The Federal Communications Commission has granted 700 MHz A-block licensees extra time to build out their networks. License holders would have been required to have networks completed to at least 35% of their coverage area by June of this year. They now have until December to meet that deadline.

The move was made in response to a request from the Rural Cellular Association, now known as the Competitive Carriers Association, which asked for a two-year deadline extension. The association argued that small wireless carriers who hold A-block spectrum licenses have had difficulty obtaining devices to work on their network at reasonable prices, if at all, because of the small volumes involved.

International standards bodies originally planned for devices operating in the 700 MHz B-block and lower C-block, where AT&T holds a large part of the spectrum, to use the same mobile device components as devices in the lower A-block – and demand for those components would have been substantial. But AT&T, citing interference concerns, persuaded standards bodies to create a separate frequency band for the B-block and lower C-block and has used components supporting only those two blocks in the devices it has purchased to date for use on its LTE network.

The FCC is considering requiring devices operating in the B- and lower C-block to also work on the A-block, but has not yet made a determination on that issue.

Verizon Wireless holds A-block spectrum in many of the nation’s largest markets which it tried in vain to sell after it received regulatory approval to purchase AWS spectrum from several of the nation’s largest cable companies. A spokeswoman told Telecompetitor last month that Verizon Wireless would build out the A-block spectrum but that the company’s priority would be to build out other spectrum bands.

Today’s ruling suggests the company can’t take it too slowly on building out its A-block holdings. The FCC did note, though, that individual requests for extension or waiver of the interim build-out deadline were still pending – and it’s a good bet that Verizon has such a request pending.

Telecompetitor has asked Verizon for additional information about that and we will update this post when we hear back from them.

Good thing I’m not a betting person. The Verizon Wireless spokeswoman said the company has not filed an extension request. But of course I don’t see anything stopping the company from making a request in the future.

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