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

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WISPA argues that licensing by census tracts will help bridge the digital divide in rural America.

With the clock ticking as the FCC prepares to consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) at its meeting on Tuesday, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) continues to press for 3.5 GHz licensing by census tracts rather than the Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) that mobile carriers want.

WISPA representatives, including board members Mark Radabaugh and Jimmy Carr, met with FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly and his chief of staff, Brooke Ericson, on Oct. 17 to discuss proposed changes to the 3.5 GHz Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) band.

T-Mobile and CTIA each filed petitions in June asking for changes to the 3.5 GHz CBRS rules, arguing that changes are necessary to promote 5G network deployment in the band.

WISPA, which represents more than 800 members, contends that some of the proposed changes in the draft NPRM favor big wireless operators to the detriment of their own businesses. O’Rielly, who wasn’t happy with how the rules turned out when they were voted on last year, led efforts to get changes drafted.

RELATED: O’Rielly calls critics’ claims about 3.5 GHz changes ‘gibberish’

The commissioner has said that he has no intention of disrupting the General Authorized Access part of the band or negating the work done on the various databases. He also said he believes in flexible use policies and that the FCC should make the spectrum available in a manner that is attractive to as many use cases as possible, including 5G. 

WISPA did express support for some of the rule changes in the FCC's draft NPRM—such as revisions to the out-of-band emission limits—but it's opposed to switching the license areas from those based on census tracts to those based on PEAs, as that will make the areas too big and preclude smaller businesses from bidding.

Others, like Charter Communications, have argued for license areas no bigger than counties, but WISPA argues that the existing license regime based on census tracts will enable midband spectrum to help bridge the digital divide in rural America.

“The existing licensing regime will enable spectrum to be put to its highest and best use in each census tract, encourage broad participation and competition in the auction, and let the market determine whether and where spectrum is used for fixed or mobile applications,” WISPA said, according to an ex parte filing.

While WISPA opposes the proposed 10-year license terms for Priority Access Licenses, it could support PAL terms of five years with one five-year renewal term, “so long as census tracts remain as the geographic bidding unit for PALs,” the association wrote.

RELATED: Google, WISPA continue fight to retain existing 3.5 GHz rules

The FCC’s draft NPRM notes that other stakeholders contend that licensing PALs on a census-tract basis, which would result in more than 500,000 PALs, would be challenging for Spectrum Access System (SAS) administrators, the commission and licensees to manage and would create unnecessary interference risks due to the large number of border areas that would need to be maintained.  

But Google and Sony, which have applied to be SAS administrators, have argued that managing licenses in more than 70,000 geographic areas would not pose an undue burden given advances in database management, cloud computing and other technologies and engineering systems in recent years.

The draft NPRM proposes to increase the geographic license areas of PALs and seeks comment on the potential effects such a change would have on investment and use of the 3.5 GHz band. It also seeks comment on other proposals for handling PALs.