FCC +700MHzAs expected the FCC today adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking aimed at enabling certain bands of satellite spectrum to be used for stand-alone terrestrial broadband services, which could be mobile or fixed.

The commission also adopted an NPRM aimed at ensuring that end user devices designed for spectrum bands held primarily by small wireless service providers can interoperate with devices in spectrum bands held largely by AT&T.

Additionally the FCC adopted a notice of inquiry to consider details about how to make certain spectrum currently in government hands available for commercial use and announced the creation of an incentive auction task force.

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Satellite spectrum
The satellite spectrum that was the focus of today’s action includes 40 MHz of spectrum in the 2 GHz band known as the mobile satellite spectrum (MSS) band, which is currently in the hands of Dish Network. Companies currently operating in the bands are allowed to offer what is called “ancillary” terrestrial service, but virtually none of them have done so because of certain restrictions. Dish, for example, recently tried without success to obtain a waiver of one of these requirements—a requirement that all handsets support both terrestrial and satellite service.

As FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski explained at today’s monthly FCC meeting where the NPRM was adopted, the goal is to “free up [spectrum] by removing regulatory barriers—the specific barriers are rules that have limited spectrum to satellite use.”

The FCC also has gone so far as to rename the MSS spectrum bands involved, referring to them now as AWS-4 spectrum because of their proximity to the AWS band. In today’s NPRM, the commission proposes to address changes in how spectrum can be used through modifications to existing 2 GHz licenses, but also asks for comment on an alternative approach.

Image courtsey of the FCC

In addition, the FCC requests input on a timely deployment schedule for the AWS-4 band and on technology and interference rules.

Today’s actions do not impact LightSquared, the company that tried without success to repurpose satellite spectrum in a different band for terrestrial use.

700 MHz Interoperability
According to an FCC official who participated in today’s meeting, the other NPRM adopted today seeks a “quantitative analysis” of the potential for harmful interference if 700 MHz spectrum in Band 12 were made interoperable with spectrum in Band 17. Spectrum in Band 12 is primarily held by small wireless carriers, while spectrum in Band 17 is primarily held by AT&T, which has expressed concerns about interference from television Channel 51 or from the 700 MHz lower E-block if Band 12 and Band 17 were made interoperable.

The NPRM also seeks comment on whether any harmful interference could be “reasonably mitigated” along with the “best course of action” should the commission determine that interoperability would cause limited or no harmful interference or could be reasonably mitigated.

Small wireless carriers have argued that without interoperability, it has been difficult to get device manufacturers to build products for them because of limited volumes—and in their comments, Genachowski and the other two FCC commissioners seemed sympathetic to this view.

Commission Mignon Clyburn noted, for example, that FCC plans for the 700 MHz spectrum band were made before the 3GPP standards committee opted to sub-divide the band.  The failure to anticipate that development “means the commission needs to move as quickly as possible to achieve full inter-operability in the lower 700 MHz band,” said Clyburn.

Genachowski and Commissioner Robert McDowell voiced optimism that the telecom industry would be able to devise its own solution to 700 MHz interoperability issues. But Clyburn was more skeptical, noting that the industry has already had four years to arrive at a solution.

Clyburn added that she “looks forward to the adoption of rules or an industry solution by the end of this year.”

Repurposing government spectrum/ auction task force
The additional spectrum currently in government hands that the FCC proposes freeing up for mobile broadband use is in the 1695-1710 MHz band. In its notice of inquiry the commission seeks input on an alternative band plan for this spectrum.

One final action taken by the FCC today was to announce the creation of an incentive auction task force, to be headed up by FCC official Ruth Milkman. The task force will include representation from several different FCC bureaus.

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