the rules we will vote on would play a major role in the growth of the Internet of Things, connecting appliances, machines, meters, wearables, and other consumer electronics, as well as industrial sensors for manufacturing. In addition to the Report and Order, we’ll consider a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to explore possibilities for very low power devices in this band.”

Under the draft order, the FCC “would authorize two different types of unlicensed operations: standard-power in 850-megahertz of the band and indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200-megahertz available in the 6 GHz band,” Mr. Pai noted in the press release. “An automated frequency coordination system would prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.”

The FNPRM “proposes to permit very low-power devices to operate across the 6 GHz band, to support high data rate applications including high-performance, wearable, augmented-reality and virtual-reality devices,” Mr. Pai added. “Specifically, the Further Notice would seek comment on making a contiguous 1,200-megahertz block of spectrum available for the development of new and innovative high-speed, short-range devices and on power levels and other technical and operational measures to avoid causing interference to incumbent services.”

The item would reject a plea by parties that include CTIA and wireless carriers to defer a decision on the upper portion of the 6 GHz band and explore licensing the spectrum and moving those incumbents to the 7 GHz band.

The item would follow up on an NPRM unanimously adopted in 2018 proposing to free up as much as 1,200 MHz of spectrum for unlicensed use (TR Daily, Oct. 23, 2018).

Today’s announcement drew praise from advocates of unlicensed technology and caution from 6 GHz band incumbents, including fixed wireless interests that have argued that the framework envisioned by the new entrants would fail to protect their operations (see separate story). In particular, the two sides have battled over whether an AFC system was needed for each type of unlicensed device and what the technical limits should be.

Chairman Pai also plans to ask his colleagues to vote on a proposal for using multi-round reverse auctions to distribute up to $9 billion in two phases under the 5G Fund he announced late last year as a proposed replacement for the $4.5 billion Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II), which would have been used to support 4G LTE deployment to unserved rural areas.

An FCC staff report released in December found that the 4G LTE coverage maps submitted by Verizon Communications, Inc., United States Cellular Corp., and T-Mobile US, Inc., as part of the effort to determine which areas should be eligible for support in the agency’s MF-II auction, overstated their coverage and thus were not accurate. The staff recommended that the Commission terminate the MF-II challenge process. On the same day the report was released, Chairman Pai proposed the 5G Fund to replace the MF-II fund (TR Daily, Dec. 4, 2019).

When he announced his plan, he said he would also propose that $1 billion be set aside to support 5G deployments that benefit precision agriculture.

In his blog post today, Chairman Pai said, “In the not-too-distant future, access to mobile broadband will mean access to 5G. 5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks. But we need to make sure that 5G narrows rather than widens the digital divide, and that rural Americans too benefit from the wireless innovation on our doorstep.”

He added, “Phase I of the 5G Fund would target at least $8 billion of support over ten years to rural areas of our country that would be unlikely to be covered by the commitments made by New T-Mobile as part of its acquisition of Sprint (including coverage of 90% of rural Americans with 5G service at 50 [megabits per second] or greater over the next six years) and that we anticipate would not see timely deployment of 5G service absent universal service support. To balance our policy goal of efficiently and quickly redirecting high-cost support to areas where it is most needed with our obligation to ensure that we have an accurate understanding of the extent of nationwide mobile wireless broadband deployment, we seek public input on two options for identifying areas that would be eligible for 5G Fund support.”

In a press release, the FCC said that those two options, which are for Phase I of 5G Fund support, are (1) an auction to be held in 2021 “by defining eligible areas based on current data sources that identify areas as particularly rural and thus in the greatest need of universal service support” and prioritizing “areas that have historically lacked 4G LTE or 3G service” and (2) a delay of the 5G Fund Phase I auction “until at least 2023, after collecting and processing improved mobile broadband coverage data through the Commission’s new Digital Opportunity Data Collection.”

Some observers, including members of Congress from both parties, have been critical or at least questioning of the idea of moving ahead with funding for unserved areas when the FCC’s data about which areas are unserved is not accurate.

Regarding the FCC’s orbital debris proceeding, Mr. Pai said that Commissioners would “vote on a Report and Order to comprehensively update the Commission’s existing rules regarding orbital debris mitigation, which were adopted in 2004. These new rules are designed to address the problem of orbital debris, while at the same time not creating undue regulatory obstacles to new satellite ventures. We would also seek comment on adopting a performance bond tied to successful spacecraft disposal.”

In 2018, the Commission adopted an NPRM in the proceeding (TR Daily, Nov. 15, 2018).

In comments filed on behalf of the Commerce Department, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration asked the FCC to defer action “until completion of the agency actions mandated by the President’s Space Policy Directives” (TR Daily, April 8, 2019).

