The FCC plans to consider items addressing bands above 95 gigahertz, the 900 megahertz band, and the partitioning, disaggregation, and leasing of spectrum at its March 15 meeting, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced today. He said that the seven-item tentative agenda also would include a proposal on 911 vertical location accuracy, an order establishing rules to cover the TV channel repacking costs of additional parties, a rural call completion item, and an item to streamline the process for reauthorizing satellite TV stations.
In a blog posting today on the tentative agenda, which will be released tomorrow along with the text of the draft items, Mr. Pai said that the March 15 meeting “will lead off with an initiative to keep our country at the front of the global pack for wireless innovation. It will unleash new wireless services and technologies in frequencies above 95 GHz — what we’ve called the Spectrum Horizons. One notable feature of this spectrum is that it has traditionally not been seen as suited for wireless communications, given the physical properties of these extremely-high bands. Another is that we are talking about massive swaths of airwaves. Think gigahertz, not megahertz — or to put it another way, massive open roads, as opposed to a lane or two (that’s often filled with traffic).
“I’m aiming to maximize the value of this public resource for consumers and innovators,” the Chairman added. “Specifically, the order I have circulated would make a massive 21.2 gigahertz of spectrum above 95 GHz available for unlicensed use across four frequency bands. I’m also proposing to add a new experimental license type that would permit experimental use on any frequency from 95 GHz to 3 THz, with no limits on geography or technology. We currently don’t know precisely what types of applications and wireless services the laws of physics will permit in these bands. And that’s sort of the point: The history of wireless innovation is one of government creating space for broad thinking and entrepreneurs using that space to take us in unexpected directions. With this order, we’ll set up a big sandbox for engineers and technologists to work with — and we’ll then see what American ingenuity delivers.”
In a notice of proposed rulemaking adopted last year in ET docket 18-21, the FCC sought comments on rules to make spectrum above 95 GHz available on a licensed, unlicensed, and greater experimental basis (TR Daily, Feb. 22, 2018). Currently, the FCC only has rules allowing the spectrum to be used by amateur operators and experimental licensees.
In response to the NPRM, terrestrial wireless and satellite entities disagreed on the rules. Meanwhile, unlicensed spectrum advocates want more spectrum to be set aside for those uses and users of spectrum for scientific purposes warned about the potential for interference from unlicensed operations (TR Daily, May 3, 2018).
Regarding the 900 MHz band NPRM, Mr. Pai noted that more than three decades ago, the spectrum “was designated for narrowband communications — think of things like two-way dispatch radios used by business, industrial, and land transportation licensees. Under my leadership, the FCC launched a fresh inquiry to explore new uses for this band. Based on what we’ve learned, I’m proposing to make a segment of the 900 MHz band available for broadband, which will improve the user experience. I’m also proposing to authorize a market-driven, voluntary exchange process that would allow existing licensees to agree on a plan for relocating incumbents and transitioning the band — smoothing out, in an economically and technically sound way, the transition from point A to point B. The NPRM would also seek public input on two other ways to carry out this transition — an overlay auction and an incentive auction — to ensure we have other tools available for repurposing this spectrum going forward.”
In 2014, pdvWireless, 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 pdvWireless, 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).
In response to the NOI, several utilities and other CII entities reiterated their concerns about the pdvWireless/EWA proposal (TR Daily, Oct. 3, 2017). However, some petroleum industry entities and other 900 MHz band users were more positive about the broadband plan under the right conditions.
More recently, pdvWireless and utility and other CII entities and others have agreed to collaborate in the Utility Broadband Alliance (TR Daily, Feb. 5).
In his blog posting today, Mr. Pai also noted that the MOBILE NOW Act, which became law last year (TR Daily, March 23, 2018), “calls on the Commission to explore the partitioning or disaggregation of spectrum licenses and spectrum leasing as potential means to increase availability of advanced telecommunications services in rural areas and spectrum access by small carriers. … To satisfy the MOBILE NOW statutory requirement, I’ve circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on possible changes to our partitioning, disaggregation, and spectrum leasing rules that could encourage more secondary market transactions and expand spectrum access in underserved rural areas.”
As for the 911 vertical location accuracy item, Mr. Pai said he and his fellow Commissioners will “be voting on a proposal to establish a vertical, or z-axis, location accuracy metric of 3 meters. That means that first responders will know the floor in a multi-story building from which an individual is making a wireless 911 call. And as I mentioned last week [in a speech to a 911 event (TR Daily, Feb. 15)], after taking feedback on this proposal, I’m optimistic that the Commission will be able to adopt final rules on this issue later this year.”
Last year, national wireless carriers recommended a z-axis metric “of +/- 5 meters” (TR Daily, Aug. 7, 2018). The carriers were required to submit a recommendation pursuant to a 911 location accuracy order adopted in 2015 (TR Daily, Jan. 29, 2015).
But CTIA then said the Commission should not adopt the standard and should instead allow the industry to conduct further testing (TR Daily, Oct. 1, 2018). Verizon Communications, Inc., also told the FCC that it would be “premature” for the agency to adopt the standard proposed by the carriers, saying that additional time would allow “further testing on alternative Z-axis solutions that would improve on Z-axis accuracy” (TR Daily, Sept. 28, 2018).
However, more recently, CTIA and national wireless carriers said they want the FCC to adopt a z-axis standard in the near term rather than waiting for additional testing (TR Daily, Jan. 10).
But public safety entities have said the industry proposal falls short and that a more precise z-axis metric should be adopted by the FCC. Public safety entities have called for floor-level accuracy, and no more than +/- 3 meters.
