The FCC is considering rules for an auction of spectrum in the CBRS band that call for licenses by county. A total of seven licenses, each for 10 MHz of unpaired spectrum, would be available per county, yielding a total of more than 22,000 licenses nationwide.
The commission also asked for feedback on whether to offer bidders the option to bid at a cellular market area (CMA) level in the 172 CMAs that are classified as metropolitan statistical areas. The 172 CMAs referenced comprise about one-quarter of all CMAs.
The auction would be known as Auction 105 and would begin June 25, 2020. Participants would have the option of bidding for up to four licenses in a license area.
The action came in the form of a public notice adopted at today’s monthly FCC meeting.
CBRS Auction Rules
The CBRS band includes mid-band spectrum between 3550-3700 MHz. A portion of the band was recently made available for commercial uses on an unlicensed and shared basis.
CBRS spectrum is considered “mid-band” – a band that has received considerable attention in recent months as carriers have begun rolling out 5G networks. As FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr noted at today’s FCC meeting, network operators are expected to use a combination of low-band, mid-band and high-band spectrum to meet a variety of coverage requirements.
Some stakeholders, including Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel, believe the U.S. needs to be more aggressive in making mid-band spectrum available for 5G.
“The great step forward we take today doesn’t eliminate the need for more mid-band spectrum,” said O’Rielly. “Let’s get the C-band done.”
The latter is a reference to spectrum currently in the hands of satellite providers, who may have more spectrum than they need for the chief function the spectrum currently supports — distribution of video programming. The FCC is considering making a portion of the band available to commercial operators, but key issues about how that would occur have yet to be resolved, including whether the satellite providers would auction the spectrum or whether the FCC would handle that task.
Rosenworcel noted that 16 other countries have recently conducted auctions of mid-band spectrum and argued that the CBRS band auction should be conducted sooner than June 25.
She also expressed concern about the possibility of CBRS spectrum being auctioned on a CMA basis in certain areas, arguing that this approach could shut out smaller entities from acquiring licenses in those areas, which in turn, could minimize opportunities for innovation.