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Commissioners Taking Big-Picture Look at Fixed Wireless Solutions

Randy Sukow Jul 13, 2017

The plan for closing all rural broadband coverage gaps within five years that Microsoft rolled out earlier this week focused on using fixed wireless links in the TV white spaces (600 and 700 MHz) as the solution in the majority of cases. As it happens, members of the FCC this week have also been looking closely at fixed wireless as a rural broadband solution. However, they are putting the spotlight on a much wider variety of potential spectrum bands.

Chairman Ajit Pai has been spending this week touring wireless broadband facilities in the states neighboring Washington, DC – Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. In fact, one of his stops was at Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. in Southern Virginia, where he witnessed a demonstration of TV white spaces technology. Mid-Atlantic is one of a handful of rural broadband providers to have received Microsoft funding for its white spaces initiative.

“Grateful to @Microsoft & @MBCVA for discussion of TV white spaces' potential to deliver rural internet access,” Pai said on Twitter on Tuesday during his visit there.

But also on Tuesday, a rural Maryland newspaper published a Pai op-ed column in which he provided a bigger-picture look at rural broadband that included funding for wireless broadband on many bands. “Through our Mobility Fund, a successful public-private partnership, the Federal Communications Commission recently voted to invest $4.53 billion over the next decade to bring 4G LTE service to rural Americans who don’t have it today. In addition, we approved $2 billion through our Connect America Fund to boost fixed broadband in currently unserved locations,” he said.  The FCC said today that during its next open agenda meeting on Aug. 3, it tentatively plans to set aside additional support for the Mobility Fund from the Phase II Connect America Fund.

And to build on that record, the Commission said that it also plans to adopt a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) into the use of middle-band spectrum (3.7-4.2 GHz; 5.925-6.425 GHz; and 6.425-7.125 GHz) for broadband services during the Aug. 3 meeting.  The middle bands are significantly higher in the frequency band than the TV white spaces and, therefore, have less favorable propagation characteristics. However, they could provide better coverage than many of the current higher-band proposals for 5G spectrum and could provide more capacity than the 18 MHz per market Microsoft seeks for the white spaces.

“Notably, this balance of coverage and capacity could provide a critical input to operators to deploy new and improved wireless services to rural, remote, and underserved areas of the country,” according to a draft of the NOI.

Middle-band spectrum was the focus of a blog post by Commissioner Michael O'Rielly on Monday.

“Next-generation wireless networks will require high, mid and low band spectrum.  While the Commission has taken steps to provide high and low band resources, more attention needs to be paid to the mid bands,” O’Rielly said. “So, when presented with a viable proposal that would free spectrum for licensed and unlicensed purposes while protecting or accommodating incumbent licensees, the Commission should grab it with both hands and rejoice.  That exact scenario presents itself in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz and 6 GHz bands.”

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