TR Daily Spectrum, Inter-Agency Review, Robocall, 911 Items Set for FCC Meeting
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Spectrum, Inter-Agency Review, Robocall, 911 Items Set for FCC Meeting

The FCC plans to consider nine items at its Sept. 30 meeting, including those concerning the 3.45-3.55 gigahertz and 4.9 GHz bands, the inter-agency review process, robocalls, the diversion of 911 fees, and Internet protocol captioned telephone service (IP CTS), FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced today. He said that he and the other Commissioners also would consider two items in the Commission’s media modernization initiative as well as an enforcement item.

The FCC plans to release a tentative agenda for the meeting tomorrow, along with the draft items to be considered.

Mr. Pai highlighted the consideration of a report and order and further notice of proposed rulemaking concerning the 3.45-3.55 GHz band.

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 in WT docket 19-348 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).

“Fortunately, the FCC was already working on ways to maximize use of this spectrum, so we are able to move quickly to do our part to repurpose this mid-band spectrum for commercial 5G,” Mr. Pai said in a blog posting today. “Building on a rulemaking launched in 2019, I have circulated to my fellow commissioners a Report and Order to remove the secondary, non-federal allocations from the 3.3–3.55 GHz band. This is a critical first step toward making the 3.45–3.55 GHz band available for innovative commercial operations while accommodating limited remaining operations by federal incumbents—one we’ll vote on at our next meeting on September 30.

“We will also vote on seeking comment on further changes to the band to enable future commercial use, such as reallocating the 3.45–3.55 GHz band on a co-primary basis for non-federal fixed and mobile (except aeronautical mobile) services, rules for limited future federal incumbent use of the band, and licensing, operating, and technical rules for commercial operations,” Mr. Pai added. “Along with the upcoming December C-band auction of 280 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for 5G and the recently completed auction of 70 megahertz of licensed spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band, this new proposal would put the Commission on track to have a 530-megahertz swath (from 3.45 to 3.98 GHz) of mid-band spectrum available for 5G. That’s 5G FAST, to coin a phrase.”

Mr. Pai noted that “750 megahertz of spectrum in the 2.9–3.65 GHz band is allocated for high-powered defense radar systems. But the average measured occupancy (or use) of the 3450–3550 MHz segment of this band is less than 1% at sites without a significant military presence, according to a study recently completed by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.”

“Having spent a great deal of time on spectrum issues at the FCC, I’m pleased to see the success of my multi-year effort to get the Administration to open the 3.45 to 3.55 GHz band for commercial use,” said Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who has also pushed for the repurposing of or, at least, sharing of additional spectrum in the broader 3.1-3.55 GHz band. “Extensive credit is due to [National Economic Council Chair] Larry Kudlow and his team. Now, we need to build on this and free another 100 megahertz.”

“We applaud Chairman Pai’s continued efforts, through his successful 5G FAST Plan, to make more mid-band spectrum available for commercial 5G services,” said Scott Bergmann, senior vice president-regulatory affairs for CTIA. “Quick delivery of exclusive use mid-band spectrum is critical to fueling our transition to a new, 5G economy, and we thank the FCC and Administration for recognizing this urgent need.”

“Thanks to @AjitPaiFCC + @FCC for rapidly moving the ball down the field toward another #5G win for consumers and competition by considering rules for making the 3450-3550 MHz band available. That’s what I call 5G Fast!” tweeted Kathleen Ham, SVP-government affairs for T-Mobile US, Inc.

CTIA and other entities have recently offered the FCC advice on issues to consider in its lower 3 GHz band proceeding, including the need to protect the adjacent Citizens Broadband Radio Service.

In an ex parte filing posted today, CTIA urged the FCC to “move quickly to adopt an Order to relocate non-federal secondary Radiolocation and Amateur operations in the 3.3-3.55 GHz band out of the band to clear the way for 5G. CTIA also urged the Commission to expeditiously adopt an FNPRM to propose technical and licensing rules for the 3.45-3.55 GHz band with a 5G-friendly framework, consistent with the White House and Department of Defense agreement—and in particular, full power and out-of-band emissions limits consistent with other commercial mobile service bands, and exclusive, flexible use of the spectrum. Finally, CTIA urged the Commission to think holistically in this proceeding and ensure that any necessary relocations from the 3.45-3.55 GHz band are focused on spectrum outside the internationally harmonized band as well as providing as much clarity as possible on any future encumbrances of the spectrum.”

In an ex parte filing posted Friday, the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance urged the FCC “to consider a number of issues as it prepares to launch a rulemaking proceeding. First, DSA asks that the Commission consider the impact of new broadband mobile and fixed services in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band on the adjacent CBRS band. Co-existence with CBRS systems in the adjacent 3.55-3.70 GHz band will be critical to maximize use of all 5G mid-band spectrum. More importantly, the FCC must assure that moving incumbent federal systems from the 3.4 GHz band does not undermine the availability of CBRS networks in which deployers have already invested billions. Successful co-existence, maximizing use of all mid-band spectrum, and protecting investments in existing 5G systems will likely necessitate a thorough review of the transmit power limits, out-of-band-emission limits, coordination requirements, and incumbent protection methods that will apply to both the 3.45-3.55 GHz and CBRS bands. The DSA encourages the FCC in its rulemaking to include a comprehensive look at the technical issues that will impact both of these bands.

