FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced today that he will ask his colleagues to vote at their May 13 meeting on 900 megahertz broadband, earth station in motion, and fiscal year 2020 regulatory fee items. Rounding out the four-item agenda will be an item to streamline the agency’s rules requiring broadcasters to provide public notice of FCC applications.
The FCC plans to release the text of the draft items and its tentative agenda tomorrow.
In a blog posting today, Mr. Pai touted the benefits of the report and order he wants his colleagues to consider “to reconfigure the 900 MHz band for the deployment of broadband services and technologies. For decades, this band has been allocated for narrowband communications like two-way dispatch radios used by business, industrial, and land transportation licensees. The draft rules would make available six of the band’s ten megahertz for the deployment of broadband services, while retaining four megahertz to continue incumbent narrowband operations. The new regulatory framework would allow 900 MHz licensees, like utilities, to obtain broadband licenses and would include operational and technical rules to minimize harmful interference to narrowband operations. To facilitate the quick transition to broadband services, we would use a market-driven process that primarily relies on negotiated agreements between interested parties.”
Last year, the FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking in WT docket 17-200 that proposed to reconfigure the 900 MHz band through a 3/3 MHz broadband segment, while reserving two separate segments for continued narrowband operations (TR Daily, March 13, 2019).
In 2014, pdvWireless, Inc. (since renamed Anterix, Inc.) and the Enterprise Wireless Alliance filed a petition for rulemaking asking the FCC to realign the 900 MHz band to enable the private enterprise broadband (PEBB) network in a 3x3 MHz segment, with narrowband communications in a 2x2 MHz segment (TR Daily, Nov. 18, 2014). The action would allow Anterix, which acquired Sprint Corp.’s 900 MHz band licenses, to deploy a broadband network, giving priority access to utilities and other critical infrastructure industry entities.
In 2017, the FCC adopted a notice of inquiry in WT docket 17-200 seeking comments on the pdvWireless/EWA proposal and another petition submitted by M2M Spectrum Networks LLC (TR Daily, Aug. 4, 2017).
Over the years, utilities have expressed concern about the broadband proposal, including whether their narrowband operations would experience harmful interference from broadband licensees. They also have asked the FCC to make the realignment voluntary and to allow site-based licensees to hold broadband licenses.
However, more utilities have warmed to the proposal. An Anterix news release today welcoming Mr. Pai’s announcement included positive reactions from two utilities.
In response to the NPRM, the FCC received mostly positive views from utilities and other critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities as well as vendors, although many incumbents stressed the importance of getting comparable replacement facilities, adequate reimbursement, and strong interference protection (TR Daily, June 4, 2019). They also backed the use of a strictly voluntary negotiation process.
However, some utilities and CII entities have still leveled complaints more recently.
For example, NextEra Energy, Inc., and its subsidiary Florida Power & Light this month cited a test report on the likelihood of interference from LTE operations in the 900 MHz band to narrowband systems in arguing for the need for interference mitigation (TR Daily, April 2).
Last month, the American Petroleum Institute and its members urged the FCC not to take any action in the proceeding until Anterix has alleviated their concerns about the proposed realignment (TR Daily, March 13). API said that Anterix has not produced studies to show that utilities would be protected from interference and complained that the company had only recently contacted API to meet. In response, Anterix said that the API filings were “so inconsistent with the facts as to be mystifying” (TR Daily, March 17).
In December, Southern California Edison (SCE) proposed an alternative framework to give CII entities a “first crack” at 900 MHz band broadband licenses “while also allowing Anterix a full opportunity to acquire the license in short order if CIIs do not take advantage of this opportunity” (TR Daily, Dec. 6, 2019). The plan drew opposition from Anterix and EWA (TR Daily, Dec. 11 and 12, 2019).
“On behalf of Anterix and its employees and our partners, I want to thank Chairman Pai for his decision to bring the 900 MHz Report and Order to a vote. We also wish to thank the staff at the Commission for their hard work on this item, and we look forward to working with the Chairman and Commissioners [Mike] O'Rielly, [Brendan] Carr, [Jessica] Rosenworcel and [Geoffrey] Starks to secure adoption of this Report and Order,” said Anterix Chief Executive Officer Morgan O’Brien. “As the following statements demonstrate, the utility and enterprise ecosystems in the United States are eager to put this spectrum to work fueling industrial 5G and delivering the benefits of secure, innovative, private LTE broadband networks. This decision will lead to new jobs, new investment, and new technology development.”
Mark Crosby, president and CEO of EWA, said, “We appreciate the Commission's action, for it evidences their realization that business enterprises and critical infrastructure entities are a fundamental component of our country's wireless ecosystem and, like the mission critical and consumer sectors, deserve access to spectrum capable of providing broadband solutions unique to their industrial tasks.”
“Southern Linc welcomes the Chairman’s decision to circulate an Order that will create a 900 MHz broadband opportunity for utilities and others providing critical services to the American public,” said Michael Rosenthal, director-legal and external affairs for the utility. “Southern Linc has firsthand knowledge of the tremendous benefits LTE technology can bring to this sector of the economy, supporting grid modernization, the integration of renewable energy sources, enhanced cyber security, and other innovations. Expanding the private LTE ecosystem will lead to reduced equipment costs and a growing portfolio of technology choices for this essential segment of America’s infrastructure.”