Commissioners also are slated to vote later this month “on an Order to approve ViaSat’s request for market access for a constellation of 20 satellites that will provide fixed-satellite service,” Mr. Pai said in his blog.

The Chairman also said he plans to seek a vote at the meeting on an NPRM to seek comment on a proposal to add 40 additional markets over four years to the 60 top television markets where certain commercial TV broadcasters are required to provide video-described programming to improve accessibility for blind or visually impaired consumers.  In a report to Congress last year mandated by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), the FCC’s Media Bureau noted that consumers would like the video-description requirement to be expanded beyond the top-60 designated market areas (DMAs) (TR Daily, Oct. 9, 2019).

Rounding out the agenda for the April 23 meeting, the FCC plans to consider a report and order updating its LPFM technical rules.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com; Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

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FCC’s Draft 6 GHz Band Item Draws Mixed Reviews

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s announcement today that the agency would consider a 6 gigahertz band order and further notice of proposed rulemaking at its April 23 meeting drew mixed reviews, with advocates of unlicensed technology praising the agency and incumbents urging caution.

Mr. Pai said that a draft order would make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available for unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band (see separate story).

Under the draft order, the FCC “would authorize two different types of unlicensed operations: standard-power in 850-megahertz of the band and indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200-megahertz available in the 6 GHz band,” Mr. Pai noted in a press release. “An automated frequency coordination system would prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.”

The FNPRM “proposes to permit very low-power devices to operate across the 6 GHz band, to support high data rate applications including high-performance, wearable, augmented-reality and virtual-reality devices,” Mr. Pai added. “Specifically, the Further Notice would seek comment on making a contiguous 1,200-megahertz block of spectrum available for the development of new and innovative high-speed, short-range devices and on power levels and other technical and operational measures to avoid causing interference to incumbent services.”

Some 6 GHz band incumbents, including commercial, utility, and public safety operators, have argued that the FCC should require AFC to be used for all types of unlicensed devices – or at least for more types than the draft document proposes – and parties have clashed on the precise technical limits. Unlicensed advocates have argued that the use of an AFC system was not necessary for low-power and very low-power devices because they wouldn’t cause harmful interference to incumbent operations.

For his part, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly welcomed the draft item.

“Today’s item effectively concludes some of the substantive debates and will end some extraneous noise surrounding our approach,” he said. “While I look forward to reading the specifics, it appears very consistent with my emphatic support for protecting incumbent users while permitting varied unlicensed services within the band. Specifically, higher-powered unlicensed services will be allowed in the band using a slimmed-down automated frequency coordination (AFC) regime, while low power indoor (LPI) use, which probably could use a closer review and improvements to its technical rules over the next couple weeks, will be allowed throughout the band without an AFC. Although it initially settles on certain lower power limits for LPI use, the further notice will explore increasing these limits, as well as setting workable power limits and more specifics to effectuate very lower powered (VLP) unlicensed devices.”

“Today’s action to permit all 1200 megahertz of the band to be used for unlicensed services means that proposals to license portions of the band were not accepted,” Mr. O’Rielly added. “I fully support this outcome, but I also remain fully committed to identifying other mid-bands for licensed services. Simply put, U.S. wireless providers must have more mid-band spectrum to meet consumer demand, and I will fight to refill the spectrum pipeline for future licensed wireless services. This effort is absolutely vital to preserving U.S. leadership in wireless technology and to alleviate the demands being placed on existing networks. I firmly believe that the most likely candidate bands for this purpose are Federal spectrum allocations, such as the 3.1 to 3.55 GHz band, that can be converted to commercial use. I look forward to discussing this draft with interested parties in the coming weeks, and I will go out on a limb to predict a unanimous vote from my colleagues.”

“We welcome the Commission’s effort to utilize the 6 GHz band to advance the next-generation of superfast Wi-Fi connectivity while protecting existing users,” NCTA said. “As we work from home, learn at a distance, use telemedicine services, stay informed, and play online, this spectrum band will be critical to delivering high-speed connections that nearly every consumer relies on. We look forward to working with the Chairman, Commissioners, and staff to advance this item which will enable our Wi-Fi networks to keep up with the significantly growing demand of our digital lives.”

The Wi-Fi Alliance said it “commends FCC Chairman Pai on the momentous decision to sustain America’s technological leadership, maximize public benefit of the 6 GHz spectrum resource, and unleash the power of ubiquitous Wi-Fi connectivity by moving ahead with the 6 GHz order.  Ensuring necessary unlicensed spectrum access is critical for Wi-Fi, which now more than ever, keeps us connected, supports our communications infrastructure, and delivers major economic benefits. Wi-Fi Alliance and its members are ready to deliver new 6 GHz use-cases and urge the Commission to support the Chairman’s proposal.”

