FCC Gets Praise for 3.5 GHz Vote

Related: FCC Votes to Free up More WiFi Spectrum

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is getting plenty of positive feedback on its decision Friday (5-0, with some minority concurrences) to open up 150 MHz of spectrum for WiFi broadband in the 3.5 GHZ. That will come by way of a new flexible spectrum-sharing regime with incumbent federal users of the band, notably DOD radar. During the meeting at which the item was adopted Friday (April 17),  FCC chairman Tom wheeler gave the DOD props for being flexible and innovative in its thinking about the spectrum.

"In an important step toward meeting President Obama's goal of making 500 megahertz of spectrum available for mobile broadband by 2020, the FCC today approved an innovative regulatory framework that will enable access to 100 megahertz of spectrum in the 3550-3650 MHz (3.5 GHz) band," blogged National Telecommunications And Information Administration chief Larry Strickling. "Today's action grew out of NTIA's October 2010 'fast track evaluation report that identified the 3.5 GHz band as an important band to explore to help meet the 500 megahertz commitment and address surging demand for commercial wireless broadband."

NTIA is the FCC's counterpart in the federal sector. At the meeting, Wheeler also praised NTIA and Strickling for their roles.

FCC officials thanked stakeholders for their input on the item, and some of those stakeholders were returning the plaudits.

"AT&T applauds the FCC for adopting today's 3.5 GHz order that will make more spectrum available for mobile broadband use. The Commission has taken an innovative approach in the band to facilitate spectrum sharing with incumbent government users," the company said in a statement. "We look forward to the Second Further Notice as the Commission continues to explore how CBRS licensees will use this spectrum while sharing it in an opportunistic manner."

Wireless companies were generally pleased but, like the FCC Republican commissioners, they urged the FCC to make the regime as commercial-friendly as possible. Also as with the Republican commissioners, CTIA saw it as more of an experiment on which the jury was still out that the "paradigm shift" being hailed by he Democratic majority.

"We appreciate the hard work of the FCC, NTIA and incumbent federal users to develop a novel approach that makes additional spectrum available for commercial use while protecting important federal missions in the 3.5 GHz band," said Scott Bergmann, CTIA—The Wireless Association's VP of regulatory affairs. "The FCC concedes it is taking an experimental approach with the 3.5 GHz band, which is why we encourage the FCC to take steps to make it as investment-friendly as possible as well as ensure this spectrum plays a meaningful role in improving the speed and capacity for consumers' mobile services. To facilitate certainty and deployment in this band, the FCC should give carriers confidence that the spectrum needed will be available when it's needed, including rejecting calls for opportunistic sharing of priority spectrum, dynamic frequency assignments and technology-specific mandates."

"The spectrum crunch remains very real and the FCC's action represents significant progress towards opening more spectrum for broadband," said Telecommunications Industry Association president Scott Belcher. "TIA has supported opening 3.5 GHz spectrum to broadband applications, including through the innovative use of new technologies such as small cells." 

In particular, TIA appreciates the FCC's tireless work in leading inter-agency efforts that have significantly reduced the size of the exclusion zones needed to protect federal incumbents in the band [by 77% from the original proposal]," he went on. "Protecting services with superior spectrum rights (whether federal or commercial) against harmful interference remains very important in any spectrum sharing scenario. TIA looks forward to reviewing the Commission's actions today and offering comments for further refinements."

Jonathan Adelstein, president of PCIA: The Wireless Infrastructure Association and a former FCC commissioner, praised the decision as a way to relieve pressure for new spectrum,

"PCIA is pleased that the FCC has approved a forward-thinking order that offers new opportunities to expand wireless capacity and coverage, which will help American consumers get better connected," Adelstein said. "While the FCC and the Administration must remain vigilant in seeking to clear more licensed spectrum under terms and lengths that spur investment, the FCC has provided a path to innovation in the 3.5 GHz band that will help ease the wireless data crunch, which will stimulate U.S. jobs and growth. The FCC's focus on small wireless communications facilities such as small cells and DAS demonstrates its clear vision for our evolving heterogeneous networks. We look forward to future involvement in these matters."

"Today's bipartisan FCC vote to create a Citizens Broadband Service is a historic step that lays the foundation for spectrum sharing," said Michael Calabrese, director of New America's Wireless Future Project. "While exclusive licensing will persist for many years, there is little left to be cleared for traditional auctions. There is, however, a potential spectrum superhighway of grossly underused federal and satellite spectrum that needs to be opened for low-power sharing by both unlicensed users and by priority access licensees who pay for interference protection. The Commission should move quickly to extend this new Citizens Broadband Service to other similar bands with immense fallow capacity, thereby ushering in a new era of wireless broadband abundance."

[We] applaud the FCC's efforts toward making additional spectrum available for unlicensed operations in the 3.5 GHz band," said the Wi-Fi Alliance. "Unlicensed spectrum is one of the true backbones of the world economy, enabling hundreds of billions of dollars in global commerce annually. In the U.S. alone, Wi-Fi(r) drives an estimated $140 billion a year in commercial activity. More than 10 billion devices rely on Wi-Fi, and unlocking additional spectrum for these devices to operate will have untold benefits for the economy, users and businesses. We are pleased to see FCC allocate portions of 3.5 for unlicensed use and to facilitate shared use of licensed spectrum by unlicensed devices."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.