FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced today that the FCC will consider six items at its April 23 meeting, including a draft item making 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available for unlicensed use in the 6 gigahertz band, a draft notice of proposed rulemaking proposing the establishment of a 5G Fund for Rural America, and a draft order updating the agency’s orbital debris rules.
Mr. Pai announced that Commissioners also will consider an order approving Viasat, Inc.’s request to deploy a non-geostationary satellite orbit fixed-satellite service (NGSO FSS) constellation, an NPRM proposing changes to the agency’s video description rules, and an order updating the Commission’s low-power FM technical regulations.
The FCC plans to release the text of the draft items and the tentative agenda for the meeting tomorrow.
A press release on the draft 6 GHz item stressed that it would enable unlicensed devices to share the 6 GHz band “with incumbent licensed services under rules that are crafted to protect those licensed services and to enable both unlicensed and licensed operations to thrive throughout the band.”
“From Wi-Fi routers to home appliances, Americans’ everyday use of devices that connect to the Internet over unlicensed spectrum has exploded,” Chairman Pai said in the press release. “That trend will only continue. Cisco projects that nearly 60% of global mobile data traffic will be off-loaded to Wi-Fi by 2022. To accommodate that increase in Wi-Fi demand, the FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet: making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use. By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five. This would be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation. It would be another step toward increasing the capacity of our country’s networks. And it would help advance even further our leadership in next generation wireless technologies, including 5G.”
In a blog posting today, Mr. Pai said that he is proposing to free spectrum “for unlicensed use in four segments of the 6 GHz band (5.925–7.125 GHz). This band is currently populated by, among others, microwave services that are used to support utilities, public safety, and wireless backhaul.” He added that “the rules we will vote on would play a major role in the growth of the Internet of Things, connecting appliances, machines, meters, wearables, and other consumer electronics, as well as industrial sensors for manufacturing. In addition to the Report and Order, we’ll consider a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to explore possibilities for very low power devices in this band.”
Under the draft order, the FCC “would authorize two different types of unlicensed operations: standard-power in 850-megahertz of the band and indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200-megahertz available in the 6 GHz band,” Mr. Pai noted in the press release. “An automated frequency coordination system would prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.”
The FNPRM “proposes to permit very low-power devices to operate across the 6 GHz band, to support high data rate applications including high-performance, wearable, augmented-reality and virtual-reality devices,” Mr. Pai added. “Specifically, the Further Notice would seek comment on making a contiguous 1,200-megahertz block of spectrum available for the development of new and innovative high-speed, short-range devices and on power levels and other technical and operational measures to avoid causing interference to incumbent services.”
The item would reject a plea by parties that include CTIA and wireless carriers to defer a decision on the upper portion of the 6 GHz band and explore licensing the spectrum and moving those incumbents to the 7 GHz band.
The item would follow up on an NPRM unanimously adopted in 2018 proposing to free up as much as 1,200 MHz of spectrum for unlicensed use (TR Daily, Oct. 23, 2018).
Today’s announcement drew praise from advocates of unlicensed technology and caution from 6 GHz band incumbents, including fixed wireless interests that have argued that the framework envisioned by the new entrants would fail to protect their operations (see separate story). In particular, the two sides have battled over whether an AFC system was needed for each type of unlicensed device and what the technical limits should be.
Chairman Pai also plans to ask his colleagues to vote on a proposal for using multi-round reverse auctions to distribute up to $9 billion in two phases under the 5G Fund he announced late last year as a proposed replacement for the $4.5 billion Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II), which would have been used to support 4G LTE deployment to unserved rural areas.
An FCC staff report released in December found that the 4G LTE coverage maps submitted by Verizon Communications, Inc., United States Cellular Corp., and T-Mobile US, Inc., as part of the effort to determine which areas should be eligible for support in the agency’s MF-II auction, overstated their coverage and thus were not accurate. The staff recommended that the Commission terminate the MF-II challenge process. On the same day the report was released, Chairman Pai proposed the 5G Fund to replace the MF-II fund (TR Daily, Dec. 4, 2019).
When he announced his plan, he said he would also propose that $1 billion be set aside to support 5G deployments that benefit precision agriculture.
In his blog post today, Chairman Pai said, “In the not-too-distant future, access to mobile broadband will mean access to 5G. 5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks. But we need to make sure that 5G narrows rather than widens the digital divide, and that rural Americans too benefit from the wireless innovation on our doorstep.”
He added, “Phase I of the 5G Fund would target at least $8 billion of support over ten years to rural areas of our country that would be unlikely to be covered by the commitments made by New T-Mobile as part of its acquisition of Sprint (including coverage of 90% of rural Americans with 5G service at 50 [megabits per second] or greater over the next six years) and that we anticipate would not see timely deployment of 5G service absent universal service support. To balance our policy goal of efficiently and quickly redirecting high-cost support to areas where it is most needed with our obligation to ensure that we have an accurate understanding of the extent of nationwide mobile wireless broadband deployment, we seek public input on two options for identifying areas that would be eligible for 5G Fund support.”
In a press release, the FCC said that those two options, which are for Phase I of 5G Fund support, are (1) an auction to be held in 2021 “by defining eligible areas based on current data sources that identify areas as particularly rural and thus in the greatest need of universal service support” and prioritizing “areas that have historically lacked 4G LTE or 3G service” and (2) a delay of the 5G Fund Phase I auction “until at least 2023, after collecting and processing improved mobile broadband coverage data through the Commission’s new Digital Opportunity Data Collection.”
Some observers, including members of Congress from both parties, have been critical or at least questioning of the idea of moving ahead with funding for unserved areas when the FCC’s data about which areas are unserved is not accurate.
Regarding the FCC’s orbital debris proceeding, Mr. Pai said that Commissioners would “vote on a Report and Order to comprehensively update the Commission’s existing rules regarding orbital debris mitigation, which were adopted in 2004. These new rules are designed to address the problem of orbital debris, while at the same time not creating undue regulatory obstacles to new satellite ventures. We would also seek comment on adopting a performance bond tied to successful spacecraft disposal.”
In 2018, the Commission adopted an NPRM in the proceeding (TR Daily, Nov. 15, 2018).
In comments filed on behalf of the Commerce Department, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration asked the FCC to defer action “until completion of the agency actions mandated by the President’s Space Policy Directives” (TR Daily, April 8, 2019).
Commissioners also are slated to vote later this month “on an Order to approve ViaSat’s request for market access for a constellation of 20 satellites that will provide fixed-satellite service,” Mr. Pai said in his blog.
The Chairman also said he plans to seek a vote at the meeting on an NPRM to seek comment on a proposal to add 40 additional markets over four years to the 60 top television markets where certain commercial TV broadcasters are required to provide video-described programming to improve accessibility for blind or visually impaired consumers. In a report to Congress last year mandated by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), the FCC’s Media Bureau noted that consumers would like the video-description requirement to be expanded beyond the top-60 designated market areas (DMAs) (TR Daily, Oct. 9, 2019).
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