WifiForward said, “We applaud Chairman Pai for a game-changing plan to unleash much-needed unlicensed spectrum that will support generational innovation while protecting existing users of the spectrum. From multi-gigabit Wi-Fi capabilities on our home networks to low-cost telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, from VR-based training for mining and other dangerous jobs to remote surgery, this spectrum supports the future of Wi-Fi and other innovations we cannot yet comprehend. WifiForward members have witnessed unprecedented growth in Wi-Fi usage over the last month; never has the need been more evident or pressing. We look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Pai and his colleagues on this issue and thank him for his unwavering leadership to address the unlicensed spectrum crunch and allow a diverse technological ecosystem to continue to flourish.”

“Today’s announcement by Chairman Pai is a win for America’s tech innovators and consumers. Unlicensed spectrum empowers the emerging technologies of today – AR/VR, drones, smart cities, artificial intelligence, telehealth – and those ideas yet to be imagined,” said Consumer Technology Association President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Shapiro. “The FCC’s announcement comes at an especially critical time, when many Americans are relying on Wi-Fi connections to work remotely and communicate with friends and family. Allowing more bandwidth for unlicensed uses such as Wi-Fi will help expand connectivity when we need it most. I thank FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for his dedicated work on this important issue.”

“Intel commends the FCC for opening the 6 GHz spectrum band for unlicensed operation, which will significantly improve Wi-Fi for all Americans. We deeply appreciate the efforts of FCC staff who have worked tirelessly assessing the complexities associated with the 6 GHz band, and eagerly await the FCC addressing this important topic at its April 23rd meeting,” said Gregory Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Corp.’s Client Computing Group.

Keerti Melkote, president of the Intelligent Edge for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, said, “The runaway success of Wi-Fi in the last couple decades represents the power of unlicensed spectrum, open standards and unfettered innovation. The FCC’s bold action to allocate the largest block of mid-band spectrum for unlicensed use builds on its success in creating the Wi-Fi industry and promises to usher in the next era of unconstrained American innovation for the global markets.”

“Broadcom believes that this is … the most substantive decision any Commission has made, or any Chairman has made, for unlicensed over the last, you know, almost 20 years. It’s a big deal,” said Jeff Szymanski, director-product marketing and government affairs for the Mobile Wireless Connectivity Division at Broadcom Inc. He added that products using the spectrum could be available this holiday season.

He told TR Daily that while he would prefer that the FCC address all three types of unlicensed devices in the order to be considered this month, he is pleased “as long as there’s a process in place for us to complete that last portion of this, the very low power portables, with the right rules.”

“Qualcomm fully supports the FCC’s plan to allocate the 6 GHz band for advanced unlicensed operations at its April 23rd meeting,” said Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm, Inc. “We applaud FCC Chairman Pai and his fellow FCC Commissioners for this initiative, which will provide American consumers with better, faster broadband for so many uses, including telemedicine, remote learning and working, fully immersive augmented and virtual reality, & the Internet of Things.  In February, we demonstrated a full suite of Wi Fi 6E products ready to start using this large new swath of spectrum.  We are also optimizing other exciting new technologies for this large swath of spectrum, including the next version of 5G and next generation Wi-Fi.  Today’s announcement is another important step taken by the FCC to ensuring American leadership in the key 21st Century enabling technologies.”

Connect Americans Now Executive Director Richard Cullen said, “Connect Americans Now commends Chairman Pai and the FCC for their continued dedication to maximizing spectrum resources for broadband use, including Wi-Fi. Expanding the availability of unlicensed spectrum in the 6 GHz band for high-bandwidth connectivity will make available the full potential of broadband and Wi-Fi as critical tools for all Americans.”

“Great to see @FCC & @AjitPaiFCC act to open up #6GHz band for unlicensed broadband use – a needed change that can help more Americans telework and learn remotely,” Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith tweeted.

“There has not been a significant release of unlicensed spectrum for two decades, and this new spectrum will provide the rocket fuel to truly enrich and realize the dreams of rural 5G, as well as other wireless innovation yet to be invented,” said Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.

“We applaud FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the Commissioners for today’s action to allow unlicensed use in the 6GHz band of spectrum. The FCC’s forward-thinking approach to enable more good use of spectrum will benefit the app economy, our members and the customers they serve, and communities everywhere,” said Morgan Reed, president of ACT, which represents app developers.

