Google, Starry, NYC face off against big carriers over proposed 3.5 GHz CBRS rule changes

New York (Pixabay)
Even the City of New York is getting in on the action, saying the current framework of three-year licenses covering census tracts will most effectively spur investment in 5G networks.

The FCC is getting an earful from an array of stakeholders as it considers rule changes to the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) band, which was set up as an innovation band to deploy a new sharing system.

In one camp: CTIA, T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T and others that want larger license areas and longer license terms, among other things. In another camp: Entities like Google, Starry, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) and the leadership of New York City, all of which are telling the FCC to leave the CBRS rules well enough alone and not cave to the wishes of the wireless operators.

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CTIA said in its filing (PDF) that the 3.5 GHz band is fast becoming a crucial band for creating capacity for 4G LTE networks and fostering the development of next-generation wireless services, both in the United States and abroad. Nations across the globe are targeting frequencies in the 3 GHz range as they vie to lead in 5G; the European Union, the United Kingdom, China, South Korea and Japan are all exploring bands that cover 3.5 GHz frequencies for possible 5G deployment, the association noted.

CTIA encouraged the FCC to extend the Priority Access License (PAL) term from three years to 10 years with the expectation of renewal, basing PALs on a Partial Economic Area (PEA) basis and eliminating the requirement for public disclosure of certain CBRS device registration information, among other things. The association argued that the changes it’s advocating for will enhance the PAL framework without affecting the three-tier framework that forms the foundation of the 3.5 GHz band or the spectrum use of the General Authorized Access tier.

Verizon reiterated (PDF) its support for the commission’s proposed changes to the rules governing PALs in the band, saying the band has great potential to serve as a key mid-band component of future 5G deployments. The operator argues that if done quickly, the proposed changes to the PAL rules could greatly enhance the utility of the 3.5 GHz band and stimulate greater investment and innovation.

However, Google and another contingent of companies are arguing for the rules to remain as they were enacted under Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s tenure during the last presidential administration. They argue that the census-tract-sized licenses with three-to-six-year terms realize the kind of balance the commission sought to support a range of businesses and business plans, not just the largest wireless operators.

“The existing CBRS rules were adopted, after extensive deliberation and compromise on all sides, precisely to enable traditional carriers to use 3.5 GHz spectrum to supplement their mobile networks while also ‘allow[ing] a mix of innovative offerings to flourish.’ The rules accomplish this balance through an auction design that encourages large national mobile carriers, cable operators, rural broadband providers, hospitals, factories, and many other types of licensees all to pursue access to PAL spectrum,” Google said in its filing (PDF).

Google concluded that a change in course to offer PEA-sized licenses, for essentially permanent terms, would tailor the CBRS auction for the one set of companies for which acquiring such licenses is economically feasible, and such changes would reduce competition and decrease spectrum utilization.

RELATED: WISPA keeps argument alive for not changing CBRS rules

For its part, upstart Starry, the firm founded by former Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia, said (PDF) the commission has injected a level of uncertainty regarding the future of access to this spectrum; the 3.5 GHz band is one of the only truly flexible spectrum bands that the commission has ever created and changing it to favor one industry sector will not be in the public interest.

The commission received dozens of comments from various entities interested in the 3.5 GHz band just before the New Year’s holiday, including from the New York City Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, which submitted comments on behalf of the City of New York, saying the city has an interest both on behalf of all residents, businesses and visitors, and also as a major consumer of wireless services.

“The City believes the current framework of three-year licenses covering census tracts will most effectively spur investment in 5G networks while encouraging universal access to those advanced services,” the city said in its filing (PDF). “The City does not believe the Commission’s proposals, especially regarding increasing the geographic areas of Priority Access Licenses (PALs), will achieve the desired result. The City asks that the Commission strengthen its current PAL regime by instituting strong performance requirements and encouraging a robust secondary market, while maintaining the current three-year licenses at the census tract level.”

The Dec. 28 deadline for comments was just the first round; reply comments are due Jan. 29, so more debate can be expected for the foreseeable future.