FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday unveiled plans to open up access to unused 2.5 GHz spectrum, with a draft order that would eliminate current educational use requirements for the EBS portion the band and tee up an auction to use the mid-band airwaves for 5G.
The item is slated for public release Wednesday and will be up for vote at the FCC’s July 10 open meeting
The focus of the order is on 114 megahertz of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band currently reserved for Educational Broadband Service (EBS).
In a blog post, Pai said the order will update an outdated regulatory regime that was “developed in the days when educational TV was the only use envisioned for this spectrum.”
Pai indicated that the new framework, which eliminates existing eligibility and use requirements and lease restrictions, will give incumbent users more flexibility in how to use the spectrum. Educators that hold licenses could for example opt to use the spectrum for enhanced services or decide to transfer licenses to another entity and invest funding in their community.
The proposal also provides a local priority filing window for rural Tribal Nations to gain access to the mid-band spectrum for mobile wireless service. After the priority window, the FCC would conduct an auction for remaining “white spaces” of unused 2.5 GHz spectrum, which currently cover half of the geographic United States.
Exact timing for tribes’ priority filing window has not been determined, but senior FCC officials indicated it could take place in parallel with the next millimeter wave spectrum auction scheduled to start Dec. 10.
Sprint holds a large amount of 2.5 GHz spectrum through lease agreements, and FCC officials noted that the order wouldn’t impact any private contracts but give existing licensees more flexibility.
The move to free up more mid-band spectrum is part of the FCC’s ongoing effort to advance and accelerate 5G deployments in the U.S. In early June, the FCC released winners of the agency’s first two high-band millimeter wave spectrum auctions, which together raised more than $2.7 billion in proceeds.
Recently, industry attention has shifted to the need for additional mid-band spectrum, as the airwaves’ propagation characteristics enable further reach and broader coverage that’s needed for nationwide 5G.
Other opportunities for mid-band spectrum include Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5 GHz band, which has had significant industry interest and is nearing initial commercial deployments.
The FCC is also considering proposals for access to spectrum in the C-band, a topic that has raised significant debate this past year.
The C-Band Alliance, comprised of four satellite operators, proposed a private auction framework for the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, which was met with opposition from groups including the Open Technology Institute.
This week, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg urged the FCC to make underutilized spectrum in the C-band available to operators for next-gen services.
“Prompt access to mid-band spectrum is now critical to achieving the full promise of 5G, including more widespread 5G deployment and the full range of advanced capabilities mad possible by 5G,” Vestberg said.