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, said, “Consumer advocates commend the FCC for its pathbreaking spectrum-sharing order. Opening the entire 6 GHz band for low-power, gigabit-fast Wi-Fi in every home, school, and enterprise will accelerate the availability and affordability of next-generation applications and services nationwide. Even the fastest fiber broadband internet service is useless for consumers without the Wi-Fi spectrum needed to connect all of our laptops, tablets, and smartphones.”

“We applaud the FCC and Chairman Pai for the decision to help bring the promise of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G to more Americans. Opening the whole 6 GHz band for unlicensed use both through fixed high-power outdoor use and low-power indoor use will bring faster Wi-Fi to both rural and urban communities struggling to connect, helping to close the widening digital divide that we find ourselves in,” said Public Knowledge Policy Council Bertram Lee.

“The current COVID-19 crisis underscores how important high-capacity Wi-Fi is for everyone. Anyone working from home uses Wi-Fi access points, and mobile carriers are opening their networks as well to help connect more people during this crisis. Now more than ever, faster Wi-Fi is a necessity for more Americans as we try to work, learn, and connect with one another from home. The FCC’s action marks a crucial step forward in making faster Wi-Fi a reality, which could soon help more Americans at a time where connection is essential,” Mr. Lee added.

Brad Gillen, EVP of CTIA, which with others wanted the FCC to consider licensing the top portion of the 6 GHz band, said, “We support the FCC’s efforts to make the lower half of the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use and will continue to work closely with the commission to ensure rigorous protections for licensed services already existing in the band. While the FCC has done a remarkable job freeing up critical licensed spectrum for 5G, the United States faces a growing mid-band deficit. It is essential that the FCC and the administration develop a roadmap to close this deficit before moving forward with plans to give away the full 1200 MHz in the 6 GHz band and further limit our few remaining options.”

Mark Racek, senior director-regulatory policy at Ericsson, said, “Mid-band spectrum is critical for the U.S. to lead in the development of a robust 5G ecosystem. Other countries are far ahead of the U.S. in identifying and assigning licensed mid-band spectrum. Licensed spectrum in the upper 6 GHz band is necessary to ensure U.S. 5G leadership by facilitating new wireless applications and services beneficial to consumers and businesses. At the same time, Ericsson recognizes the need for a mix of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum and, therefore, urges the FCC to move ahead with opening the lower 6 GHz range for unlicensed use if incumbent users can be assured of protection from interference, and we request the FCC to seek additional comment on licensed use of spectrum in the 6 GHz band.”

“Given its experience, the FCC has presented a plan that will allow wi-fi devices to operate alongside the current users of the spectrum band. This is great news as the FCC is doing what can be done to maximize spectrum given current restraints. Going forward, a plan to include more licensed spectrum must be developed and a continuing focus on mid-band spectrum is a must,” said the Innovation Economy Institute. “The combination of its actions now, and this continued focus on next steps for a mid-band and licensed plan is just what the country needs as the roll out of 5G continues enhancing the US global leadership role in broadband.”

But Sharla Artz, senior vice president-government and external affairs for the Utilities Technology Council, said, “We will be reviewing the draft order when it is available. We have and will continue to provide the FCC with technical detail demonstrating the very real interference potential from unlicensed use across all parts of the band and the need for thoroughly tested automated frequency coordination (AFC) to protect incumbent users. While we appreciate the FCC proposing to require AFC for the standard-power access points, these measures must also be applied to all unlicensed devices in the band to prevent interference to mission-critical utility communications systems.

“We are also concerned that the FCC is planning to allow low-power indoor unlicensed operations across the entire 1200 MHz of the band,” Ms. Artz added. “In addition, we are concerned that the draft would allow unlicensed devices to operate at power levels that would cause unacceptable levels of interference to vital utility communications systems. We have and will continue to engage with the FCC and interested stakeholders to develop technical requirements that adequately protect critical infrastructure incumbents and allow unlicensed operations to use in the band.”

“Public safety relies heavily on the 6 GHz band to support 9-1-1 PSAPs, land mobile radio, dispatch operations and other critical links,” noted Doug Aiken, vice chair of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council. “The FCC’s plan to open the band to unlicensed sharing has been very contentious, as evidenced by a multitude of filings.  We are especially concerned about unlicensed operations, even indoor, not required to have automatic frequency coordination (AFC). NPSTC therefore looks forward to reviewing the draft Report and Order to assess whether it includes sufficient protection for public safety 6 GHz operations.”

Don Evans, a counsel for the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition, said that “there are a lot of details that we won’t know until we see the draft Order. I am heartened that the Commission seems to be recognizing the need to protect licensed operations in what we assume are the fixed wireless bands (UNII-5 and 7), but uncontrolled indoor operations in this band will be problematic at the power levels which had been proposed by the RLAN [radio local area network] proponents.” He noted that the FWCC has advocated for AFC use for both indoor and outdoor devices.

