Wireless Future Project Statement On the FCC’s Irrational CBRS Proposal

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Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to undo the light-touch Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) rules that were adopted through a unanimous, 5-0 vote in 2015. The CBRS rules were the culmination of a years-long process that received multiple unanimous FCC votes.  

By making license areas very small and subject to competition for renewal, the current CRBS licensing framework gives a diverse range of users and uses direct access to spectrum for localized networks that meet their needs. This empowers companies—including small and rural wireless internet service providers, critical infrastructure makers (e.g., General Electric), the hospitality industry, office buildings, public institutions and other venues—to directly access spectrum for localized and customized networks, including the emerging Internet of Things.

Consumer advocates, rural broadband providers, and industries increasingly reliant on wireless data connectivity fear that rewriting the rules will result in a marketplace where only the largest mobile carriers are able to afford the licenses, foreclosing competitors and localized uses. Changing the rules would significantly impede the investment and innovation that has already been started in the space. As Commissioner Rosenworcel noted in her statement, more than 200 experimental authorizations have already been granted, and protocols regarding operations, interoperability, security and device testing have already begun. Product certification programs have also begun.

The following quote can be attributed to Michael Calabrese, Director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute:

"Consumer advocates and rural broadband providers are concerned the FCC will rewrite the rules to make licenses affordable for only the largest mobile carriers and thereby deny spectrum access to thousands of other companies. America's future 5G ecosystem will be less robust and competitive if the FCC rigs the auction to benefit a single big carrier business model.

OTI applauds Commissioner Clyburn for convincing her GOP colleagues not to pre-judge whether licensing areas should remain small or so large that they are only affordable for the largest mobile carriers. OTI also agrees with Commissioner Rosenworcel that the FCC’s current, innovative rules are a policy that will create a far more robust and globally competitive 5G ecosystem, just as Wi-Fi has enriched America’s current 4G ecosystem.”

OTI’s Wireless Future Project hosted an event in September where representatives from industries including critical infrastructure (G.E.), technology (Google), hospitality, property management (CBRE), and rural internet service providers (WISPA, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association) discussed the importance of the current, small-area licensing framework to their current and near-future business plans to improve connectivity in targeted areas.

The Wireless Future Project filed initial comments and reply comments with the FCC outlining why the mobile industry’s petition to reopen and undermine the CBRS rules were irrational and undermined the public interest and innovation currently ongoing. We urge the Commission to change course and abandon this ill-conceived proposal.