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FCC Votes to Free Up Wireless Backhaul Spectrum

The FCC voted unanimously Tuesday to free up more spectrum - up to 650 Mhz - for mobile wireless backhaul and make it easier and more cost effective for wireless companies to use point-to-point microwave links to deliver their service, particularly in rural areas.

It was another step in the FCC's push for broadband deployment and providing more spectrum for wireless broadband.

Among the changes were allowing for use of wider channels and smaller antennas, and allowing for sharing of spectrum for specialized services including cable TV relay and broadcast auxiliary services, with requisite protections for that sharing, said the FCC's wireless bureau.

Those protections are important to the cable industry. In its filing on the issue, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said that it believed that wireless backhaul sharing was doable "provided existing cable CARS [cable television relay service] facilities are protected through rigorous adherence to a formal frequency coordination process."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said when he was first briefed on the highly technical proposals in the National Broadband Plan, his eyes glazed over, but that he came to recognize it was one of the most important items, particularly for accelerating broadband buildout and reducing costs.

At the FCC's public meeting Tuesday, the chairman put in a plug for voluntary incentive auctions to free up more spectrum for wireless, but pointed out the microwave moves was removing "more needless restrictions on spectrum use."

He said wireless backhaul can be an important way to link cell sites or sites with backbone infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. He said there is a backhaul crunch as well as a consumer-facing crunch.

The chairman also gave a shout-out to the D.C. Circuit for denying a stay of its pole-attachment rule changes, which are also part of the effort to accelerate broadband.

He also said the move was lifting outdated restrictions on spectrum, furthering its regulatory reform goal. He said there was also an emergency communications element, saying this could help 911 calls get through in rural areas during severe weather.

The order also included seeking comment on other proposals to further ease wireless deployment.