Dennis Wharton, EVP-communications of the National Association of Broadcasters, said, “The last few weeks of lifeline coronavirus coverage by local TV stations have made crystal clear the value of the 6 GHz band to broadcasters and the viewers we serve. If broadcasters are to continue providing news coverage that is trusted in a crisis, we need spectrum to provide that service.

“We have previously witnessed the negative impact Wi-Fi operations have caused to spectrum broadcasters use to cover breaking news,” Mr. Wharton added. “Opening the entire 6 GHz band to unlicensed use without strong safeguards risks locking the FCC into a mistake it cannot correct. We look forward to engaging with the FCC to discuss potential solutions, including appropriate power levels, methods for restricting indoor-only operations, and other options to protect broadcaster uses.”

AT&T, Inc., declined to comment today, but the carrier has blasted as “deeply flawed” the argument that the use of AFC is not needed to deploy very low-power and low-power indoor devices. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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House Dems Propose Broadband Funds for COVID-19 Phase 4 Package

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.) today unveiled their infrastructure priorities for an anticipated Phase 4 coronavirus response legislative package, including $86 billion for broadband infrastructure and $12 billion for next-generation 911 (NG-911).

The infrastructure priorities outlined by the House Democratic leaders mirrors the $760 billion proposal for infrastructure investment that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Energy and Commerce Committee, and Ways and Means Committee unveiled in January (TR Daily, Jan. 29), with the addition of $10 billion “for the community health centers that are on the front lines of the fight against coronavirus,” according to a House Democratic fact sheet released today.

The fact sheet positions broadband support within the current public health crisis:  “Telemedicine, teleworking, tele-schooling and the increased use of social media and video conferencing by Americans connecting with loved ones during the epidemic have made access to high-speed broadband more critical than ever.”

The broadband support is intended for investment in “expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved rural, suburban, and urban communities across the country — connecting Americans, creating strong small businesses, more jobs and strengthening economies in communities that have been left behind.”

The NG-911 infrastructure funding is intended to protect “American lives by funding implementation of a Next Generation 9-1-1 system that will allow people to call or send texts, images or videos to 9-1-1 to help first responders and emergency personnel better assess the nature of an emergency and reach people in need.”

A Phase 3 proposal by House Democrats included nearly $4 billion in broadband and hot spot funding provisions, but the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that President Trump signed into law last Friday only contained $325 million in combined Rural Development and Connected Care pilot program funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FCC to distribute (TR Daily, March 27).

Yesterday on the “Guy Benson Show,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) opposed moving toward a fourth coronavirus legislative practice so soon.  “What I disagree with the speaker on is she’s already saying we need to work on phase four. Well look, the current law has not been in effect for even a week yet.  … I mean the implementation of this —- the Treasury Department’s got a massive, complicated problem here in getting all of this money out rapidly. And the speaker is already talking about phase four. Well, we may need a phase four, but we’re not even fully into phase three yet. This was the third coronavirus bill that we’ve passed, and the biggest one by far. And it was crafted by a Republican majority in the Senate, approved without a single dissenting vote,” he said, according to a press release from his office. —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

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GWTCA Details Policy Agenda

During its annual meeting today, the Government Wireless Technology & Communications Association (GWTCA) outlined its slate of policy priorities, with many of them focused on trying to ensure the FCC’s efforts to free up additional spectrum for wireless services do not result in harmful interference to existing users.

GWTCA was established in 2016 to focus on advocacy of interest to “public service” and public transit government agencies.

The annual meeting, held as a conference call, was originally scheduled to occur in conjunction with the IWCE convention in Las Vegas. But that event was postponed and is now slated to take place August 24-28.

“It’s not the way any of us had intended to have the meeting,” GWTCA President Andy Maxymillian said during the call.

GWTCA counsel Alan Tilles, chairman of the telecommunications department at Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker P.A., pointed in particular to interference issues that have cropped up for land mobile radio (LMR) services using the T-band as a result of the repacking of broadcast channels in the 600 megahertz band.

LMR services in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and New York have experienced interference issues, he said.

GWTCA has been trying to work with TV stations, mainly low-power stations, that have been causing interference, with varying degrees of success, Mr. Tilles said.

“Some of the stations have been very cooperative in trying to work with us,” he said. “In other cases, it’s been downright ugly.”

In general, Mr. Tilles said, protecting T-band users has been difficult as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai appears “bound and determined” to focus on freeing up spectrum for unlicensed uses and other services.

