Auctioning America’s Wireless Future: Will 5G be Restricted to Big Mobile Carriers?


Spectrum is the fuel for connecting the digital economy. As the tech world gears up for the next generation of wireless – gigabit-fast “5G” – a debate has begun over whether the FCC should facilitate access to spectrum for a wide variety of network solutions, or primarily for the current big mobile carriers.

More than two years ago, a unanimous FCC adopted a breakthrough spectrum sharing order, opening a large band of high-quality spectrum for both licensed and unlicensed sharing with U.S. Navy radar operations at 3.5 GHz.

This new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is premised on unique framework designed to make licensed spectrum affordable for a diverse set of localized users and use cases. The cases include rural and small broadband providers, as well as enterprise wireless networks, machine-to-machine networks, and other innovative uses. Priority Access Licenses (PALs) cover small areas and are re-auctioned after relatively short (3 or 6-year) terms.

The current debate focuses on proposals by the mobile industry to revisit critical elements of the CBRS licensing rules. CTIA proposes redefining PALs to be like traditional cellular licenses – covering multi-county areas and renewing automatically, arguing that small-area and competitive licenses don’t provide sufficient certainty or investment incentive.

A diverse array of other companies and nonprofits – from General Electric to rural co-ops, local internet service providers and New York City – argue this would make the licenses unaffordable to all but the biggest national and regional mobile carriers. OTI’s Wireless Future Project’s filing told the FCC that CTIA’s proposal amounts to a “spectrum industrial policy fashioned to benefit a single business model at the expense of competitors, the economy and the public interest more broadly.”

Please join us for a lively discussion on this topic. You’ll hear why CBRS enables a diverse new cast of wireless players – including G.E., smart city and cable companies – and also a debate about how the FCC can strike the best policy balance for this new shared Citizens Band.

Lunch will be provided. 

Follow the conversation online with #Competitive5G and @OTI


Opening Remarks and Moderator

Michael Calabrese, @MCalabreseNAF
Director, Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute

Panel 1: CBRS Innovators

Michael Fitzpatrick 
Head of Regulatory Advocacy, General Electric Co. 

Jill Canfield 
Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, NTCA–the Rural Broadband Association 

Cris Kimbrough 
Managing Director of In-Building Solutions, CBRE Telecom Advisory Services 

Patrick Leary 
President, Baicells North America, Inc. 

Panel 2: Regulatory Framework

Steve Sharkey
Vice President, Technology and Engineering Policy, T-Mobile

Colleen King 
Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Charter Communications 

Steve Coran, @stevecoran
FCC Counsel, WISPA (Wireless Internet Service Providers Association) 

Preston Marshall 
Principal Systems Architect, Alphabet Access