“Second, the DSA also recommends that the FCC include in its notice of proposed rulemaking an examination and consideration of the benefits of different licensing approaches for the 3.45-3.55 GHz band,” the filing added. “The DSA encourages the FCC to include in the notice of proposed rulemaking the possibility of extending aspects of the CBRS licensing framework to 3.45-3.55 GHz, as well as enabling the ‘use-it or share-it’ rules, which will ensure that rural Americans residing within 3.4 GHz band license areas do not miss out on the benefits of opening this important 5G band.”

In another spectrum item, Mr. Pai said today that the FCC would consider at its Sept. 30 meeting a report and order and further notice in its 4.9 GHz band proceeding.

“Way back in 2002, the FCC designated 50 megahertz of contiguous spectrum in that band for public safety use [TR Daily, Feb. 14, 2002]. Unfortunately, only about 3.5% of potential licensees—less than 1 out of 25—have actually taken advantage of this spectrum,” he said. “A barrier to wireless deployment in this band is the unusual licensing framework. Public safety licensees are permitted to use their spectrum only for public safety purposes, with no exclusivity, and share the band by ad-hoc coordination to avoid interference. In three weeks, the Commission will vote on a Report and Order that would give states the opportunity to lease 4.9 GHz band spectrum to commercial entities, electric utilities, and others. This market-driven path will protect public safety incumbent operations while providing states the flexibility to use the spectrum to boost wireless broadband, improve critical infrastructure monitoring, or facilitate new public safety use cases that meet the unique challenges and geographies of each state. In an accompanying Further Notice, we are also proposing a new state-based licensing regime for public safety operations in the 4.9 GHz band.”

In 2018, the Commission unanimously adopted a sixth further notice in WP docket 07-100 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 4940-4990 megahertz 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.

But 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 use (TR Daily, Aug. 6).

“Historically, we’ve found the FCC interested in what is best for public safety. We don’t believe this is a good decision for public safety. This places huge burden on public safety and the states and constitutes an unfunded mandate at precisely the most inopportune time,” the PSSA said today in response to Mr. Pai’s announcement. “States and their public safety subsets are ill-equipped to manage spectrum state by state. This creates another case of haves by those states that may have the ability to execute and have nots for those states with low population and not having the ability to execute. Public safety just recently extracted itself from the nightmare of LMR and problems with interoperability—this has the potential to take public safety back to a problem that they worked years to solve. This stands in contrast to the proven success of a single national license under the National Public Safety Broadband Network and interjects uncertainty and confusion into a space that has been enjoying a single nationwide license.”

In a related development today, the Public Safety and Homeland Security and Wireless Telecommunications bureaus announced a temporary filing freeze on the acceptance and processing of certain part 90 applications in the 4940-4990 MHz band. The action is being taken “to stabilize the 4.9 GHz spectrum landscape and to maximize the Commission’s flexibility in considering the appropriate rules governing the band,” the bureaus said in a public notice. Parties may seek waivers of the freeze. “This freeze does not apply to applications that would not destabilize the licensing landscape, including: (1) applications to renew existing licenses without modification; (2) applications that seek to modify existing licenses by deleting frequencies or fixed sites; (3) applications that seek to modify existing licenses by changing technical parameters in a manner that does not expand the station’s spectral or geographic coverage, such as decreases in bandwidth, power level, or antenna height; (4) applications to assign or transfer licenses; (5) notices of construction for permanent fixed site licenses or consummation of assignments or transfers; (6) requests for extensions of time to construct or consummate previously granted assignment or transfer applications; (7) applications to cancel licenses; (8) applications for special temporary authority for short-term operations; and (9) applications from geographic area licensees that require individual licensing under rule section 90.1207(b),” according to the bureaus.

Chairman Pai also said that he plans to seek a vote on a report and order aimed at improving reviews of applications to transfer control or assign licenses and authorizations to foreign entities. The reviews are conducted by the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice for any national security or law enforcement concerns raised by foreign participation in the U.S. telecom service sector.

Earlier this year, President Trump issued an executive order establishing the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector, essentially formalizing a long-standing practice of inter-agency reviews of such applications by the same three agencies, known informally as “Team Telecom” (TR Daily, April 6).

The new committee is continuing to refer to itself by the Team Telecom moniker.

“The Commission has a lot of expertise in areas like engineering and economics, but we often consult with others when it comes to questions about national security, law enforcement, trade, and foreign affairs. For example, information provided by other agencies about security threats posed by China Mobile played an important role in our decision to reject its application to provide international telecommunications services between the United States and foreign destinations,” Chairman Pai noted in his blog post.

