The FCC today adopted new rules for the CBRS spectrum band targeted for a mixture of licensed and unlicensed use, with licenses to be awarded via an upcoming auction. As expected, the new CBRS rules will extend the license period to 10 years from the three years originally planned and will make licenses renewable. In addition, it will increase the geographic size of license areas from census tracts to counties.
Also today, the FCC proposed to free up additional spectrum in the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use.
New CBRS Rules
The CBRS band includes 150 MHz of spectrum between 3550 and 3700 MHz.
According to FCC Commissioner O’Rielly, who spearheaded the new CBRS rules, the new rules represent a middle ground between two groups that were unable to reach a compromise on their own — wireless internet service providers that wanted to stick with the original plan and larger mobile carriers that wanted larger license areas and longer license terms.
“The U.S. has a wireless marketplace that other countries try to emulate because of our commitment to free market principles and practices,” said O’Rielly, who argued that the new CBRS rules are a prime example of what makes the U.S. wireless market so strong. The new rules, he said, will make spectrum available under flexible use policies assigned through multiple-round auctions and will encourage an active secondary market.
The new rules also allow the use of bidding credits for rural and tribal entities – and O’Rielly argued that those credits would help address concerns that smaller entities might be shut out of the auction as a result of the rule changes. He also noted that 80 GHz of the CBRS band would be available for unlicensed use and that unlicensed users could use spectrum in areas where licensees have not built out service. Some WISPs have argued, however, that they are unlikely to use the latter option, as they would have no certainty over when the spectrum might become unavailable.
O’Rielly reiterated another factor that he previously noted was important in shaping the decision to use county-sized licenses. With 74,000 census tracts nationwide, a multiple-round auction would have been unfeasible, requiring the use of a sealed bid auction, which O’Rielly described as a step backwards.
He also raised another issue today. If licenses were issued by census tracts, network operators would not be able to take advantage of propagation characteristics of the CBRS spectrum band.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted that the plan to award licenses by county has the backing of the Rural Wireless Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and the Competitive Carriers Association.
The only dissenting voice about the new CBRS rules was Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who said the rule changes were a step backwards. She said she had hoped the smaller license sizes and shorter license terms would lead to creative new uses of the spectrum such as intelligent manufacturing, power distribution and healthcare.
Other aspects of the new CBRS rules adopted at today’s FCC meeting:
- End-of-term performance requirements established
- Partitioning and disaggregation of licenses allowed
6 GHz Proposal
The FCC’s proposal for unlicensed use of 1200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band came in the form of a notice of proposed rulemaking adopted at today’s meeting.
The commission proposes to use a portion of the band for indoor use only. A separate portion of the band could be used outdoors under automatic frequency control (AFC) designed to prevent operators from creating harmful interference or indoors without AFC.