Some of those proposals could have a “horrific impact” on T-band users, Mr. Tilles argued.

Mr. Tilles noted that Congress did not include language in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (HR 748), to rescind a statutory requirement that the FCC auction public safety spectrum in the T-band. That language was in the House version of the bill, but did not make it into the final legislation (TR Daily, March 26).

Under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, the FCC would have to auction public safety T-band spectrum by 2021 and relocate incumbents by 2023.

Other stand-alone bills to rescind the requirement have been introduced but not advanced.

Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), introduced The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act (S 2748) in October with Sens. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and Bob Casey (D., Pa.) (TR Daily, Oct. 31, 2019). A repeal provision was included in the 5G Spectrum Act of 2019 (S 2881), which was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in December (TR Daily, Dec. 11, 2019).

The House communications and technology subcommittee approved a similar bill (HR 451), which was introduced in January by Reps. Elliot Engel (D., N.Y.), Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), Al Green (D., Texas), and Peter King (R., N.Y.) (TR Daily, March 10).

Among other proceedings GWTCA is focusing on are the FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the 5.9 gigahertz band.

Adopted over the objections of the U.S. Department of Transportation and some auto safety interests, the NPRM proposes to make the lower 45 MHz of the band available for unlicensed use and the upper 20 MHz for cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology. The NPRM seeks comment on whether to allocate the remaining 10 MHz to C-V2X or dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology.

While the FCC has said the frequencies have gone largely unused, Mr. Tilles disputed the notion.

The public safety community “has been making an effort to show that is indeed, not lightly used,” he said.

The annual meeting also included the approval of all of the group’s board members to serve for another year.

Mr. Maxymillian and Mr. Tilles also detailed several formal and informal collaborations that GWTCA is participating in, including with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, the Land Mobile Communications Council, the National Association of Tower Erectors, the Radio Club of America, municipal leagues in several states, the TIA Smart Building Initiative, and the Capitol Technology University Education Program.

“I think that everybody realizes that, in this industry, we have a lot of good organizations with a lot of common interests,” Mr. Maxymillian said. —Jeff Williams

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CBO: State Cyber Coordinator Bill Would Cost $37M

The Cybersecurity State Coordinator Act (S 3207), which would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to open cybersecurity field offices in each state, would cost $37 million over the 2020-2025 period, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“CBO expects that the department would need 56 new employees to serve as cybersecurity coordinators at an average compensation of $179,000,” CBO said.

S 3207 was introduced in January by Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sens. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), and Rob Portman (R., Ohio).  Under the bill, each state would have its own federally funded cybersecurity coordinator, who would be responsible for helping to prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats by working with federal, state, and local governments and schools, hospitals, and other entities.  It cleared the committee last month (TR Daily, March 12).

CBO also scored the Cybersecurity Vulnerability Identification and Notification Act (S 3045), which would give DHS subpoena power to help it warn critical infrastructure operators about cyber vulnerabilities.  That bill, CBO said, could generate revenue because Internet service providers that don’t comply with subpoenas could face fines.  But CBO “expects that few ISPs would be fined for defying subpoenas,” it said.  “Thus, both revenues and direct spending would increase by insignificant amounts over the 2020-2030 period.”

The bill would require DHS to report to Congress annually on its use of its subpoena power, which CBO estimates would cost $500,000.

S 3045, which cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month, is designed to help DHS in rare instances when it’s concerned that a private sector entity might be vulnerable to a cyber attack but it’s unable to identify the entity without help from the ISP. —Tom Leithauser, tom.leithauser@wolterskluwer.com

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Senators Markey Renews Calls to Pass Legislation to Maintain First Responders’ Access to T-Band Spectrum

Boston (December 2, 2019) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) issued the following statement in response to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai’s call on Congress to repeal the mandate to auction T-Band spectrum. Senator Markey, along with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bob Casey (D-Penn.), introduced the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act, legislation that would preserve emergency personnel’s access to T-band spectrum (470–512 MHz).

“Supporting the brave women and men in police and fire departments across the county and giving them the tools they need to succeed isn’t a partisan issue,” said Senator Markey. “I commend Chairman Pai for joining the coalition of public safety organizations and industry actors alike calling on Congress to protect the T-Band. It’s time for Congress to do right by the people who keep us safe and secure and pass my Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act before the end of the year.”

