WISPA disappointed in efforts to ‘shove aside’ rural interests in CBRS band

Rural (Pixabay)
Census-tract licensing allows a bidder to purchase PALs to cover exactly the area they intend to serve, large or small, says WISPA. (Pixabay)

Responding to a mobile carrier industry proposal filed Friday in the Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) proceeding, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) says it’s disappointed that efforts are continuing to “shove aside” the interests of rural America and turn the “Innovation Band” into a “same ol’ thing” band.

In fact, WISPA filed a letter with the FCC designed to show that T-Mobile and AT&T have each submitted “erroneous and misleading analysis” to the FCC in making their case against census-tract-sized licenses.

RELATED: CTIA, CCA submit compromise proposal on 3.5 GHz band

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CTIA and the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) told the commission last Friday that they reached an agreement that outlines how the FCC should license Priority Access License (PAL) geographic license areas 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.

WISPA has been asking the commission to keep the census-tract license areas as they were written when the rules were first passed by the commission.

“The mobile-only ‘compromise’ filed on Friday, advocating larger-sized areas for Priority Access Licenses, would effectively put up a ‘large bidders only’ sign at the door and turn away innovators and small operators serving rural Americans,” WISPA President Claude Aiken said in a statement on Monday. “If CBRS is to remain a viable new tool in the spectrum tool kit to support a wide variety of use cases and deployments, it is critical that the FCC retain census-tract-sized Priority Access Licenses.”

WISPA said the PAL rules the commission adopted in 2015 do not stand in the way of intensive and efficient use of the 3550-3700 MHz band and accused AT&T and T-Mobile of misstating the way the existing PAL rules work. The group cited the original rules and specific examples.

In summary, WISPA argued that the cost of building a network out of small-area PALs will be no higher than building it out of large-area PALs and surmised that efforts by large carriers are designed to promote their interests—they can afford the greater cost of acquiring a large-sized PAL—and to prevent smaller carriers from entering the ecosystem by denying them a meaningful opportunity to bid for and acquire PALs.

RELATED: Editor’s Corner—CBRS action revving up, but is it still the Innovation Band?

Because the census-tract size is so small, there are a lot of them. CTIA and CCA said their compromise proposal will reduce the more than 74,000 license areas and more than 500,000 licenses to roughly 2,700 license areas and 19,000 licenses. These are far more manageable numbers than before and dramatically reduce auction complexity for both the commission and bidders.

There are still other stakeholders out there that have not signed onto this compromise, as WISPA’s opposition shows. The IIOT Coalition, which includes GE and a long list of industrial entities, also has called on the commission to keep the existing geographic licensing approach so they can self-provision their own CBRS networks.

Interestingly, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who announced her departure from the commission last week, continued to support the rules as they were approved in 2015 up until the end of her tenure. Her senior legal advisor, Louis Peraertz, said last month that while some claim that auctioning more than 70,000 census tracts is too difficult technically and administratively, the FCC’s auction division, which has held more than 80 auctions, approved that scenario, so it apparently thought it could be done. Not only that, but Paul Milgrom, a renowned auction expert who has advised the FCC, concluded that auctions for tens of thousands of licenses in the 3.5 GHz band is feasible.