A draft further notice of proposed rulemaking released by the FCC today for consideration at its Sept. 30 meeting proposes flexible use of the 3.45-3.55 gigahertz band throughout the contiguous U.S.
The item in WT docket 19-348 also would (1) “[p]ropose to add a co-primary, non-federal fixed and mobile (except aeronautical mobile) allocation to the band;” (2) “[s]eek comment on an appropriate regime to coordinate non-federal and federal use;” (3) “[p]ropose a band plan and technical, licensing, and competitive bidding rules for the band;” (4) “[s]eek comment on how to relocate non-federal radiolocation operators to the 2.9-3.0 GHz band;” and (5) “[s]eek comment on the process for sunsetting amateur use in the 3.3-3.5 GHz band,” a fact sheet notes.
“We propose unpaired, 20-megahertz blocks for this band to align with the recently reallocated 3.7 GHz band, licensed on an exclusive geographic area basis by Partial Economic Areas,” the draft items says. “In addition, we propose service, technical, and competitive bidding rules for flexible use licensees in the band, which largely align with the 3.7 GHz band rules.”
A companion report and order would (1) “[e]liminate the non-federal radiolocation service allocation in the 3.3-3.55 GHz band and the nonfederal amateur allocation in the 3.3-3.5 GHz band but allow incumbent licensees to continue operating in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band until a future date;” (2) “[r]elocate non-federal radiolocation licensees to the 2.9-3.0 GHz band, allowing them to continue operating on a secondary basis to federal operations, consistent with current allocations;” and (3) “[a]llow amateur licensees to individually determine appropriate alternate spectrum from existing available spectrum allocations,” the fact sheet notes.
Last month, the Trump administration announced that the White House and the Department of Defense have concluded that the 3.45-3.55 GHz band can be shared with wireless carriers nationwide at full commercial power levels (TR Daily, Aug. 10).
Last December, the FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comments on whether it should remove existing non-federal allocations from the broader 3.3-3.55 GHz band in hopes of facilitating future shared use of the spectrum between federal incumbents and commercial users (TR Daily, Dec. 12, 2019).
Louis Peraertz, vice president-policy for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, said that “WISPA and its members would be eager to access the 3.45-3.55 GHz band in order to continue to bridge the digital divide. Extending certain aspects of the CBRS framework to this adjacent 100 megahertz would be the most efficient way of putting this valuable spectrum resource to work for Americans. The proposed rules should consider reserving an adequate amount of spectrum within the 100 megahertz for unlicensed or ‘licensed by rule’ use to create a contiguous 250-megahertz CBRS band. Importantly, any auction the Commission may conduct should use counties as the geographic license area and licenses should be awarded in 10-megahertz blocks, enabling meaningful access by a diversity of providers.”
Meanwhile, the FCC also plans to consider at its Sept. 30 meeting a sixth report and order and seventh further notice in WP docket 07-100 in its 4.9 GHz band (4940-4990 megahertz] proceeding.
The draft item released today would reiterate that the spectrum has been underused for public safety purposes and give states the opportunity to lease the spectrum to commercial entities, electric utilities, and others for public safety or non-public safety use.
‘Although nearly 90,000 public safety entities are eligible under our rules to obtain licenses in the band, there are only 3,559 licenses currently issued to 2,090 individual licensees,” a fact sheet says.
“Under our new framework, statewide incumbent licensees will be empowered with the authority to make decisions on how best to maximize the value and use of their spectrum based on market forces,” according to the draft item. “States can continue to use the spectrum for their own public safety network operations; they can enter into one or more commercial arrangements for commercial deployment of public-safety communications services; they can lease the spectrum to a commercial service provider for deployment of mobile or fixed wireless Internet service, private land mobile radio service or critical infrastructure connectivity; or they can pursue a combination of any of these scenarios (or any other arrangement that is allowed for pursuant to the service rules for the band and our Secondary Markets rules). The rule changes we adopt here will reverse the effects of the 4.9 GHz band’s antiquated licensing framework that have led to its underuse.”
