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FCC Votes to Put More Broadband Spectrum in Play

A slightly divided FCC voted to advance the agency's efforts to free up more bandwidth, particularly in the higher bands, for wireless broadband.

The commission voted to set additional rules for flexible-use millimeter wave spectrum for 5G. Those included "adopting an operability requirement for the entire 24-GHz band, a sharing framework to allow use of a portion of the 24-GHz band for terrestrial wireless operations and Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) earth stations, a band plan for the lower 37-GHz band, and spectrum aggregation rules applicable to certain bands."

Need to Know: 5G — Riding Wireless’s Next Wave

The FCC also denied petitions that the FCC rethink its decision not to use geographic area licensing for the lower 37-GHz band and allocating the 42-GHz band for satellite use.

It also "tees up" coordination of shared use of the lower 37-GHz band among commercial and government users.

The vote was about putting more spectrum on the table, said FCC chair Ajit Pai and putting finishing touches on rules for the spectrum already placed there.

The vote will actually be recorded as unanimous, but there was a partial dissent by Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and a partial concurrence -- short of full-throated support -- by Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly.

Actually, the two commissioners had issues with the same portion of the decision, but for opposite reasons.

Rosenworcel dissented from the decision not to cap large companies' access to spectrum in upcoming auctions, but instead apply a case-by-case spectrum screen after the fact. The screen's goal is to ensure that smaller competing companies get access to some of the spectrum.

O'Rielly concurred with that portion, rather than approved, because he thought the screens should not be applied at all.

“With today’s vote on further action in the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding, the FCC continues to advance U.S. leadership in the race to next generation wireless networks," said Margaret McCarthy, executive director of Mobile Future. "Building on the work the Commission has already done to bring millimeter wave spectrum to market, today’s item makes further reforms to unleash spectrum to fuel the 5G economy. Importantly, the Commission is eliminating the pre-auction spectrum cap for the 28-GHz, 37-GHz and 39-GHz bands, allowing greater flexibility for auction participants that will promote innovation and efficient use of millimeter wave spectrum. With the right rules in place, this high-band spectrum can be put to use to deliver the benefits of 5G to America’s wireless consumers.”