TR Daily Cable, Tech, Utility Interests Criticize Draft 3.45-3.55 GHz Band Order
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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Cable, Tech, Utility Interests Criticize Draft 3.45-3.55 GHz Band Order

Twenty-two cable, tech, fixed wireless, utility, public interest, and other entities today criticized a draft 3.45-3.55 gigahertz band order that the FCC plans to consider at its March 17 meeting because it would adopt rules identical or similar to those in the 3.7 GHz C-band rather than the regulations approved for the 3.55-3.7 GHz band Citizens Broadband Radio Service (TR Daily, Feb. 24).

The entities, which said the rules would thwart "robust participation" in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band auction, asked Congress to press the Commission to adopt CBRS-like rules. They also expressed concern about the proposed $14.8 billion reserve price for the 3.45-3.55 GHz band auction and urged Congress to work with parties on "ways to refine and reduce the federal government’s [$13.4 billion] relocation cost estimate."

"The undersigned organizations share Congress’ goal of ensuring U.S. global leadership in the development and deployment of 5G and other broadband services so that all Americans can benefit, and believe that the 3.45 -3.55 GHz (‘3.45 GHz’) band is critical to those efforts," the entities said in a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation and House Energy and Commerce committees. "We all must work together to ensure that mid-band spectrum reaches as many Americans as possible, from urban centers to small towns and rural communities, and to fulfill Congress’ directive to disseminate spectrum licenses ‘among a wide variety of applicants’ to foster the development of competitive 5G services and connectivity to those in rural communities that may lack broadband service altogether. This connectivity will drive growth and power innovation and opportunity that will lead to a stronger, more diverse and equitable economy.

"We believe these goals would best be achieved by adopting aspects of the framework used in last year’s successful auction for mid-band spectrum in the adjacent 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (‘CBRS’) band," the letter added. "The rules the Commission adopted for that band attracted a record 271 qualified applicants, 228 of which placed winning bids for licenses at auction. These winning bidders include not only the nation’s largest wireless carriers, but also regional carriers, wireless internet service providers, cable companies, manufacturers of agricultural equipment, universities, real estate firms, energy companies, electric utilities, tribes, and others, many of which invested in rural areas of our country that often fall on the wrong side of the digital divide. By comparison, in the recent C-band auction, only 57 applicants qualified to bid and only 21 bidders were successful.

"The success of the CBRS auction in attracting a wide variety of applicants can clearly be attributed to the rules that the Commission adopted for that band, which were carefully calibrated to attract a diverse group of bidders seeking to provide both traditional and innovative new services," the entities added. "The CBRS band is being used today in manufacturing facilities, smart cities, and rural broadband deployments across the country, including to facilitate remote learning. For example, several school districts in both exurban and rural areas currently rely on CBRS spectrum to connect students lacking adequate home broadband directly to the school’s network."

They complained that the partial economic area licenses proposed in the draft FCC order "would not foster the kind of robust participation and innovation that made the CBRS auction a success and could also result in tepid investment and build out in rural areas where Americans need broadband more than ever before. The undersigned therefore ask Congress to urge the Commission to follow proven aspects of the successful CBRS framework for the 3.45 GHz band to encourage similarly robust auction participation and competitive access to spectrum."

They also cited the estimated approximately $13.4 billion in clearing costs (TR Daily, Jan. 15) and nearly $14.8 billion proposed reserve price for the 3.45-3.55 GHz band auction, saying the latter figure would likely put "licenses out of reach for all but the three largest nationwide wireless operators. Wireless providers’ large financial commitments in the recent C-band auction and related build-out obligations make it all the more appropriate to encourage other sources of capital in a second mid-band spectrum auction in the same year."

They urged "Congress work closely with NTIA, affected federal spectrum users, and the FCC to consider ways to refine and reduce the federal government’s relocation cost estimate."

They noted that the FCC "proposes to begin the auction in October 2021, two months before the December 2021 deadline set by Congress. That means there is additional time for industry and policymakers to continue to discuss these important issues, while remaining on track to make more 5G mid-band spectrum available in the very near term. We look forward to working together to help ensure continued U.S. leadership in 5G so that consumers across the country benefit from these innovative technologies and services."

The following entities signed onto today’s letter: the American Petroleum Institute, Celona, Inc., Charter Communications, Inc., Comcast Corp., Cox Communications, Inc., Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, Edison Electric Institute, Energy Telecommunications and Electrical Association, Enterprise Wireless Alliance, Federated Wireless, Inc., Google LLC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Mediacom Communications Corp., Midcontinent Communications, NCTA, Next Century Cities, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, Rural Wireless Association, Southern Communications Services, Inc. d/b/a Southern Linc, Utilities Technology Council, and Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.

For their part, large wireless carriers have urged the FCC to adopt rules for the 3.45-3.55 GHz band that are similar to those approved for the C-band, including higher power limits, exclusive licensing, and licensing through larger geographic areas. They said the C-band rules would provide the certainty that carriers need to deploy 5G service. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC FederalNews Congress SpectrumAllocation WirelessDeployment

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