FORT WORTH, Texas – The FCC wants parties to submit “meaningful substantive data” in response to a notice of proposed rulemaking adopted by the Commission this week seeking views on whether it should modify its rules for priority access licenses (PALs) in the 3.5 gigahertz band, an FCC official said yesterday at the Competitive Carriers Association’s Annual Convention here.
Among other things, the FCC is seeking comments on whether it should modify the PAL framework so a PAL term will be 10, rather than three, years with an expectation of renewal, and PAL areas will consist of partial economic areas (PEAs) rather than smaller census tracts (TR Daily, Oct. 24).
Nese Guendelsberger, senior deputy chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, said during a session yesterday on low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum that the agency hopes to “make changes around the edges” of the PAL framework to better spur innovation and investment. “Hopefully, we will find the right balance,” she said.
While CTIA and larger carriers such as Verizon Communications, Inc., AT&T, Inc., and T-Mobile US, Inc., support the rule changes, wireless Internet service providers and rural wireless carriers complain that they could essentially make the spectrum a big carrier band, shutting out smaller players.
Steve Sharkey, vice president-government affairs/technology and engineering policy for T-Mobile US, Inc., said that the 3.5 GHz band provides “an important opportunity for 5G services,” adding that the proposed changes will help spur investment. However, he noted that the Commission rejected T-Mobile’s requests to allow PAL licenses in the entire 3550-3700 megahertz band rather than just 70 MHz and adopt increased power levels to put them on par with the rest of the world.
Jessica Gyllstrom, an attorney at Telecommunications Law Professionals PLLC whose clients include competitive carriers, said the three-year license terms for PALs were “pretty unprecedented for wireless,” adding that some smaller carriers supported increasing them to 10 years.
It’s important for the FCC to get the rules right for the band to enable global harmonization, said Johanna Thomas, special counsel in Jenner & Block LLP’s Communications, Internet, and Technology Practice Group.
Regarding the FCC’s spectrum frontiers proceeding, in which the FCC plans to consider a follow-up item at its Nov. 16 meeting (TR Daily, Oct. 26), Mr. Sharkey said the Commission should reconsider the amount of spectrum it reserved for unlicensed use in millimeter-wave bands last year compared to what it freed up for licensed use – 7 GHz for unlicensed and 3.25 GHz for exclusive, licensed. “We think that balance should really come back to alignment,” he said. He also said the FCC should reject the requests of satellite operators to reconsider aspects of the order, adding that the FCC “made a very fair accommodation for satellite use.”
Ms. Gyllstrom noted that the FCC has been asked to consider transactions involving the purchase of millimeter-wave band spectrum by Verizon and AT&T. She said it should consider imposing per-band screens on those upper bands rather than only an aggregate screen.
As for the FCC’s mid-band spectrum proceeding, Mr. Sharkey said the FCC should move to free up the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for terrestrial use. “The satellite use in the band is declining,” he said, adding that it appears that the FCC can at least “significantly clear” the C-band, especially in urban areas. He also said that there is “a declining amount” of fixed point-to-point wireless operations in the spectrum.
While T-Mobile opposes a market-based proposal advanced by Intel Corp. and Intelsat License LLC for coordinating freeing up use of the C-band by terrestrial operators, Mr. Sharkey said T-Mobile is looking at proposals that would include an “economic incentive” for clearing the band as well as the “structure” needed to provide certainty that wireless carriers can use the spectrum.
Ms. Guendelsberger noted the wide variety of comments submitted in response to the mid-band notice of inquiry adopted in August (TR Daily, Aug. 3) and said that “this shows the NOI was successful.”
Ms. Thomas said that any use of the mid-band spectrum must protect incumbents from harmful interference.
As for the repacking of TV channels following the FCC’s incentive auction, Mr. Sharkey, whose company was the top wireless bidder in the sale, said that the 39-month timeframe for the transition should not be delayed. The FCC has “a pretty big tool bag that they can use,” which includes the issuance of waivers, “if the stations need time.”
“From our perspective, it’s actually going well,” he said of the repacking, adding that concerns expressed by the broadcasting industry “have been overstated.” He said, however, that Congress should provide more funding for the transition if it is necessary.
Ms. Gyllstrom said the FCC should stick to its 39-month timeframe, saying that wireless carriers are ready to deploy the spectrum. Ms. Thomas said that if wireless carriers are not able to get access to the spectrum in the timeframe they had expected, it could impact the willingness of providers to bid in future auctions.—Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org