FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting his intervention in freeing up critical mid-band spectrum for 5G, praising Trump for his "extraordinary leadership" on "all communications policy matters," including 5G.
O’Rielly has been the FCC’s point person on mid-band spectrum, navigating C-band and CBRS bands for the wireless industry in recent years.
However, these and other steps just aren’t enough, and O’Rielly points the finger directly at the Department of Defense (DoD), the largest holder of mid-band spectrum, for refusing to budge when it comes to releasing more spectrum.
“For America to be a global leader and win the race to 5G technologies, which we must do for both economic and national security reasons, we must actively identify and make available a key ingredient necessary for 5G networks and systems: mid-band spectrum,” O’Rielly wrote. “Yet, the pipeline is nearly empty, and our wireless providers lack sufficient mid-band spectrum to meet the exponential growth enabled by 5G networks and expected by users. I believe that only you personally, with your unique ability to cut through the bureaucratic stonewalling, can free the necessary spectrum bands to provide our wireless providers the means to succeed.”
He emphasized the role U.S. wireless networks play in today’s society, including during the current COVID-19 pandemic, where Americans are using wireless technology for reaching emergency personnel, locating information, communicating with loved ones and conducting work and education.
Under fellow Republican Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership, the current FCC has taken aggressive actions to address the mid-band spectrum shortage. The FCC is preparing to auction 70 MHz of licensed spectrum at the 3.5 GHz CBRS band and it is holding firm on a scheduled December auction of 280 MHz of C-band spectrum, O'Rielly said.
It’s also exploring whether to convert 75 MHz of spectrum at 4.9 GHz for commercial wireless services, and it has taken initial steps to remove non-federal users and permit commercial use, “albeit at unacceptably low power levels,” within the 3.3 to 3.55 GHz band, he noted.
The only potential source of large swaths of mid-band spectrum needed for 5G is within the allocation held by the U.S. federal departments and agencies, and it’s been proven “time and time again” that federal users can reduce their spectrum holdings without putting at risk their vital missions, he said.
Nonetheless, these same entities, especially the DoD, are “exceptionally reluctant to part with one single megahertz. Simply put, every excuse, delay tactic, and political chit is used to prevent the repurposing of any spectrum,” O’Rielly wrote. “On top of that, even when there has been agreement to reallocate a Federal band for commercial use, it takes multiple years to actually clear it and permit wireless providers to use it. The U.S. does not have the luxury of waiting years to provide spectrum for 5G services, especially when competitors such as China can move expeditiously to reassign spectrum frequencies by leveraging all the resources and power of their centralized, Communist regime.”
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Indeed, the DoD has been notorious over the years for its unwillingness to give up spectrum, although it did show willingness to play ball when it came to the CBRS band.
The specific bands that the commissioner is targeting include the 3.1-3.3 GHz and 3.3-3.55 GHz bands, according to a spokesperson. They’re eyeing more but that’s believed to be the most urgent place to start.
In the letter, O’Rielly made it clear that he knows his audience, saying that under Trump’s direction, the U.S. military has been vastly improved and better funded to ensure it regains its prominence as the finest and strongest force ever seen on the face of the Earth.
“In sum, I believe that only with your personal and active engagement will DoD reduce its spectrum footprint in a timely manner to promote 5G services,” he wrote. “I implore you to exercise your exemplary skills in responding to this critical need.”