FCC Lends WISPs 5.9 GHz Spectrum For Pandemic-Driven Traffic

The FCC has granted almost three dozen terrestrial wireless internet service providers (WISPs) the loan of 5.9 GHz spectrum.

The 60-day grant of special temporary authority (STA) for use of the lower 45 MHz of the band is to help them serve rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FCC said the grants will help with telehealth, distance learning and telework in rural communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

The STA is kind of a dry run on the FCC's plan to free up that lower 45 MHz for wireless broadband.

The FCC voted unanimously Dec. 12, 2019, to share that 5.9 GHz band by dividing it up. The proposal is to free up the lower 45 MHz exclusively for unlicensed use and to keep the the upper 30 MHz for V2V communications, including 20 MHz of that for C-V2X.

The FCC has issued numerous STAs to boost bandwidth using its spectrum inventory and spectrum lent from various companies including Dish and Comcast. 

"During this unprecedented crisis, Americans are depending on their Wi-Fi networks to work, learn and stay connected to critical information," said Wifi Forward, which has been advocating for freeing up that lower 45 MHz. "Today, the FCC took an important step, allowing WISPs access to the lower 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band to connect people — safeguarding vital community functions and ensuring Americans are not left behind during this time of surging home and community broadband use. This is a great opportunity to take unused spectrum and put it to work for our communities, now. The FCC is showing leadership to expand providers’ network capacity during this time of crisis..."

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.