CTIA applauds FCC move on 3.5 GHz band; WISPA calls it a step backward for rural broadband

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WISPA says the FCC is prioritizing the "wants" of the mobile industry over the "needs" of rural Americans.

As one might have expected, CTIA is happy with the FCC’s vote to seek changes to the 3.5 GHz band rules, while the group representing rural broadband providers is not.

“CTIA applauds the FCC for proposing commonsense changes to the 3.5 GHz band in a way that will not delay new wireless service to Americans,” said Scott Bergmann, CTIA vice president for Regulatory Affairs, in a statement, adding that the action will “unlock new investment, jobs and innovation and help the United States win the global race to 5G wireless.”

FCC officials had said a big part of the reason for the changes was to ensure the U.S. remains competitive in 5G. Several countries are moving forward with policies that would make the band available for 5G, and new technologies have become available to more fully leverage the potential of the spectrum. 

But the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) says federal policies adopted just two years ago to stimulate investment in rural broadband networks are now at risk.

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Even Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s attempt to improve the discussion around the size of the Priority Access Licenses (PALs) did not do much to soften the situation for the WISPs.

"While we applaud the efforts of Commissioner Clyburn to achieve a more balanced NRPM, we are very disappointed that, once again, the FCC has prioritized the ‘wants’ of the mobile industry over the ‘needs’ of rural Americans,” said Chuck Hogg, chairman of WISPA’s board of directors, in a statement. “Using census tracts for Priority Access License sizes allows all interested bidders to compete and lets the market determine the highest and best use of this unique public resource. Shifting to larger geographic areas such as Partial Economic Areas would create an artificial restriction that inherently benefits mobile carriers to the detriment of all other use cases.”

WISPA members have been making significant investments to close the rural broadband gap based on the existing rules, he added. However, the group is marching forward.

“While WISPA agrees with Commissioner Rosenworcel that this proceeding takes a step backwards towards business as usual, we appreciate the commission’s willingness to explore other potential solutions that address the needs of rural Americans and small businesses,” Hogg added. “WISPA and our members will continue as active participants in this proceeding and hope to work with all stakeholders to achieve the best possible outcome.”

The Open Technology Institute (OPI) is another group that is sure to make its voice heard in the coming weeks as the FCC seeks comments. OTI applauded Commissioner Clyburn for convincing her GOP colleagues not to “pre-judge” whether licensing areas should remain small or so large that they are only affordable for the largest mobile carriers.

OTI’s Wireless Future Project hosted an event in September where representatives from GE, Google, the property management industry (CBRE) and rural internet service providers, including WISPA, discussed the small-area licensing framework. T-Mobile also participated in one of the panels and stood its ground on the CBRS rule changes it had asked for, in direct opposition to Google, which argued for the rules to remain unchanged.