He added, “The Executive Order established review processes for the Committee for new license applications referred to it by the FCC as well as existing licenses (under certain circumstances). The order also authorized the Committee to make recommendations to the FCC to mitigate risks to national security or law enforcement interests identified through its reviews. Following up on this Executive Order, our International Bureau has prepared a Report and Order to streamline and improve the timeliness and transparency of this inter-agency review process. The new rules will enhance national security while providing greater regulatory certainty for applicants and facilitating foreign investment where appropriate.”

Regarding the robocall item, Chairman Pai said he plans to seek a vote on an order setting caller ID authentication rules for carriers with legacy, non-IP (Internet protocol) networks—typically smaller and more rural carriers—which is aimed at reducing illegal robocalls.

“A common weapon used by illegal robocallers is caller ID spoofing, which masks calls with fake, familiar-looking numbers that trick us into thinking a call is trustworthy. To thwart this illegal caller ID spoofing, the FCC has been advancing implementation of the STIR/SHAKEN [Secure Telephony Identity Revisited/Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs] caller ID authentication framework. STIR/SHAKEN technology, which operates solely on Internet Protocol (IP) networks, allows voice service providers to verify that the caller ID information transmitted with a particular call matches the caller’s number. This past March, the Commission adopted rules requiring voice service providers to implement this call authentication technology in the IP portions of their phone networks by June 30, 2021, consistent with the newly enacted TRACED Act,” Chairman Pai said in his blog post.

A further notice adopted along with the March order sought input on the possibility of extending the STIR/SHAKEN mandate to intermediate providers (TR Daily, March 31).

The order to be considered at the Sept. 30 meeting would, in its current form, “take the next steps toward STIR/SHAKEN implementation. It would establish rules governing intermediate providers and caller ID authentication in non-IP networks. Specifically, it would require voice service providers to either upgrade their non-IP networks to IP and implement STIR/SHAKEN, or work to develop a non-IP authentication solution. It would also enact pro-consumer provisions of the TRACED Act, like the prohibition of line-item charges for caller ID authentication,” Chairman Pai said.

Mr. Pai also announced that the Commission would consider a notice of inquiry concerning the diversion of 911 fees for other purposes.

“Each year, the Commission provides a report to Congress on states’ collection and use of 911 fees that identifies which states have improperly diverted those fees. And each year, a number of states have been identified as diverters, with a few states being repeat offenders. Between 2012 and 2018, states diverted over $1.275 billion in fees collected for 911 services to non-911 purposes. This fee diversion threatens public safety by siphoning away the funds needed to maintain and upgrade 911 systems,” the Chairman warned. “But thanks to the leadership of FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, this problem has been getting the tough scrutiny it deserves. Our Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has crafted a Notice of Inquiry for our September meeting seeking comment on the effects of 911 fee diversion and exploring additional steps the Commission or others could take to discourage states from diverting 911 fees.”

“Addressing the outrageous state diversion of 9-1-1 fees has been a priority of mine from long before I joined the Commission,” Mr. O’Rielly said. “While our authority may be limited in some respects, this month’s NOI will help explore creative ideas and build the record, hopefully generating even more momentum for further reforms in order to bring changes to the remaining holdout states.” Chairman Pai also plans to seek a vote on an order to cut costs for the interstate TRS (telecommunications relay service) Fund by reducing the compensation rate for IP CTS, which provides text captions while carrying over the voice of the other party for users with some residual hearing.

“Use of IP CTS is paid for entirely through the FCC’s TRS Fund, and it has grown substantially in recent years. Today, this service represents almost 80% of the total minutes compensated out of the TRS Fund—at a cost of nearly one billion dollars a year. Our Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau has crafted an Order to bring expenditures for this service more in line with costs, preserving the viability of IP CTS for those people with hearing loss who need it. Specifically, it would reduce the provider compensation rate to $1.42 per minute in 2020-21 and $1.30 per minute (the current cost-based rate) in 2021-22. If enacted, this would save the TRS Fund approximately $200 million over the next two years. This Order would also deny Sprint Corporation’s petition for reconsideration of the interim compensation rates set in 2018 (rates that themselves have already saved taxpayers over $350 million). In addition, in the companion Further Notice for Proposed Rulemaking, the Commission for the first time would propose to establish objective standards for assessing and testing the quality of IP CTS service,” Chairman Pai said.

He also plans to seek votes on two items in the agency’s ongoing media regulation modernization initiative—one that would reduce the deadline for providing subscribers with notice of potential channel drops during a cable TV carriage dispute and another that would eliminate the “attributable interest” requirement for cable TV systems’ online public inspection files.

Finally, he plans to seek a vote on an undisclosed enforcement action. The Commission does not reveal the details of enforcement actions until they are adopted. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]; Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

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