WISPA Opposes CMA-Level Bidding for Priority Access Licenses
Washington, DC, October 28, 2019 – As the Commission has noted, the 3.5 GHz (CBRS) proceeding is an experiment. Though Federal incumbents occupy the band, it remains highly underutilized. In a spectrum-constrained world, this result is out of step with the demands and needs of our spectrum-driven economy. Thankfully, through the CBRS proceeding, the FCC has accomplished tremendous work to get more out of this important band of spectrum.
At the crux of the CBRS experiment is dynamic sharing. When the proceeding first began, then-Commissioner Pai stated, “The FCC would like to test a theory – to see if we can implement a sharing regime that will allow a mix of innovative offerings to flourish.” With last month’s roll out of Initial Commercial Deployment, enabled by SAS technology, it appears the engineering questions of that “theory” have been answered. Yes, sharing can occur in this complex band, both protecting Federal incumbents and opening up the underutilized spectrum to commercial use.
But what remains to be crafted “to allow a mix of innovative offerings to flourish” are auction rules for Priority Access Licenses (PALs), which will undergird the widespread development and deployment of CBRS-enabled innovation.
Throughout this process, WISPA has urged for rules that provide WISPs and smaller companies a meaningful opportunity to acquire PALs. While county-based PAL licenses may not be ideal for many WISPA members, many of whom are truly small rural carriers, they may be sufficiently small enough to encourage meaningful participation by these companies. With an important caveat, though – only if the auction procedures do not result in de facto foreclosure from the get-go.
After carefully considering the details of the CBRS PAL Auctions Procedures Public Notice, CMA-level bidding does not meet this test, and as a consequence, WISPA is unable to support the Commission’s proposal as put forward in the Public Notice.
There are a number of important reasons why. First, CMA-level bidding creates an incentive for the large companies to increase their bids for rural, or less populous counties, that they would otherwise not have an interest in acquiring, in order to win an entire CMA. This will make it more challenging for smaller companies that want to acquire PALs in rural counties. Second, bidders who seek to combine counties do not need CMA-level bidding in order to assemble spectrum blocks across multiple counties. Therefore, CMA-level bidding constrains large companies, who may be interested in acquiring multiple counties in a CMA to build their strategy around counties aggregated without their input. This is an unnecessary complication that is burdensome on carriers seeking to add capacity in more densely populated urban areas of CMAs. Finally, while WISPA has consistently supported PAL sizes at the census tract level, an important compromise was struck for some companies to support PAL licenses at the county level as opposed to the larger Partial Economic Area level. The county size PAL licenses are better for WISPA members. The CMA-level bidding proposal, however, effectively reverses that compromise in many parts of the country.
“Many smaller, rural providers have told me that obtaining a PAL is needed to secure funding and develop business models that can help them continue to bridge digital divides,” said Louis Peraertz, WISPA’s VP of Policy, “but the uncertainty and complication of the proposed rule gets in the way of that.” If the Commission does not mitigate this, the results could hurt wireless internet service providers’ mission to connect more rural Americans. “The CBRS experiment will be all the more successful if the broadest possible range of participants, especially rural providers, can bid on PALs” noted Peraertz. “However, CMA-level bidding is likely to leave out many providers – those who could almost overnight serve rural Americans with new and innovative broadband services in unserved and underserved areas of our country.”
Added Peraertz, “WISPA hopes the FCC declines to adopt CMA-level bidding and bases the CBRS auction on a regime that more reasonably encourages all players to bid for PALs. Doing this will bring more bidders to the table and will work to more quickly reduce the rural digital divide.”
WISPA’s approximately 800 members are composed of fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) and the industry that supports fixed wireless broadband, including equipment suppliers, support services, and other components needed to run a successful business. Our members, and WISPs, in general, provide broadband access to over 4 million residential and business customers, often in exclusively rural areas.