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FCC Seeks to Upgrade Citizens Broadband for 5G

Randy Sukow Oct 4, 2017

It’s a sign the times, which are marked by fast-moving changes in technology. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), a wireless service of 150 MHz of contiguous spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band (3550-3700 MHz) the FCC created in 2016 to support wireless broadband is already obsolete.

“Since the Commission established these rules, it has become increasingly apparent that the 3.5 GHz band will play a significant role as one of the core mid-range bands for 5G network deployments throughout the world,” the FCC said in a draft set of proposals to change the 3.5 GHz rules. “To maintain U.S. leadership in the global race for 5G, we must ensure that the service rules governing bands that are critical for 5G network deployments—including the 3.5 GHz band—keep up with technological advancements … and promote robust network deployments in both urban and rural communities.”

The proposed rules, which the FCC tentatively plans to address during its Oct. 24 open meeting, would extend the current term lengths for CBRS licensees, create larger geographic licensed areas for future CBRS auctions, and change auction rules for Priority Access Licensees (PALs). PALs are short-term (three to six years) license holders who must protect incumbent 3.5 GHz users (many of them government users) from interference. A third category of 3.5 GHz users, General Authorized Access (GAA) users, must protect both incumbents and PALs. One of the main purposes of the new rules is to create incentives for PAL investment.

The Commission is seeking comment on how the changes, such as lengthening PAL license terms, will affect investment in new and existing rural wireless ISPs. It is also looking at whether larger CBRS license areas would put an undue burden on rural WISPs. While some rural providers have proposed license areas covering census tracts, while larger providers “contend that licensing PALs on a census tract-basis—which could result in over 500,000 PALs,” according to the draft proposal. The FCC asks for ideas on to create a hybrid system of census tracts in some rural areas and Partial Economic Area (PEAs) in higher-population areas.

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