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WISPs Renew Call for Use of Census Tracts for 3.5 GHz Band PALs


Representatives of wireless Internet service providers today renewed their call for the FCC to retain census tracts as the geographic area for licensing priority access licenses (PALs) in the 3.5 gigahertz band Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), rather than using larger geographic areas favored by nationwide providers, CTIA, and the Competitive Carriers Association.

“We’re not asking for, you know, preference. We’re just asking for an ability to compete. And the smaller licensing areas are absolutely critical for our members’ ability to compete,” Claude Aiken, president and chief executive officer of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), said at an event this afternoon organized by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

Elizabeth Bowles, president and chairman of Aristotle, Inc., an Arkansas-based WISP, and chair of the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), agreed that WISPs will only be able to bid on PALs if the FCC uses census tracts.

She said that licensing the spectrum through cellular-size licenses is “such a bad idea … from a WISPA perspective.”

Larger carriers and CTIA had asked the FCC to change its rules and license PALs via partial economic areas (PEAs), but since then they have expressed a willingness to compromise to a degree.

CTIA and the Competitive Carriers Association have submitted to the FCC a proposal that calls for PALs to be licensed through metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the top 306 cellular market areas (CMAs) and on a county basis in the remaining 428 CMAs (TR Daily, April 23).

T-Mobile US, Inc., said in a filing posted today in GN docket 17-258 that it supports the proposal, saying it “will allow the Commission to avoid the engineering challenges of using 3.5 GHz spectrum in too-small geographic areas in urban locations while potentially fostering the use of the spectrum by smaller providers in rural areas.”

Earlier this year, T-Mobile said that the FCC should “address the competing concerns by adopting a hybrid approach” and employ PEAs in the top 115 markets and counties in the rest of the country.

The moderator of today’s event, Michael Calabrese, director of OTI’s Wireless Future Project, was also critical of the CTIA-CCA proposal.

“The fact that national and regional mobile carriers reached a so-called ‘compromise’ should carry no weight at the Commission,” he told TR Daily after the event. “The fact that mobile carriers agree licenses should be so large and permanent that they exclude every other current and potential wireless use case is irrelevant to the sort of compromise the Commission is seeking. The debate is between the mobile carriers and every other industry, from rural and fixed wireless providers, to industrial IoT users, to utilities and the hotel industry.”

At today’s event, WISP representatives also emphasized the benefits of a proposal advanced by the Broadband Access Coalition, which WISPA and OTI helped found, to create a new licensed, point-to-multipoint (P2MP) fixed wireless service in the 3.7–4.2 GHz band. The spectrum would be licensed through the FCC’s part 101 rules rather than being auctioned.

Speakers also stressed the importance of regulators viewing spectrum as another important input in rural infrastructure deployment.

Ms. Bowles said many WISPs would like to participate in the FCC’s Connect America Fund II auction but must have the necessary spectrum first. “It does need to be treated as infrastructure,” she said. “Smaller players could play if they knew they had access to the spectrum.”

Mr. Aiken said that not all of the FCC’s subsidy programs recognize that fixed wireless services can be deployed more cheaply than fiber in many cases. Rural Utilities Service grant and loan programs also fail to do this.

“If we can align universal service policy, infrastructure policy, and spectrum policy, we can really make a dent in the rural broadband problem,” he added.

The FCC also was urged at today’s event to complete action in its TV white spaces proceeding to reserve an additional two channels for unlicensed devices in every market in the country.

“It’s been a long push,” said Paula Boyd, senior director-government and regulatory affairs for Microsoft Corp.

Bob Nichols, chief executive officer of Declaration Networks Group, Inc., a WISP serving rural portions of Maryland and Virginia, also called for FCC action, saying that uncertainty concerning the band was problematic. Mr. Nichols said he serves his customers using TVWS and 5 GHz band spectrum.

Microsoft today announced plans to partner with Mr. Nichols’ company as part of Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative.

In opening remarks, Kelsey Guyselman, a policy adviser in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, stressed the importance of rural connectivity to the Trump administration. She also stressed the need to spur investment and innovation.

“We need to make a better business case for investment in these expensive, hard-to-serve parts of the country,” Ms. Guyselman added. “This includes reducing barriers to entry, both regulatory and other. This also means filling in the gaps in areas where there may never be a business case.”

Fiber is not the only solution to deploy in rural areas, Ms. Guyselman noted, saying that fixed wireless and satellite technologies also should be considered as part of “a tech neutral and performance-based approach.”

She emphasized that the Trump administration has worked on several fronts to look for ways to promote rural broadband services, and aims to coordinate funding streams, leverage current assets, and streamline permitting. A portion of the administration’s $200 billion infrastructure package also can be used for broadband, she noted.— Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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