The Senators’ bill repeals a provision of the 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to auction off this band of spectrum by 2021. Police and fire fighters in highly-populated metropolitan areas in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere use critical T-Band spectrum for emergency public safety communication. Agencies across the country have invested millions of local, state, and federal dollars in the T-Band networks, which offer the reliable coverage and regional interoperability that first responders require for mission critical voice communications. Congressman Eliott Engel (NY-16) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

A recent study by the United States Government Accountability Office noted that the cost of relocating T-Band users to other bands of spectrum would cost between $5 and $6 billion, and for many T-Band users, alternative bands of spectrum are limited or “nonexistent.”

 

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WTB and PSHSB SUSPEND THE PROCESSING OF APPLICATIONS TO RENEW PART 22 AND 90 LICENSES FOR SYSTEMS OPERATING ON 470-512 MHz (T-BAND) SPECTRUM

“By this Public Notice, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (Bureaus) announce that, until further notice, they will accept, but not grant, applications to renew Part 22 and Part 90 licenses for operation in the 470-512 MHz band (T-Band). Licensees that have filed, and will in the future file, timely and complete applications for renewal of license may continue to operate using their licensed facilities past the license expiration date while the suspension is in effect.”

https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-19-1225A1.pdf  

 

Pai Urges Congress to Repeal T-Band Auction Mandate

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today called on Congress to repeal its mandate that the agency reallocate and auction public safety T-band spectrum. In a related development, the Commission today suspended the processing of T-band renewal applications.

“In 2012, Congress passed legislation requiring the FCC to reallocate and auction T-Band spectrum used for decades by public safety licensees and fund the relocation of those licensees elsewhere.  The agency has extensively analyzed the T-Band and concluded that moving forward is not viable — relocation costs for public safety licensees would likely far exceed any potential auction revenue, making it impossible to fund the relocation and comply with the mandate.  The Government Accountability Office has agreed — reporting to Congress that the T-Band mandate is unworkable and could deprive first responders of their current ability to communicate by radio,” Mr. Pai said in a statement.

“Because of these concerns, I’m calling on Congress to repeal the T-Band mandate,” he added. “I’m hopeful that Congress can resolve this matter without delay.  Doing so will not only protect public safety communications in the T-Band but will also allow our dedicated auction staff to focus in 2020 on auctions that will make new airwaves available for 5G, like spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz bands.”

The requirement was included in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and public safety entities have been urging Congress since then to repeal the provision, arguing that the T-band spectrum in the 470-512 megahertz band is crucial to public safety agencies in the 11 cities where it is used.

Legislation has been reintroduced in the House and Senate to repeal the statutory mandate.

The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act was reintroduced in October by Sens. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and Bob Casey (D., Pa.) (TR Daily, Oct. 31). The bill was reintroduced in the House in January by Rep. Elliot Engel (D., N.Y.). Similar legislation failed to pass both chambers in the 115th Congress.

In a report released in June, GAO said that Congress should consider legislation that would rescind the T-band mandate (TR Daily, June 21). The report also said that the FCC is concerned about the impact to public safety of relocating systems.

GAO noted that the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) has estimated that relocating public safety systems in the 11 cities where the T-band is used by public safety entities could cost more than $5.9 billion. NPSTC says that alternative spectrum is not available (TR Daily, March 15, 2013).

GAO said the FCC has calculated the costs of relocating public safety users from the T-band at $5 billion to $6 billion. The agency estimates it would cost $4 billion extra to relocate business-industrial users, GAO said, although Congress is not requiring those users to be compensated for moving to other spectrum.

Meanwhile, the Wireless Telecommunications and Public Safety and Homeland Security bureaus announced today that they are suspending the processing of applications to renew parts 22 and 90 licenses for systems that operate on the T-band.

“Licensees that have filed, and will in the future file, timely and complete applications for renewal of license may continue to operate using their licensed facilities past the license expiration date while the suspension is in effect,” the bureaus said in a public notice released in PS docket 13-42.

The public notice pointed out that in 2012, “to stabilize the spectral environment in light of the T-Band Mandate, the Bureaus suspended acceptance and processing of certain other T-Band applications [TR Daily, April 26, 2012]. That freeze was imposed to allow the Commission to consider issues surrounding future use of the T-Band and implement the Act. … Given that the February 22, 2021 statutory deadline is less than 15 months away, the Bureaus have determined that suspension of renewal processing is now necessary for the Commission to have the full range of implementation options available.”

Sen. Markey welcomed Mr. Pai’s statement today.

“Supporting the brave women and men in police and fire departments across the [country] and giving them the tools they need to succeed isn’t a partisan issue,” the lawmaker said. “I commend Chairman Pai for joining the coalition of public safety organizations and industry actors alike calling on Congress to protect the T-Band. It’s time for Congress to do right by the people who keep us safe and secure and pass my Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act before the end of the year.”

Public safety groups also praised Mr. Pai’s support.

