FCC plan to reconsider CBRS rules on October meeting agenda

The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the CBRS band at its October meeting.

The FCC is considering new rules for the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band, which will make some mobile operators happy but disappoints a lot of other CBRS stakeholders that had been operating under the previous commission-approved rules.

A notice of proposed rulemaking is on the commission’s Oct. 24 open meeting agenda; it would seek comment and propose changes to the Priority Access License rules in the 3.5 GHz band.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly expressed their displeasure of how the rules turned out last year, so the move didn’t come as an entire surprise, but many CBRS stakeholders that invested heavily in the band fought to keep the rules as they originally were passed.

The FCC published a notice of proposed rulemaking and order terminating petitions on Tuesday, along with a fact sheet showing what it intends to do. The proposed changes would extend PAL terms from three years to 10 years and eliminate the requirement that PALs automatically terminate at the end of the license term.

The proposed updates also would expand PALs to larger geographic license areas and revise the rules governing PAL auctions. It would deny T-Mobile’s requests to revisit the base station power limits and the band plan adopted in the commission’s 2015 and 2016 orders, as well as terminate the rulemaking dockets that the commission opened to address petitions filed by CTIA and T-Mobile in June 2017, as well as the docket used in the 3.5 GHz rulemaking initiated in 2012.

In a statement, Commissioner O’Rielly thanked Chairman Pai for the opportunity to take the lead on revising the CBRS rules to make the PALs “fully functional.”

“My goal has always been to quickly and thoughtfully determine how to ensure innovation and investment in the band and, correspondingly, alter the CBRS structure so that all interested parties can be accommodated, including those interested in PALs,” O’Rielly said. “The NPRM to be considered at the Commission’s October meeting represents a careful review of the record developed in response to the petitions filed and the inherent need to modify previous short-sighted rules to reflect the development of 5G technologies and the international spectrum environment. I look forward to concluding the proceeding expeditiously.”

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O’Rielly told the CBRS Alliance at its meeting in San Diego in August that his hope was that the commission would vote on a notice of proposed rulemaking on CBRS this fall and consider an order by Jan. 1 or soon thereafter.

Groups that had lobbied for no changes were predictably unhappy with the commission’s plan to proceed with changes.

“WISPA is very disappointed that the Commission appears poised to initiate a proceeding that will undo the CBRS rules adopted just two years ago,” said Mark Radabaugh, a WISPA board member and chairman of the WISPA FCC Committee, in statement. “This band is ideal for providing fixed broadband to rural consumers that lack choice, and the proposals in the FCC’s draft Order will undercut future deployment and innovation and strand investment. WISPA and our allies in the rural broadband community will be speaking out in the upcoming proceeding.”

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at New America's Open Technology Institute, echoed that sentiment. “An overwhelming majority of comments in response to CTIA’s petition, from General Electric to dozens of rural wireless ISPs, opposed reopening the rules to make CBRS licenses permanent and so large that they would be affordable only to the 3 or 4 largest mobile carriers,” he said.

“The Chairman has simply cut and pasted CTIA’s petition and circulated it as proposed new rules that exclude thousands of other users and use cases from access to mid-band spectrum. Innovation, business productivity and consumers will all suffer if this rulemaking is adopted as proposed,” Calabrese added.