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The debate about plans for the 12 GHz spectrum band is not just about billionaire versus billionaire, said Harold Feld, senior vice president for Public Knowledge, a public interest group that is part of a new coalition know as 5G for 12 GHz. The coalition wants to see changes made to the rules for the 12 GHz band which, according to the group, will enable the band to be used for multiple purposes, including 5G.

Feld made his comments on a press call launching the group. While acknowledging that the dueling billionaires angle gets people to read coverage on the topic, Feld said, “It’s not just Charlie Ergen vs. Elon Musk.”

According to Chip Pickering, co-chair of the coalition as well as CEO of competitive carrier association INCOMPAS, the coalition is launching to illustrate the diversity of stakeholders seeking changes to current rules for the 12 GHz band.

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The 12 GHz band includes a broad 500-MHz swath of spectrum between 12.2-12.7 GHz that, according to coalition co-chair Joe Lockhart, could enable the U.S. to better compete with China on the 5G front.

Current 12 GHz licensees include AT&T and DISH, which use it for satellite video distribution; RS Access, which uses it for point-to-point fixed wireless in rural areas; Go Long Wireless, which uses it to extend Wi-Fi access; and Space X, which is in the process of deploying a non-geostationary (NGSO) satellite broadband network using the band. The band is currently restricted to uni-directional operation, but 5G for 12 GHz Coalition members want to see bi-directional use allowed, which would make the spectrum suitable for 5G.

In addition to Public Knowledge and INCOMPAS, 5G for 12 GHz Coalition member organizations represented on today’s press call included DISH – whose CEO, Charlie Ergen, is one of the dueling billionaires — and RS Access. Not all members were represented on the press call: the coalition has more than 20 members, including the Rural Wireless Association, as well as other associations, fixed wireless providers, technology suppliers and others.

Public Knowledge wants to see the 12 GHz band made available for high-speed Wi-Fi and for 5G, Feld said. Allowing DISH to use the spectrum for 5G as well as satellite operations would make the company a stronger competitor against AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, something Public Knowledge would like to see, he said.

The billionaire who opposes changes to the 12 GHz rules is Space X CEO Elon Musk. The stakes for Space X were raised yesterday when the FCC told the company that it could make certain modifications to its deployment plans that should improve performance. The commission also warned Space X, however, that the ongoing FCC rulemaking for the 12 GHz band might impact the satellite broadband operator’s ability to continue to operate with the modifications in place.

It’s worth noting that just as Ergen isn’t alone in seeking changes to the 12 GHz band rules, Musk is not alone in opposition to those rules. AT&T and others also oppose the proposed changes.

5G for 12 GHz Coalition Study

The 5G for 12 GHz Coalition members said they will be filing a detailed technical study showing that the spectrum band can support 5G without impacting current license holders.

Asked about whether the coalition had looked at whether the proposed changes would impact Space X assuming Space X makes the modifications conditionally approved by the FCC, RS Access CEO V. Noah Campbell said the group was “cognizant of all the factors.” But he stopped short of indicating whether the rule changes proposed by the coalition would impact Space X operations if Space X were to make the conditionally approved modifications.

He went on to add that this issue is one of the reasons the coalition is urging the FCC to quickly determine whether to allow the requested rule changes.

Perhaps ominously for Space X, Campbell said “What makes it easier to do now is that the NGSO hasn’t launched commercially yet.”

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