The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) applauded the FCC for its proposal to free up spectrum in the 2.5 GHz frequency band for commercial broadband services in rural areas.
In May 2018, the FCC voted unanimously to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to free up unused spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band. The spectrum from 2496-2690 MHz represents the single largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3 GHz, which makes it attractive to mobile operators for 5G.
Portions of the band were set aside for Educational Broadband Service (EBS) entities in 1995 for educational and distance-learning uses. Much of that spectrum today, particularly in rural areas, is going unused.
The FCC’s NPRM offers ideas on more efficient use of the spectrum and would update the EBS rules to allow more mobile operators to make use of it. The FCC proposes assigning new priority licenses to educational and Tribal entities while auctioning off the unused portions. The FCC has also proposed updating the regulatory framework around EBS to allow licensees more flexibility in how they use the spectrum.
“We need to get this valuable spectrum into the hands of those who will provide service, including 5G, to Americans across the country, particularly in rural areas where the spectrum is currently mostly unused,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement (PDF).
Mobile operators could make use of the spectrum for launching mobile 5G services. Sprint is planning to launch its 5G services in the 2.5 GHz spectrum. In February, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said the company will launch mobile 5G nationwide on the 2.5 GHz band in 2019. Claure noted that Sprint owns roughly 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz in the top 100 U.S. markets.
But wireless ISPs could also make use of the spectrum for fixed wireless services. At least six members of WISPA have already licensed spectrum in the EBS band to bolster their broadband services in rural areas. Those include Aeronet in Puerto Rico, Rise Broadband, Wisper ISP, Casair, Gtek Communications, and Texoma Broadband.
WISPA President Claude Aiken said much of the unused spectrum is found in areas where broadband access is limited. Wireless ISPs could use that spectrum to launch networks to provide broadband access to underserved or unserved communities across rural U.S., “where WISPA members can deploy networks quickly, affordably, and without subsidies,” he said.
“Education and distance learning are important national objectives. But limiting access to the EBS airwaves to a narrow class of entities with restrictive use requirements is not the best way to promote those objectives,” Aiken said in a statement. “Closing the urban-rural broadband gap is the key to closing the ‘homework gap.’”