TR Daily Large Carrier Reps Willing to Discuss Various CBRS License Areas
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Large Carrier Reps Willing to Discuss Various CBRS License Areas

Representatives of large carriers and CTIA today said they were willing to discuss a hybrid framework for licensing priority access licenses (PALs) in the 3.5 gigahertz band, rather than only the partial economic area licenses (PEAs) that they have pushed. FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said he was pleased that parties appeared willing to compromise on licenses sizes.

The opinions were aired today at a 3.5 GHz band event organized by AT&T, Inc.

The FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking in October seeking comments on possible changes to the PAL rules (TR Daily, Oct. 24, 2017).

The FCC adopted a novel order in 2015 creating the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the 3.5 GHz band (TR Daily, April 17, 2015), and in 2016 it finalized its three-tiered regulations in a second report and order (TR Daily, April 28, 2016). Earlier last year, petitions for rulemaking were filed by CTIA and T-Mobile US, Inc., seeking changes to the rules (TR Daily, June 19 and 20, 2017).

In the NPRM, the FCC requested comment on the changes sought by CTIA and T-Mobile, modifications that drew support before the item was adopted from Verizon Communications, Inc., AT&T, and United States Cellular Corp., as well as major equipment vendors, which argued that the PAL rule changes were needed to spur investment and build-out in the spectrum.

Among other things, CTIA and T-Mobile asked the FCC to modify the PAL framework so a PAL term would be 10 years rather than three, with an expectation of renewal, and PAL areas would consist of PEAs rather than census tracts.

Major carriers, CTIA, and equipment vendors expressed support for those changes in comments they filed in the proceeding, while some smaller providers, tech companies, industrial Internet of things entities, public interest groups, and others generally opposed such action (TR Daily, Jan. 2). Opponents said they would shut out smaller players, including new entrants.

But at today’s event, and in some filings at the Commission, carrier representatives indicated willingness to compromise on the geographic areas for licenses.

For example, T-Mobile said in a recent ex parte filing that the FCC should “address the competing concerns by adopting a hybrid approach. In particular, it should issue priority access licenses (PALs) on a PEA basis in the top 115 PEAs, by population. In the remainder of the country, the Commission should issue licenses on a county basis. Issuing licenses on a county basis enjoys support in the record, with parties recognizing that they represent a better outcome than census tract licensing.”

During today’s event, carrier representatives were asked about the T-Mobile proposal.

“A compromise like that, I think, does balance the needs of reaching a critical mass in terms of investing in PALs, but also encouraging and allowing small players, and rural players in particular, to have a chance to gain access to PAL licenses,” said Patrick Welsh, assistant vice president-federal regulatory for Verizon.

He said CTIA proposed PEAs because it drew a consensus among members, some of whom wanted larger areas and some of whom wanted smaller ones.

“There is no perfect size,” he said. “So we’re definitely interested in talking more about alternatives.”

“AT&T is totally committed to finding a hybrid a solution here. We don’t think it has to be a …. one-model-fits-all” solution, said Stacey Black, AVP-federal regulatory for AT&T.

Asked about T-Mobile’s proposal, Mr. Black said, “It just completely decomplicates the auctioning process.”

He said that AT&T had suggested that counties or census tracts could be used for smaller geographic areas, although he said other small licensing areas could be considered. He said stakeholders needed “to get into a room and find a business model that works for everybody.”

Tom Taylor, deputy director-policy, technology and EMS operations for the Spectrum Policy and Programs Directorate at DoD, noted that the 3.5 GHz band rules were adopted by the FCC after DoD worked with industry to come up with “a sound trusted engineering plan. If we’re going to change the rules, we need to reinvestigate some of the engineering implications of those rules changes.”

Paul Anuszkiewicz, VP-spectrum planning for CTIA, said his group “is happy to sit down with any other trade association or any other stakeholders, including our friends at the DoD” to “begin to work out some kind of a compromise solution, because we think it’s there.”

In a speech opening today’s event, Mr. O’Rielly said that “the real point of contention” in the 3.5 GHz band proceeding now “appears to be around the appropriate geographic license area size for auctioning PALs.”

