WISPA keeps argument alive for not changing CBRS rules

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WISPA says midband spectrum in the CBRS band is critical for connecting unserved and underserved Americans in rural areas.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) is not giving up on its fight to keep existing 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) rules from being changed, paying a visit to the chief of the FCC and his staff for good measure.

WISPA representatives, including Jimmy Carr, CEO of All Points Broadband and a member of WISPA’s board of directors, met with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Dec. 5 to emphasize that current CBRS rules adopted in 2015 should be maintained. They argue that they’re necessary to harness the investments that WISPs have already made to connect underserved Americans in rural and remote areas. Pai himself has talked about (PDF) how his parents in rural Kansas have used a WISP for broadband service and the need for WISPs to remain innovative.

According to an ex parte filing (PDF) to report the Dec. 5 meeting, Carr encouraged the chairman to ensure that the large mobile carriers not be permitted to use the regulatory process to “undo the rules adopted just two years ago and thereby further cement their dominance in the wireless marketplace.”

RELATED: WISPA pays visit to FCC in effort to thwart changes to 3.5 GHz CBRS rules

WISPA has lobbied for licensing to be done based on census tracts, something the larger operators have fought against, saying they’re too small. Proposals in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) would extend the license areas to Partial Economic Areas or counties, which the WISPs say would foreclose auction participation to all but a few large mobile wireless carriers.

The WISPA representatives also noted that WISPs, other nonmobile users, equipment manufacturers, SAS vendors and others have already made substantial investments based on the current CBRS rules, and WISPs in particular have invested millions of dollars in base stations and customer premise equipment that currently operate at 3650-3700 MHz; that gear will have the ability to operate in the entire 3550-3700 MHz band once the commission certifies the SAS and ESC systems.

But if the changes proposed in the NPRM are enacted and WISPs are precluded from competing in the Priority Access License auctions, those investments will be “stranded,” according to WISPA.

RELATED: CTIA applauds FCC move on 3.5 GHz band; WISPA calls it a step backward for rural broadband

The FCC voted in October to begin a process to revise the rules for the 3.5 GHz CBRS band, with part of the impetus being to better align the U.S. with other nations when it comes to spectrum for 5G, a thought shared by CTIA and its big wireless operator members. But companies like Google and Alphabet Access have been on the side of the WISPs, arguing that changes to the rules will only benefit the biggest mobile carriers.

The debate is set to continue into the New Year. Comments on the NPRM are due by Dec. 28, and reply comments are due by Jan. 29, after which more ex parte meetings can be held. Any new rules must be put up for a vote with the full commission, and the expectation is that could happen early in 2018, perhaps by March.