Republican FCC Commissioners today emphasized the potential benefit of repurposing the 4.9 gigahertz band for commercial purposes, or at least opening it up to additional usage, citing the fact that the spectrum has not been heavily used since the Commission made it available for public safety agencies in 2002.
Their comments came as Commissioners unanimously adopted a sixth further notice of proposed rulemaking in WP docket 07-100 seeking views on ways to promote more intensive use of the 4940-4990 megahertz band.
In 2012, FCC Commissioners, saying they were disappointed that the public safety community hadn’t used the 4.9 GHz band more intensively, adopted a fifth FNPRM seeking views on proposals to spur higher utilization of the spectrum, including by opening the band up to wireless carriers on a secondary basis and critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities such as utilities on a primary basis (TR Daily, June 13, 2012).
The agency received a number of filings in response to that item, including a national plan submitted by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (TR Daily, Oct. 24, 2013), a white paper filed by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (TR Daily, Sept. 28, 2015), and other input.
A fact sheet on today’s item as circulated noted that it (1) proposes “to expand the channel aggregation bandwidth limit to 40 megahertz”; (2) proposes “to allow public safety aeronautical mobile and robotic use on 5 megahertz of spectrum”; (3) proposes “to require applicants for new stations and licensees seeking modifications to submit to frequency coordination administered by FCC-certified frequency coordinators”; (4) proposes “to maintain the Universal Licensing System to serve as the frequency coordination database and modify the 4.9 GHz band application form to capture additional data”; (5) proposes “to require existing licensees with point-to-point, point-to-multipoint, base, and mobile stations to seek licenses for such stations in the database so their operations can be protected during future coordination”; (6) proposes “to restart the filing process for regional plans”; (7) proposes “to accord primary status for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint links that carry or support narrowband traffic on five 1-megahertz channels”; (8) proposes “to raise the minimum antenna gain for point-to-point transmitting antennas to 26 dBi to allow for more directional transmissions and larger antennas”; (9) proposes “to revise the construction notification deadlines from 18 months after license grant to 12 months”; (10) proposes “to grandfather existing licensees and their installed systems”; (11) seeks “comment on alternative eligibility for entities such as Critical Infrastructure Industries”; and (12) seeks “comment on leasing, spectrum sharing approaches, and alternative uses.”
Regarding eligibility to use the spectrum, the FCC wants comment on alternative eligibility and spectrum sharing approaches, noting that NPSTC’s plan proposed expanding co-primary status eligibility to CII entities. The item seeks comments on extending eligibility to CII entities, leasing, two-tiered sharing on a secondary basis, and other alternatives.
“The Commission’s goal is to promote increased public safety use of the band and protect users from harmful interference while opening the spectrum to additional uses that will encourage a more robust market for equipment and greater innovation,” the agency said in a news release issued today. “The Commission seeks comment on whether an appropriate sharing mechanism could encourage more opportunistic use of the band while ensuring the priority, integrity, and security of public safety operations.”
“Although nearly 90,000 public safety entities are eligible for licenses in this band, there are fewer than 3,200 licenses in use,” said the news release, a figure alluded to by multiple Commissioners in their comments on the item. “With such a low level of usage, the Commission is concerned that the band has fallen short of its potential. Public safety organizations and others have cited possible reasons, including difficulty in acquiring equipment, the cost of deployment, and concerns about harmful interference. Today’s proposals are intended to address those concerns.”
“It has been 16 years since the 4.9 GHz band was allocated to the public safety community, and it is still woefully underutilized. That is not sustainable in an environment in which every megahertz of spectrum, especially below 6 GHz, needs to be fully scrutinized and maximized in quick order,” said Commissioner Mike O’Rielly. “While the Commission’s original allocation was more than likely well-intentioned, it is way past time to take a fresh look at this 50 megahertz of spectrum. For this reason, I support this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to consider a new path forward for this band.”
“The urgent need for this spectrum appears to have never materialized and, today, no more than 3.5 percent of potential licensees are using these frequencies,” Mr. O’Rielly added. “Further, while the uses envisioned were primarily high-speed data technologies and wireless local area networks for managing emergency incident scenes, along with potential dispatch operations and vehicular/personal communications, it appears that the limited spectrum in use may actually be utilized now for other purposes. While we will obtain more information through this proceeding, some entities appear to be using the spectrum for video security and roadway cameras, internet access for travelers and tourists, collection and communication of traffic and weather data, speed and message signs along roads, and surveillance. These purposes do not fall into the category of ‘cutting edge technologies that will enhance [public safety’s] ability to share critical and time-sensitive information during emergencies and other critical situations.’”
Mr. O’Rielly added, “In light of the underutilization of this band, use of the band for non-public safety purposes, and the relative progress of FirstNet, I would argue, and I know some of my colleagues agree with this view, that it is time to redesignate this valuable spectrum for commercial use. Today’s notice provides the opportunity to contemplate whether this spectrum, which is located in close proximity to the 5 GHz unlicensed band, should be allocated for unlicensed or licensed use, what the technical rules should be, and how the Commission should deal with the incumbents. I thank the Chairman for accepting edits to this section to ensure that we will have a fulsome record on these issues.