Mr. Pai also said the FCC plans to vote on a report and order to establish rules governing the disbursement of funding to additional players in the TV band repacking. He noted that Congress last year, in the same legislation that included the MOBILE NOW Act, “approved an additional $1 billion to cover broadcaster transition costs, and it expanded the list of entities eligible for reimbursement to include affected low-power TV stations, TV translators, and FM radio stations.”
The FCC adopted an NPRM and order last year in MB docket 18-214 and GN docket 12-268 in the proceeding (TR Daily, Aug. 2, 2018).
Chairman Pai also said he plans to seek a vote on a rural call completion order that would set service quality standards for intermediate providers, that is, providers that handle calls between the originating and terminating providers.
The Improving Call Quality and Reliability Act signed by President Trump early last year directs the FCC to adopt service quality standards for intermediate providers.
Last year, the FCC required, in WC docket 13-39, originating carriers to monitor intermediate providers (TR Daily, April 17, 2018) and established a registry for intermediate providers with a mandate for intermediate providers to register “before offering to transmit covered voice communications,” which was another requirement of the Improving Call Quality Act (TR Daily, Aug. 15, 2018).
“All Americans should have confidence that when friends or relatives want to call them, their phones will ring. But that’s not always the case in rural America. The Commission will therefore vote on establishing service quality standards for intermediate providers — that is, ‘middlemen’ carriers that take the call from the originating carrier and send it toward the terminating carrier — to help ensure that any calls they handle actually reach their intended destination. As we transition to new rules, the order would also sunset our outdated call data recording and retention rules one year after these new service quality standards become effective,” Chairman Pai said today.
Chairman Pai also said he plans to ask his fellow Commissioners to consider another item on the agency’s media modernization initiative. The draft order would streamline the reauthorization process associated with reassigning or transferring a “satellite” broadcast television station, which generally retransmit the programming of a “parent” broadcast television stations.
“Satellite stations are critical to providing television service to many rural areas,” Chairman Pai said, but the current requirement “to go through the time- and resource-consuming reauthorization process all over again” to transfer or assign the station “can discourage companies from seeking to keep satellite stations on the air,” he added. “We proposed last year to change that, and public input we received indicates that we were on the right track.”
Several parties weighed in today on items that the FCC plans to consider next month.
Mike Marcus, a consultant and former FCC official, said he was pleased with the FCC’s planned action on the spectrum horizons item.
“It’ gratifying that they acted so quickly. This is only a year since the NPRM,” he said. “Most things don’t get done in a year.”
Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, said that it is difficult to comment on the spectrum horizons item without seeing the draft.
But he said that OTI, Apple, Inc., Microsoft Corp., and the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance “agree it’s too early to be carving spectrum above 95 GHz into bands for specified services or exclusive licensing. A combination of unlicensed and experimental licensing is very definitely the right policy mix. What Chairman Pai describes appears to be a welcome effort to give innovators a chance to develop new generations of wireless technology without being limited by arbitrary band boundaries or wild guesses about the highest and best use of very high-frequency spectrum 10 or 20 years from now.”
CTIA declined to comment today on the spectrum horizons and 911 location accuracy items, but it said it probably would once it has reviewed the draft items.
“SIA has continuously communicated with the FCC regarding the importance of satellite spectrum and Spectrum Horizons and we look forward to reviewing the specifics once the order is released,” said Tom Stroup, president of the Satellite Industry Association.
Jim Goldstein, who works with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council on government relations issues, noted that “when the FCC proposed a vertical accuracy metric in 2014, it was 3 meters and wireless carriers said that “if you give us more time, we’ll give [you] the ‘Gold Standard’ – the door to knock down!” He added, “Public safety has waited patiently for five years and was extremely dissatisfied and disillusioned when the carriers proposed a 5 meter metric, even though their own Test Bed results showed that less than 3 meter accuracy was achieved. To public safety, this is evidence that the carriers were using this ‘promise’ and their filing as a delay tactic. We strongly urge the Commission to quickly set the z-axis metric at floor level or less (and no more than 3 meters), and maintain the schedule of providing z-axis location accuracy in the top 25 metropolitan markets by 2021 and in the top 50 metropolitan markets by 2023, so public safety can use this tool to more quickly find people and save lives.”
“9-1-1 location-accuracy improvements — especially those that allow 9-1-1 to dispatch field responders to a specific floor in a building — will enable more exact emergency response and save countless lives when implemented,” said NENA Chief Executive Officer Brian Fontes. “NENA thanks the FCC for its continued leadership on this critical issue, and applauds industry for prioritizing public safety and coming together to develop, test, and deploy these life-saving advances in location technology.”
“We thank Chairman Pai for his continued commitment to freeing up important 900 MHz spectrum for broadband use,” said Morgan O’Brien, CEO of pdvWireless. “By scheduling an NPRM for consideration at the Commission's March Open Meeting, the Chairman has taken another important step in executing the FCC's FAST Plan. We look forward to reviewing the contents and providing feedback on the Commission's proposal and to working with the Chairman and Commissioners to accelerate a broadband solution to match the incredible interest we are seeing from utilities and other enterprises. The launch of the Utilities Broadband Alliance as well as our recently-granted ‘High Impact Status’ collaboration with the Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Lab confirm our belief that private LTE broadband can drive a host of technology, cyber and resiliency benefits to our nation’s grid.”
“While we are very pleased that the FCC has taken the next step toward creating a viable broadband opportunity for private enterprise users, and EWA looks forward to working with the Commission in finalizing rules for this band, the licensing process must be one that leads to actual broadband deployments in a reasonable timeframe to meet the current needs of the industry,” said EWA President and CEO Mark Crosby. “EWA hopes the FCC shares that objective.”- Paul Kirby, [email protected]; [email protected]
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