The FCC says it has settled on a compromise in a highly debated Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) proceeding on licensing in the 3.5 GHz band. For nearly a year, large mobile carriers have called for the Commission to use large geographic areas -- Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) – for CBRS Priority Access Licenses (PALs). But a draft order released today instead sets the PAL boundaries at county lines, as many rural organizations favor.
The draft order, which the Commission tentatively plans to take up in its Oct. 23 monthly meeting, “makes targeted changes to our rules to promote investment and innovation in this important band,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a blog post. “For example, by allowing providers to renew 3.5 GHz licenses, we will substantially increase their incentives to deploy 5G networks using this spectrum.”
For rural areas, 3.5 GHz licenses could represent more than a 5G platform. In many areas, it could provide fixed wireless capacity for broadband to the home. NRTC was one of several rural organizations that urged the FCC earlier this year to adopt county line PAL boundaries to give rural broadband providers better access to the spectrum.
“The availability of five county-based licenses in every U.S. county will meet the business and operational requirements of commercial mobile wireless carriers, cable companies, and other broadband providers serving rural areas that desire larger license areas,” said the coalition in a May 9 letter. The CEOs of NRECA, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association and 17 other organizations joined NRTC CEO Tim Bryan in signing the letter.
In the draft order, the FCC proposes seven PALs in each county rather than five. It also offered further incentive for rural investment by offering bidding credits to rural and tribal auction participants and by establishing partitioning and disaggregation (license area division) rules within PAL areas.
To incentivize larger carriers, the draft calls for extending license terms from three to 10 years and allowing licensees an opportunity to renew PALs
“These changes are consistent with the rules that helped foster the development of 4G and LTE services in the United States, and we anticipate that adopting similar rules in this band will help promote additional investment in the next generation of wireless services,” the FCC says in the draft order.
Among other items the FCC placed on its Oct. 23 tentative agenda, the FCC will consider Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to expand the available spectrum for unlicensed data operation (Wi-Fi) to the 6 GHZ band (5.925-7.125 GHz).