“Additionally, we need to recognize that the current MOBILE NOW bill, which is on path to become law in a scant few days, requires the Commission and NTIA to identify 255 megahertz of federal and non-federal spectrum for fixed and mobile wireless broadband, with at least 100 megahertz under 8 GHz for unlicensed use and 100 megahertz under 6 GHz for licensed services. It is likely that the 4.9 GHz band will be needed to reach these spectrum totals,” the Commissioner suggested. “In sum, this spectrum is underutilized and, as I have advocated in other circumstances, such as DSRC in 5.9 GHz, it is time to reconsider and correct past mistakes before another decade goes by. I look forward to engaging with interested parties and my colleagues on this valuable spectrum and ensuring that it is put to its most efficient and best use.”
“This Notice represents another attempt to promote more intensive use of the 4.9 GHz band,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr. “It asks about adding flexibility to our rules by proposing greater channel aggregation and new uses of the spectrum. And it seeks comment on requiring more from users, including by proposing more stringent frequency coordination and tighter construction deadlines. I certainly support the reason for putting these ideas forward. But in my view the most valuable part of the Notice might be found in some of its last few paragraphs. There, we ask whether, in light of the past 16 years of results, we should fundamentally rethink our approach to the band, including opening it up for additional use cases.”
He continued, “Over the years, the Commission’s spectrum policy has moved away from central planning. We have embraced flexible use approaches and declined requests to micromanage particular bands. This approach — rather than our predictive judgment — has proven to reach better results. So I welcome the chance to explore whether that approach — or other alternatives — might make sense for the 4.9 GHz band. And I am glad that my colleagues agreed to expand the Notice’s discussion of these ideas. There are a number of reasons why we have not batted 1,000 in our efforts to put the 4.9 GHz band to productive use, and I am open-minded about whether we need to revisit our prior designations.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also noted the relatively light use of the spectrum, adding, “Considering the massive demand for mobile services, and the consequently massive demand for spectrum, preserving a lightly-used 4.9 GHz band isn’t an option. That’s why today’s Sixth Further Notice is important. Our goals are simple: To promote more productive use of the band, to foster the development of new technologies, and to spur investment. We believe that we will unleash the potential of this band with the proposals we consider here, from aggregating channels into larger blocks to facilitate broadband use to opening the door to more spectrum sharing.”
“Unfortunately, local public safety entities have yet to take full advantage of this band. Of the more than 90,000 public safety jurisdictions, fewer than three percent hold licenses in the 4.9 GHz band,” noted Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn.
“Fortunately, around 2015, the public safety community and equipment manufacturers began offering fresh ideas on how to make more efficient use of this band. APCO, NPSTC, and others, recommended that public safety equipment include the 4.9 GHz band in chipsets that also include Wi-Fi and 4G LTE technologies,” she added. “This could allow the public safety community to benefit, from some of the same innovative technologies and services used by the broader consumer marketplace. They also advised the Commission to permit larger, 40 megahertz, band channels, expand license eligibility to other members of critical infrastructure industry, and encourage better frequency coordination. Law enforcement interest in drones and robotic technologies could fuel further innovation and the proposals in today’s Further Notice [build] upon these recommendations and more.”
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also noted that this is only the latest time the FCC has reviewed use of the 4.9 GHz band, saying, “It’s my hope that the sixth time is the charm.”
“NPSTC is pleased that the Commission has finally adopted the further notice and looks forward to providing comments to the proceeding,” said NPSTC Chair Ralph Haller. “Many of NPSTC’s proposals are contained in the notice. NPSTC is, however, particularly concerned about the possibility of the band being repurposed for commercial wireless or even additional sharing with industrial uses. We hope that the Commission understands the critical need for the band for uses such as bomb robots, drones, and networks supporting cameras and other life-saving functions.”
Derek Poarch, executive director and chief executive officer of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, said, “APCO appreciates the Commission’s efforts to increase public safety use and protection from interference in the 4.9 GHz band. We look forward to continuing to actively participate in this proceeding.”
Utilities Technology Council President and CEO Joy Ditto said the group “applauds the Federal Communications Commission for adopting its Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the 4.9 GHz band, and it supports expanding eligibility to include ‘critical infrastructure industry’ (CII) entities, such as utilities to hold primary 4.9 GHz licenses. The 4.9 GHz band is lightly used and expanding eligibility to include utilities to hold primary licenses will help to make more effective use of the spectrum. UTC has worked with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council to put forward a band plan that would include utilities as eligible to hold licenses in the band. The FCC proposal appears to address many of the priorities we identified in support of the NPSTC plan. Spectrum is the key to grid security and modernization, and this is an important and crucial first step. We look forward to working with the FCC and other stakeholders as this initiative moves forward.” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org