“The good news is that the record and press reports suggest that many parties involved with the CBRS band are moving away from their previous positions and starting to talk to one another about possible compromises,” he said. “This includes considering whether to offer different license sizes in urban and rural areas. I think this is generally constructive. While everyone may not get what they want in the end, my goal is to ensure that as many companies as possible are interested in participating in the 3.5 GHz spectrum auction and will soon be able to offer the services consumers desire.”

Mr. O’Rielly also discussed progress in deploying spectrum access system (SAS) and environmental sensing capability (ESC) databases, which will enable commercial operations to share the spectrum with incumbent Navy radars.

“SAS development is well on its way,” he said. “In the first wave of applications, seven entities expressed interest in being a SAS operator, and six have been conditionally approved and are moving forward. These entities will begin the process of testing their systems soon and will eventually come to the Commission for equipment authorizations. After this initial application window, an additional four entities expressed interest, and those applications are under consideration by the Commission and should expect further follow up momentarily.

“In terms of the second database, the ESC, I have certainly questioned the speed at which the systems were developing in the past, but I am pleased to report that thanks to efforts by industry, Commission staff, and our NTIA and Department of Defense colleagues, progress is finally being made,” Mr. O’Rielly said. “In fact, the Commission is preparing to announce very shortly that several entities that filed first wave applications have demonstrated that they have the technical expertise and financial capability to build and operate such systems. Accordingly, the Commission will soon conditionally grant these operators’ applications, allowing each of them to do formal testing and work towards final certification. It is envisioned that these prototype systems will still have to go through public testing and field trials. ESC operators will also have to provide deployment plans to ensure that they are able to adequately sense use in an area. And before receiving final certification, each system will go through a formal trial period. The Commission is also in the processes of reviewing two second wave ESC applications that were filed by potential operators.

“While there is still a way to go, this is a huge step,” Mr. O’Rielly stressed. “It’s actually great news, because the ESC is incredibly crucial to the ability to use 3.5 GHz in coastal areas, which just so happens to be where a substantial portion of Americans live. Therefore, without this capability, it is unlikely that there would be a successful business case to attract sufficient investment to get 3.5 GHz equipment manufactured and the systems deployed.”

Paul Powell, associate chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s Mobility Division, declined to provide timeline expectations for SAS and ESC approval. But he said the agency was hoping to get devices tested and certified in the near future.

But industry representatives, including some who work for entities that are seeking to run databases, said they hoped FCC approval of databases and devices would come relatively soon, and they said they wanted an auction of PAL licenses to be held later this year. They also noted the recent approval of technical standards and stressed the expected importance of the 3.5 GHz band globally for the wireless industry, including for 5G services.

“We’ve got lots of new interest from new verticals,” said Chris Stark, head-business development for Nokia, saying that FCC approval of modified rules was crucial.

He echoed comments by Mr. O’Rielly that freeing up spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band and below 3.5 GHz was also crucial for the industry. Mr. O’Rielly said he hoped the FCC could adopt an NPRM in its mid-band proceeding, which includes the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, this summer.

Messrs. Welsh and Black both said their companies planned to use general authorized access (GAA) spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band.

An audience member, Alex Phillips, who runs a wireless Internet service provider in Virginia and has represented the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, expressed concern with the use of PEAs for smaller carriers.

A number of WISPs were among more than 160 entities that recently asked the FCC to retain census tracts as the geographic area for PALs (TR Daily, Feb. 1).

Joan Marsh, AT&T’s executive VP-regulatory & state external affairs, ended today’s event on an optimistic note. “There’s more shared excitement for this band,” she said, “than there are differences.”

In a blog posting today, Charter Communications, Inc., said it is “excited about the possibilities offered by the 3.5 GHz band provided the licensing rules are designed for quick investment and deployment by new entrants like Charter. We agree with FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly’s comments that ‘the licensing is ripe for changes to be made.’ Charter believes expanding the current PAL geographic licensing area from the too small census tracts to counties is the best way to promote quick network deployment and enhance wireless competition in communities across the country. But increasing the size of license areas to the too big Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), as some have proposed, would likely limit deployment in the 3.5 GHz band to the largest incumbent carriers as well as pass up the opportunity to help close the urban rural digital divide.”

“We are interested in some of the hybrid compromises currently being considered,” Charter added. “We are working to find an approach that like Goldilocks said, is ‘just right’; license sizes that would ensure rural areas aren’t overlooked while making deploying there more economically feasible.”- Paul Kirby, [email protected]

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