The FCC will open an auction for spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band on June 25, 2020, Chairman Ajit Pai said yesterday in a blog post. The Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) licenses will be an important center of mid-band frequencies for 5G mobile services. At the same time, the licenses could provide fixed broadband service to many rural areas.
“The 3.5 GHz band is prime spectrum for 5G services. But when I became Chairman, we didn’t have the right rules in place to encourage the deployment of 5G in the band,” Pai said, mentioning that Commissioner Michael O’Rielly led the effort to rewrite those rules in 2018. “We put the rules in place last year that will facilitate the deployment of 5G in the 3.5 GHz band. And we are now ready to start the process that will lead to the 3.5 GHz auction commencing next June.”
Those revised rules have considerable significance to rural America. NRTC joined with NRECA, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association and several other rural organizations to advocate for smaller license areas in the upcoming auctions. The FCC eventually adopted rules using the coalition’s recommendation of county lines for license-area boarders rather than Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), as favored by larger mobile carriers.
“This CBRS auction is going to be of great interest to all of you and I urge you all to keep a close eye on it because of what we’ve done,” NRTC CEO Tim Bryan said to an audience of electric and telco members at NRTC’s TechConnect Conference in May. “We’ve greatly increased the ability [of rural providers to affordably obtain spectrum] and I think we’ve greatly decreased the likelihood that a Verizon or AT&T comes in and tries to run the board.”
While large carriers mainly eye 3.5 GHz spectrum for mid-band 5G deployments in urban and suburban areas, rural providers often could use the spectrum over county-wide areas for fixed broadband. When connected to backbone fiber networks in a rural area, service to the home at 100 Mbps and beyond is possible.