“Chairman Pai’s call for repeal of 6103 of P.L. 112-96 is to be applauded,” NPSTC said. “His statement is consistent with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) and public safety calls for repeal of section 6103.”

“APCO has always supported repeal of the T-Band provision.  It’s the right thing for Congress to do,” said Derek Poarch, executive director and chief executive officer of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International.

“Our members appreciate Chairman Pai’s support for the repeal of the T-Band auction requirement,” said International Association of Fire Chiefs President and Board Chairman Gary Ludwig. “The fire and emergency service relies on the T-Band for interoperable communications in many of our nation’s metropolitan areas. In cities like New York and Chicago, public safety does not have an alternative to the T-Band. Today, fire departments large and small have access to the spectrum they need to communicate with each other. If a T-Band auction moves forward, this will no longer be the case. On behalf of the IAFC, I urge Congress to pass legislation repealing the T-Band auction requirement this year.”

“We see this as a move in the right direction. We hope that … Congress is open to our pleas,” said Craig Allen, chair of the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Communications & Technology Committee and a retired lieutenant colonel for the Illinois State Police. “It is unworkable to vacate the T-band space for public safety.”

Andy Seybold, a wireless industry consultant and public safety advocate, said he was surprised to see Mr. Pai weigh in. “Previously it appears as if the FCC said that they could do nothing unless Congress passed a bill to repeal the give back,” he noted.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, November 14, 2019

T-Band, FirstNet Updates, Laptops and Tablets

First and vitally important to eleven major cities and their metro areas, both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have introduced bills cancelling the T-band (470-512) giveback. House bill H.R. 451 is one of the simplest bills ever introduced in the House and it is almost exactly the same as the bill that languished in the House last year. This bill that was sponsored by Representative Eliot, a democrat from New York, now has nineteen sponsors. Three are Republicans and sixteen are Democrats who are primarily from areas that will suffer badly unless the requirement to return the T-band to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for auction is overturned. The original bill is presently under the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

The Senate bill, S. 2748, contains the exact wording as the House bill. It was introduced in the Senate by Senator Markey, a democrat from Massachusetts. The bill currently has a total of four co-sponsors including Senators from NY, MA, and PA, all Democrats. After it was introduced in early October and submitted to the Committee on Science and Technology where it currently resides.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which provides cost estimates for most bills, has not yet weighed in on this bill, however, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that is in line with the reports from National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) concerning the cost of relocating first responders in the eleven metro areas that currently have access to portions of the T-band. That is if there was any spectrum available for relocating these agencies. Based on FCC data, there is none. There is a bill in both houses of Congress, as there was last Congressional session, and NPSTC and the GAO have both stated that moving first responders off the T-band would be a very costly and, in reality, impossible task.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and first-responder agencies in areas where the T-band is in use have been working with Congressional staffers and their bosses to make sure they understand the seriousness of the consequences if these bills do not pass in both houses and are not signed into law.

Read the Entire Column Here

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PROMOTING TELEHEALTH IN RURAL AMERICA. Increases Transparency, Predictability, and Efficiency of RHC Program Funding Decisions. (Dkt No 17-310).

Action by: the Commission. Adopted: 2019-08-01 by R&O. (FCC No. 19-78). WCB. FCC-19-78A1.pdf

Nearly 60 million people—roughly 1 out of every 5 Americans—live in a rural area. Telehealth services are one important solution to the challenge of health care access in rural areas by connecting rural patients with general physicians and medical specialists located outside the patients’ communities. The Commission promotes telehealth in rural areas through the Rural Health Care Program (RHC Program or Program), which provides financial support to help rural health care providers obtain broadband and other communications services at discounted rates. These services are in turn used by health care providers to offer telehealth to patients living in and around the communities they serve.

As the demand for robust broadband has increased throughout the country, the RHC Program has witnessed a dramatic increase in health care provider participation. Even with the Commission increasing the RHC funding cap last year by more than $170 million over the prior $400 million funding cap to account for inflation, demand continues to stress the RHC Program. This creates a challenge for program administration, leading to uncertainty among participants as to the status of their funding requests and complicating the planning of upgrades and existing service relationships. This increased demand and resulting administrative challenges required us to take a closer look at whether the current rules and procedures are cost-effective and efficient and adequately protect the Universal Service Fund against waste, fraud, and abuse. Accordingly, in this Report and Order, after reviewing the record, Federal Communications Commission FCC 19-78 3 we adopt a number of the proposals made in the 2017 Promoting Telehealth Notice and Order3 to reform the RHC Program rules to promote transparency and predictability, and further the efficient allocation of limited RHC Program resources.