CBRS rules finalized
The Federal Communications Commission has finalized the rules governing Priority Access Licenses for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service at 3.5 GHz, setting the stage for a PAL spectrum auction.
The FCC’s update to the rules governing CBRS left in place the three-tiered spectrum sharing framework but made what the agency described as “targeted updates to the licensing and technical rules that will encourage more efficient and intensive use of the band.” The changes passed on a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel dissenting.
The most hotly debated issues that were still unresolved — the size and terms of CBRS Priority Access Licenses – are now settled: PALs will cover county-size license areas, rather than census tracts; and they will have renewable license terms of 10 years. Large mobile network operators had argued in favor of even larger license areas, offered on the basis of Partial Economic Areas, while smaller network providers had been in favor of census tract-sized licenses. A compromise option had been proposed that would have offered a mix of both geographically larger licenses in metro areas and county-sized license areas in rural areas, but in the end, the FCC decided that license areas would be issued by county.
There are about 3,000 counties in the U.S. — compared to about 74,000 census tracts and 416 Partial Economic Areas. Seven PALs will be available in each license area, and the FCC will permit partitioning and disaggregation of PALs.
Cinnamon Rogers, SVP of government affairs for the Telecommunications Industry Association, said in a statement that the rule changes “represent a reasonable compromise that will increase the economic viability of services using Priority Access Licenses (PALs) while preserving opportunities for innovation across all tiers of CBRS users. … We look forward to more rapid deployments now that the rules have been finalized.”
“Today’s action to establish an efficient licensing process will prove key to the successful and expeditious deployment of service in the 3.5 GHz band,” said Zac Champ, the Wireless Infrastructure Association’s VP of government affairs, in a statement. “WIA applauds the FCC’s dedicated efforts to encourage investment in the CBRS band, ensuring it is fully utilized to benefit consumers. The FCC has provided critical incentives for innovation as the wireless industry deploys 5G services.”
Competitive Carriers Association President and CEO Steve Berry said that the FCC’s order “will provide competitive carriers, especially those that serve rural areas, with a meaningful opportunity to bid on and acquire spectrum to provide these areas with the latest broadband services.”
Each of the groups specifically called out Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s efforts in the changes to the CBRS rules.
“It was clear during this review that the past administration’s rules would not support large-scale deployments, such as mobile or 5G networks,” O’Rielly said in his statement on the CBRS rule changes. “As many opponents to this order have admitted, the rules in place favored small-scale, fixed networks, by making it unattractive for any other type of deployment.”
He went on to say on the subject of geographic areas for licenses: “It was clear that a consensus agreement could not be reached among all parties, so the commission had to make the appropriate and justified policy decisions. And we are doing just that by changing the geographic license size to counties, which amount to approximately 3,200 market areas nationwide. Contrary to what some are asserting, we did not just throw our hands up in the air, throw a dart at a dartboard, succumb to a ‘political solution,’ or draw straws, because we couldn’t figure out what to do,” O’Rielly said. “Counties are appropriate because they are big enough that larger mobile providers will be able to successfully aggregate PALs, especially with an option for package bidding, but small enough that they are attractive to small and rural wireless companies, cable operators, and new entrants.”
O’Rielly added that choosing the county size for licenses “will also alleviate the harmful interference issues that arise from all the borders created by 74,000 census tracts, especially in metropolitan areas where the use of a PAL in one census tract could preclude the use of the same spectrum in adjacent areas; require fewer coordination agreements between neighbors; and allow greater and more cost-efficient deployments.”
He also said that the license size makes the number of licenses manageable for bringing the spectrum licenses to market as soon as possible.
“It became apparent, after meeting with our auction team, that we could not conduct a timely auction for over 74,000 markets or more than 500,000 licenses,” O’Rielly said, adding that he was told that the plan to handle the auction of so many licenses was a “single, sealed bid auction” rather than the multi-round strategy that the FCC has adopted, and that he did not support abandoning the multi-round approach to auctioning spectrum.
FCC proposes more spectrum for unlicensed use
In related news, the FCC also unanimously approved a proposed rule to make up to 1200 megahertz of spectrum available in the 6 GHz band (5.925-7.125 GHz, specifically) for use by unlicensed devices.
According to the FCC, the proposed rules “are designed to allow unlicensed devices to operate in the 6 GHz band without interfering with the operation of the licensed services that will continue to use this spectrum. In those portions of the 6 GHz band that are heavily used by point-to-point microwave links, the commission proposes to allow unlicensed devices to operate where permitted by an automated frequency coordination system and invites comment as to whether this is necessary for devices operated only indoors. In the other portions of the band where licensed mobile services, such as the Broadcast Auxiliary Service and Cable Television Relay Service, operate, the unlicensed devices would be restricted to indoor operations at lower power. These proposed rules will allow a valuable spectrum resource to be more intensively used to benefit consumers while allowing the existing licensed uses of the 6 GHz band to continue uninterrupted.”
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