The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) took to Twitter to lobby for the interests of mostly smaller entities that want to use the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band, just a day after FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel expressed her frustration over how long it’s taking to get the spectrum out there.
WISPA contends that if the FCC adopts CTIA’s approach to CBRS spectrum, fewer bidders will participate in auctions and fewer areas will be served with less competition. WISPA has been arguing for keeping the census tract-sized licenses for the Priority Access License (PAL) portion of the band, while CTIA is lobbying for much larger geographic license sizes it says are necessary to make the U.S. competitive in the race to 5G.
Rosenworcel noted during a press conference after Thursday’s open meeting that the 3.5 GHz CBRS proposals are now 3 years old. “It was three years ago that we proposed innovative action in this spectrum band," she said, creating a three-tier hierarchy for protecting existing government incumbents, creating new forms of licenses and affording opportunistic unlicensed uses.
“That was a really cool idea three years ago. It’s a shame that we have sat here for three years and we have not put that to market. I don’t understand why it’s taking us so long to resolve our thinking about this band because as you heard from my formal statements, so many other countries around the world—South Korea, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, China—are all making moves on midband spectrum and somehow, the 3.5 band is still stuck in our bureaucracy,” she added.
“What strikes me most about 3.5 GHz was that our original plans for it were wildly innovative. No one anywhere has done anything like that hierarchy of rights that were proposed initially in the 3.5 GHz band,” she said, adding that what the FCC did back then was on par with the incentive auction in the 600 MHz band and the unlicensed spectrum that eventually gave way to Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
“I feel like we need to go back and look at the innovations that we’ve done in the past and make sure that where we go with 3.5 GHz is on par with that kind of bold and different way of looking at things that we’ve been known for in our United States spectrum policy in the past,” she said.
Neither FCC Chairman Ajit Pai nor fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly were fully on board with the rules when the commission passed them in 2015 under former Chairman Tom Wheeler. After the change in administration, Pai’s commission agreed to review the rules, which CTIA and T-Mobile had asked for.
Compromises have been reached between CTIA and the Competitive Carriers Association, but not between WISPA, Industrial IoT entities and the wireless operators. The IIoT Coalition has urged the FCC to maintain a CBRS licensing approach that allows nontraditional users to access meaningful amounts of 3.5 GHz spectrum throughout the U.S., including in urban, suburban, rural and remote locations.
Contingent on O'Rielly's recommendations to Chairman Pai, proposals around the latest rules appear to be headed for another final vote relatively soon, though the 3.5 GHz band is not on the commission’s current Aug. 2 agenda.
When asked about the 3.5 GHz band by reporters on Thursday, O’Rielly said he could not predict when an auction will actually occur—probably not this year—but he certainly is eager to get something on the calendar. “We’re hopefully coming to a conclusion after many, many, many months,” he said, noting that he had hoped to be done by last Christmas.