“To enable the grid of the future, the system requires a smarter, stronger and more secure communications network with far greater bandwidth,” said John Hughes, director-network engineering for Ameren Corp., another utility. “We thank the FCC for considering this action at 900 MHz, as it offers the exact opportunity we seek. Ameren envisions a future where broadband plays a key role in the control and management of our network, providing enhanced communication with co-workers, resulting in a better experience for our customers. Ameren intends to use a private LTE network for a wide range of applications slated to expand over time.”
In response to a request for comment today, API released a statement from Suzanne Lemieux, manager-operations security and emergency response policy, who said, “Narrowband channels are critical to operations of essential infrastructure, and we hope the FCC recognizes that current and future narrowband operations must be protected and accommodated. We look forward to learning more about the Commission’s proposal, and hope incumbents’ narrowband channels will be protected as a part of this plan.”
The Utilities Technology Council had no comment today.
In an interview with TR Daily this afternoon, Mr. O’Brien and Anterix President Rob Schwartz stressed that the company has worked hard for years to address the concerns of utilities and other CII entities.
“It’s literally impossible on something like this to resolve every potential concern,” Mr. O’Brien said.
But, as an example, he said Anterix has worked with API members for years, adding, “Most of the concerns, I think, we have resolved.”
“I continue to think that you can have principled differences of opinion, and then at the end of the day the FCC does the hard work, makes the decision. And I’m pretty optimistic,” he added.
Mr. O’Brien also said that the realignment of the 900 MHz band will produce “a pretty nice balance” between protecting incumbents that want to continue operating narrowband networks and providing broadband spectrum for those interested in that. “It’s a balancing act.”
“It’s been a rigorous process,” said Mr. Schwartz, adding that Anterix has built relationships with entities that once opposed the plan but are now the “most ardent, strong supporters on the record.”
They expressed optimism that the FCC will approve the order on a unanimous vote, with Mr. Schwartz noting that Commissioners voted unanimously for the NPRM.
The Anterix news release today also included comments from other supporters of 900 MHz band realignment, including the Wireless Infrastructure Association, Motorola Solutions, Inc., Cisco Systems, Inc., and Sierra Wireless.
“WIA thanks Chairman Pai for prioritizing action on 900 MHz,” said WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “The realignment of the band will support 5G deployment and investment in wireless infrastructure, providing access to innovative wireless services.” Anterix is a member of WIA.
In another statement released today, Kevin Zvokel, head-networks at Ericsson North America, said, “Ericsson is pleased to see Chairman Pai’s proposal to make new spectrum in the 900 MHz band available for new services to support the increasing demand for industrial IoT applications, critical infrastructure and other uses. Reconfiguring the 900 MHz band for broadband allocation will help support existing LTE networks and new 5G networks, enabling a broad range of use cases among many industries. We look forward to working with our customers as they roll out innovative applications and services that take advantage of this new broadband allocation.”
In his blog posting today, Mr. Pai also said that the May 13 meeting “will also include a vote on new rules to expand the use of Earth Stations in Motion, or ESIMs, which transmit data from satellites to moving vehicles like ships, airplanes, or school buses. I saw the impact this connectivity can have on a trip to Moab, Utah, where students in remote, rural regions of the school district were able to do homework and take tests online during multi-hour bus rides. In 2018, the Commission adopted rules to make it easier for geostationary-satellite orbit (GSO) satellites to target ESIMs. And next month, we will vote on an Order to allow ESIMs to communicate in additional frequency bands with GSO satellites. The draft rules would also allow ESIMs to communicate with non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellites, which is important as several companies are in the process of launching new NGSO constellations. American consumers want and expect to be connected wherever they are, and this plan will open new market opportunities to connect vehicles on land, on sea, and in the air.”
The FCC in 2018 adopted an NPRM in IB docket 18-315 proposing to change its rules for ESIMs to cover communications with NGSO satellites operating in the fixed-satellite service (FSS) (TR Daily, Nov. 15, 2018).
That item came in the wake of an order in IB docket 17-95 to streamline, harmonize, and consolidate regulations for three types of ESIMs that operate on ships, airplanes, and vehicles and communicate with C-band and Ka-band GSO FSS, by integrating them into a single regulatory category and to give ESIMs more flexibility to operate in the “conventional Ka-frequency band” (TR Daily, Sept. 26, 2018). At the same time, the FCC sought comment on expanding the frequencies available to ESIMs communicating with GSO FSS satellite networks to allow additional flexibility to satellite operators.
Mr. Pai also noted today that the FCC “will vote on a plan to collect $339,000,000 in regulatory fees for fiscal year 2020. Notably, we are proposing a new fee for foreign-licensed space stations that have access to the U.S. market. The Commission spends resources regulating these space stations, so it’s only fair that the foreign space stations, just like U.S. space stations, help pay for the Commission’s operations.”
Mr. Pai added, “Yesterday, the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management sent a memo to the heads of federal agencies with preliminary guidelines on how to ‘ramp back up government operations to the maximum extent possible.’ This will be no problem for the Commission, because, as our May agenda and the totality of our efforts over the past two months make clear, the FCC has shown no signs of slowing down. Thanks again to everyone at the FCC for rising to this challenge.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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