For the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), which fought hard to keep smaller census tract licenses in place, the FCC’s decision to change the rules for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band was a big disappointment.
The organization commended the commission for rejecting the idea of auctioning CBRS licenses at the Partial Economic Area (PEA) level, which some larger operators had sought, but it’s not pleased with the new combination of county-sized licenses, package bidding, long license terms and renewal expectancy—all of which, it says, will shut out a significant portion of its members from using licensed CBRS spectrum to deliver services to under-served rural areas.
“This is a bitter pill to swallow, especially at a time when 24 million Americans lack robust fixed broadband service, and when small, local fixed wireless operators often offer the only business model that can reach them in a sustainable way,” said WISPA President Claude Aiken in a statement. “Many of our members have made significant investments in the CBRS band and were poised to reach millions more consumers who are within reach of their towers today. Now they will have to review their business plans in a significantly changed business and regulatory environment.”
Throughout the proceeding leading up to Tuesday’s vote, opponents argued that increasing the size of the Priority Access Licenses (PALs) would result in favoritism for the biggest wireless operators to the detriment of smaller service providers.
“The ‘race to 5G’ must not become an excuse for one 5G use case—mobile wireless—to get all of the advantages,” Aiken said. “Indeed, spectrum policy experts have noted that this new policy is likely to slow the rollout of 5G by reducing market entry of disruptive new competitors, and it will result in lower auction proceeds.”
Despite the negatives, WISPA said it was pleased that that the FCC is preserving at least 80 megahertz of unlicensed General Authorized Access (GAA) spectrum nationwide, which is enough to accommodate a fair amount of growth for many of its members. In addition, some of its larger members have expressed an openness to pursuing county-based licenses.
“We now look forward to the commercial launch phase; and we will continue to advocate for auction procedures that will allow as many of our members as possible to participate in the CBRS auction,” Aiken concluded.