The draft item continues, “Prior to today, access to the 4.9 GHz band was restricted to certain entities and use of the spectrum was limited to public safety purposes. Licensees also operate pursuant to a complicated sharing framework; there is no exclusive use of the band. This Sixth Report and Order allows states to enter into lease agreements voluntarily with other users (whether public safety or non-public safety) for access to the 4.9 GHz band in their territory. We place no restriction on the type of entity to which a state can lease or the type of services that the lessee can provide. This approach, especially when combined with the potential changes to licensing and coordination contemplated in the accompanying Seventh Further Notice, seeks to empower states to determine the best use of the 4.9 GHz band for their citizens, by enabling them to balance the needs of public safety and the benefits that can come from non-public safety use. We anticipate that this framework will facilitate more robust investment in this band across the entire country and drive down equipment costs, to the benefit of public safety and non-public safety entities seeking to deploy.”
Specifically, the order would (1) “[p]ermit one statewide 4.9 GHz band licensee per state (the State Lessor) to lease some or all of its spectrum rights to third parties, including commercial, critical infrastructure, and other users, thus making up to 50 megahertz of mid-band spectrum available for more intensive use;” (2) “[t]reat single statewide licensees as the default State Lessor and require states with multiple statewide licensees to select one of those entities as the State Lessor;” (3) “[e]liminate the requirement that leased spectrum must be used to support public safety and permit the State Lessor to lease spectrum rights for public safety or non-public safety purposes;” and (4) “[r]equire lessees to adhere to the same informal coordination required of existing licensees,” the fact sheet notes.
The further notice would (1) “[p]ropose a new set of licensing rules, including making permanent the freeze on new applications implemented on September 8, 2020 [TR Daily, Sept. 8] and grandfathering all current public safety licensees;” (2) “[p]ropose to allow states without a statewide license to obtain such a license;” (3) “[s]eek comment on the creation of a voluntary State Band Manager to coordinate and authorize new public safety operations as well as the State Band Manager’s authority and responsibilities;” and “[s]eek comment on additional ways to implement and facilitate robust use of the leasing framework, including the use of dynamic spectrum sharing and encouraging collaboration across jurisdictions.”
In 2018, the Commission unanimously adopted a sixth further notice seeking views on ways to promote more intensive use of the band (TR Daily, March 22, 2018). Republican Commissioners emphasized the potential benefit of repurposing the band for commercial purposes, or at least opening it up to additional usage, citing the fact that the spectrum has not been heavily used since the Commission made it available for public safety agencies in 2002.
In response to the 2018 item, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council expressed support for sharing the band with critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities and opposed reallocating and auctioning the spectrum for commercial use (TR Daily, July 9, 2018). A number of utility trade groups expressed support for a band plan submitted by NPSTC and emphasized their members’ need for additional spectrum.
But the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International opposed providing CII entities “with co-primary or notice-based access” to the band, but it said that CII parties should be able to use it for critical communications purposes on a secondary, preemptible basis.
Meanwhile, the newly formed Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA) is trying to convince the FCC to allocate or assign the spectrum to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) in hopes of ensuring that it will continue to be used for public safety purposes (TR Daily, Aug. 6). In a statement today, it reiterated its criticism of the draft item.
“We are highly perplexed on why the FCC would seek to devolve the management of any spectrum bands to the states, which have neither the expertise nor the resources to manage the 4.9 GHz Band,” the group said. “In addition to centralizing [non-federal] spectrum management at the FCC, Congress in 2012 created a nationwide public safety network to address critical shortcomings in public safety spectrum management as demonstrated by the response to the 9/11 attacks. We do not believe that delegating the management of any public safety spectrum bands to the states is consistent with Congressional intent. We hope that the FCC seeks Congressional input on this proposal and reconsiders its proposed decision.”
