Starry aims to shape future U.S. spectrum policy

Boston (Pixabay)
Starry continues to expand its base of beta customers in the Boston area and plans to expand to additional cities before the end of 2017.

It’s still early days for Starry, the startup that aims to change how people get internet service, but the company is making its voice heard at the FCC, submitting comments on everything from the 3.5 GHz CBRS band to infrastructure siting.

Starry is a Boston- and New York-based technology company that is currently deploying its proprietary fixed wireless technology in the Boston area, where, as Light Reading reported, it’s offering service for $50 a month in select locations around the city. The $50 includes all the equipment to get started, so customers are not paying beyond that for a modem, gateway or router.

Starry’s wireless system runs in the 37-40 GHz band and relays internet signals to subscribers using non-line-of-sight technology—essentially the same technology and spectrum that companies are planning to employ in the fixed version of the upcoming 5G network standard.

RELATED: Starry CEO: Fixed wireless is going to be ‘massive opportunity’

The company was founded by Chet Kanojia, who was the founder and CEO of Aereo, which attempted to offer a groundbreaking online TV platform but was sidelined when the U.S. Supreme Court determined it was violating copyright laws by retransmitting broadcasters' signals without compensating them.

Given that history, it's not surprising that Starry would want to lobby on behalf of startups that aim to challenge incumbents when it comes to alternative ways to offer internet service. 

“From our perspective, it’s important to be active and have a voice,” said Virginia Lam Abrams, SVP of communications and government relations at Starry. Too often, larger businesses dominate the discussions and startups are under-represented. “It’s to your detriment as a company if you’re not a part of the policy-making conversation. These are policies that are going to shape how a market could get created. We think it’s important to invest the resources and the time to actively take part in the process.”

Kanojia and Abrams have been meeting with FCC staff and briefing them about what they describe as a proprietary 5G fixed wireless technology and the company’s deployment progress in Boston. They're also advocating for a diverse set of spectrum licensing models--including sharing, unlicensed and exclusively licensed--to encourage the maximum amount of innovation in the millimeter wave bands.

In the 3.5 GHz CBRS band, CTIA and T-Mobile have submitted proposals to change the rules in order to encourage investment by mobile carriers, but Starry argues that the commission’s intent was never to make this a band available solely for commercial mobile wireless services. “The Commission explicitly established this band to support a ‘wide variety of users, deployment models, and business cases, including some solutions to market needs not adequately served by [its] conventional licensed or unlicensed rules,’” Starry said in its filing (PDF) on the matter.

Starry has an experimental authorization to test its technology and business model in several markets across the country and has been urging the FCC to finalize the sharing rules for the 37-37.6 GHz band so that it can commit the capital to the deployment of its network in more markets across the country, where it will compete directly with fiber networks.

Specifically, Starry has been voicing its support for preserving sharing in the lower 37 GHz band as proposed in the FCC’s Spectrum Frontiers Report & Order, advocating that a simple, site-based coordination mechanism be used. Starry says that implementing a sharing framework that uses a site-based model, rather than licensing by a geographic area, takes advantage of the unique characteristics of the band, namely its limited propagation, that allow for more spectrum re-use. 

The company also is participating in the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, which Chairman Ajit Pai formed in January to explore ways to accelerate deployment of high-speed internet access nationwide and to close the digital divide. The committee’s mission is to provide advice and make recommendations to the FCC on how to accelerate the deployment of broadband by reducing and removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.