FCC Opens Up More Spectrum Frontier

The FCC has voted to make an additional 1,700 Mhz of millimeter (high band) spectrum available for 5G wireless, including experimentation by cable wireless broadband providers.

The item also retains the unlicensed use of the 64-71 GHz band.

It also:

"Maintains spectrum in the 48.2-50.2 GHz and 40-42 GHz bands for satellite use; adjusts the earth station siting rules in core terrestrial wireless bands to provide incentives to site satellite earth stations in less populated areas while continuing to limit the potential for interference of satellite operations to mobile wireless use in these bands; and declines to cap the amount of spectrum in the 24 GHz and 47 GHz bands that a bidder can acquire in an auction, and incorporates these two bands into the previously-adopted mmW spectrum threshold for reviewing proposed secondary market transactions."

It is the latest in the FCC's Spectrum Frontiers initiative to open up more spectrum for wireless broadband.

Pai said at the FCC's Nov. 16 meeting, where the item was adopted, that he planned another such Spectrum Frontiers item for the first half of next year, but pointed out that the FCC can't hold the 2018 auction of high-band spectrum until Congress solves the issue of upfront payments.

Pai has said the FCC can't hold any auctions until that issue is resolved. The problem is that while the law allows the FCC to keep auction upfront payments in an interest-bearing account, as a result of financial regulations on collateralizing deposits, no financial institution is willing to hold such payments in an interest-bearing account.

"[A]ny future spectrum leaps to get these frequencies licensed require legislation," he said. "As much as anyone, I want to move forward with a high-band spectrum auction in 2018. But currently, we can’t. As I’ve recently and repeatedly stated, we can’t hold any large spectrum auction unless and until Congress fixes the upfront-payments problem.  I stand ready to assist any elected official interested in helping us solve this problem. We’ll certainly do any and all legwork in the meantime, studying other bands for potential wireless use and moving forward through our rulemaking process to get them ready for auction."

Charter was pleased with the this latest FCC effort to free up spectrum for broadband.

“Charter applauds today’s FCC vote making additional high band spectrum available as well as maintaining the unlicensed allocation of the 64-71 GHz band. As part of our transition to a full mobility network, we are conducting tests in the millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies and exploring how they can be used to enhance the quality, capacity and speed of

our wireless service," the company said in a statement. "Charter looks forward to continuing to work with the FCC to adopt spectrum licensing rules that facilitate new entrants in the wireless marketplace.”

The item also includes a further notice of proposed rulemaking that proposes to allow more flexible fixed-satellite service use of the 24.75-25.25 GHz band, seeks input meeting terrestrial millimeter licensee performance obligations in order to accommodate IoT and other services, and "proposes to eliminate the cap on the amount of spectrum in the 28, 37, and 39 GHz bands that a bidder can acquire in an auction."

Again that would depend on Congress paving the way for future auctions.

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.