Spectrum coalition pushes for smaller CBRS license areas

library books
Libraries are among the entities that are asking for smaller licensing areas for CBRS. (Pixabay)

Representatives of the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC) met this week with the wireless advisers to the three Republican FCC commissioners as part PISC’s opposition to the wireless industry’s quest for larger license sizes for the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) band.

Specifically, representatives of the Open Technology Institute at New America and Public Knowledge met with the advisers to Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr. These groups are part of the PISC, along with the Consumers Union, the Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, the American Library Association, the Consumer Federation of America, Next Century Cities, Tribal Digital Village Network, Free Press, Common Cause, the Benton Foundation and the Gigabit Libraries Network.

“As the record clearly demonstrates, with the exception of mobile carriers and their suppliers, every other interested industry and potential user of CBRS opposes upending the rules to create seven super-sized CMA licenses in the largest 306 markets,” PISC said in an ex parte filing. “This reflects the fact that the robust 5G wireless ecosystem of greatest benefit to the U.S. economy and consumers will provide direct spectrum access for rural broadband, industrial IoT, neutral host networks, public sector institutions, and other private LTE networks customized and deployed on a local basis by the widest range of business firms and community anchor institutions.”

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PISC argues that a decision to adopt PALs as large as Cellular Market Areas (CMAs), rather than census tract license areas, would be a choice “to ensure that only large mobile carriers (and perhaps regional cable ISPs) would have a realistic chance to acquire PALs at auction.” Even if the commission decides to create larger Priority Access License (PAL) areas, PISC urges it to preserve the current allocation of 80 megahertz for General Authorized Access (GAA), to maintain at least four census tract PALs nationwide and to auction no PAL larger than a county. 

RELATED: GE reiterates vow to build private LTE networks if ‘meaningful’ census-tract licensing stays for CBRS

PISC is not alone in resisting efforts to create larger PALs. Everyone from General Electric (GE) to Google and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) are telling the FCC that smaller PALs will promote more competition. GE, for example, has said it wants to work with its industrial and critical-infrastructure partners to provide LTE “connectivity in a box” in the 3.5 GHz band. Using PAL spectrum would allow them to take full advantage of advances in monitoring technologies, edge computing and cloud-based big data predictive analytics, the company has said.

The FCC in 2015 adopted licensing rules based on census tracts, but wireless operators petitioned the commission to review the rules, which is a process that is still underway. They also seek longer license terms. 

CTIA and the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) presented a compromise in April that would have the FCC license PALs using Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the top 306 Cellular Market Areas (CMAs) and use county-based geographic area licenses in the remaining 428 CMAs.  

Some wireless operators have said they plan on using both PAL and General Authorized Access (GAA) spectrum in the CBRS band. The GAA portion doesn’t require an auction like the PAL does.

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