Sheryl Riggs, president and chief executive officer of the Utilities Technology Council, said, “While we are still reviewing the draft order, we appreciate that the FCC is considering allowing utilities access to the 4.9 GHz band. UTC has long identified the 4.9 GHz band as a potential opportunity for utilities to share with public safety. We look forward to engaging with our members and the FCC to determine how this proposal can be improved.”
Alan Tilles, counsel to the Government Wireless Technology & Communications Association, said, “Although the Draft Order requires some intense scrutiny, it enables a state authority with the option, but not the obligation, to allow non-public safety use. It presents the opportunity for a state to continue to use Regional Planning Committees to ensure the band is fully utilized, but that public safety continues to have its priority access. GWTCA looks forward to working with RPCs to set up a compliant architecture to make this work.”
Several other groups said they were reviewing the draft item or did not respond to requests for comment.
NPSTC Vice Chair Doug Aiken said the federation has provided its governing board with a copy of the draft. “Although some GB members have expressed preliminary support for the plan NPSTC will not take a formal position until the Governing Board has had the opportunity to discuss it,” he told TR Daily in an e-mail. “We are working to schedule an opportunity for the Governing Board [to] meet virtually to share thoughts on the R&O and the FNPRM. At that time I anticipate a statement from NPSTC on the proposed 4.9 R&O. We anticipate filing comments on the 7th FNPRM.”
The International Association of Fire Chiefs also had no comment today; its board of directors is reviewing the issue, said Ken LaSala, IAFC’s director-government relations & policy. The National Governors Association and WISPA also had no comment and APCO, the Edison Electric Institute, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association did not respond to requests for comment.
Another public safety item to be considered at the FCC’s Sept. 30 meeting is a notice of inquiry in PS dockets 20-291 and 09-14 soliciting comment on any actions the FCC could take to dissuade states and U.S. territories from diverting 911 fees for other purposes.
The NOI would (1) “[s]eek comment on the specific effect that 911 fee diversion has had on the provision of 911 services and the transition to NG911 in states that have diverted fees”; (2) “[e]xamine whether mechanisms, such as restrictions on federal grant funding for diverting states, could be incorporated into programs administered by the Commission and/or interagency efforts in this area”; (3) “[s]eek comment on regulatory steps the Commission could take to discourage fee diversion, such as exercising the Commission’s truth-in-billing authority to address the description of 911 fees on consumer bills when diversion occurs or conditioning state eligibility for FCC licenses, programs, or other benefits on the absence of fee diversion”; (4) “[a]sk questions about how the Commission could encourage states to pass legislation or adopt rules that would end 911 fee diversion”; and (5) “[s]eek comment on whether improvements to the Commission’s annual 911 fee data collection and reporting process could further discourage fee diversion, including whether the Commission should provide additional guidance on what constitutes fee diversion,” a fact sheet notes.
While there has been progress in tackling the diversion of 911 fees by states, it is still a problem. Between 2012 and 2018, states diverted more than $1.275 billion in fees to non-911 programs or to their general fund.
“Fee diversion has long hobbled states’ abilities to maintain and improve their 9-1-1 systems and has compromised the trust of the public, who pay 9-1-1 fees with the expectation that those fees will go toward 9-1-1,” said Dan Henry, director-government affairs for NENA. “Fee diversion also undermines the confidence of federal policymakers that any infusion of funds for nationwide Next Generation 9-1-1 will be used as intended. While we share the Commission’s enthusiasm at recent reductions in 9-1-1 fee diversion, we look forward to helping shed additional light on this harmful and damaging practice and pushing to end it completely, once and for all.”
“NASNA welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the FCC on 911 fee diversion. The membership of NASNA has always been supportive of the proper use of 911 fees,” said Harriet Rennie-Brown, executive director of the National Association of State 911 Administrators. “911 fees, for the majority of states, are a significant portion of the funding that supports 911 throughout the country. In some cases, 911 fees are the sole source of revenue that enables state and local 911 programming at both the state and local level.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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