11/15 FCC Reply Comments on Mid-Band Spectrum Notice of Inquiry on Behalf of Broadband Access Coalition

The Open Technology Institute at New America filed reply comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with Public Knowledge regarding a Notice of Inquiry about the use of mid-band spectrum. In the reply comments, OTI and Public Knowledge urge the FCC to issue a rulemaking to authorize a new, licensed, point-to-multipoint fixed wireless service in the underutilized 3700 - 4200 MHz spectrum band that is currently occupied primarily by fixed satellite services. OTI called for the FCC to put in place a spectrum sharing framework in this band in a petition with the Broadband Access Coalition in June. As part of this push to implement the spectrum sharing framework in the 3700 - 4200 MHz spectrum band, OTI also filed reply comments with the FCC as part of the Broadband Access Coalition regarding its June petition.

A summary of OTI's reply comments with Public Knowledge on the NOI is available below:

OTI & PK urge the Commission to expeditiously issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to authorize the deployment of high-capacity, fixed wireless broadband services (point-to-multipoint) in the 3.7-4.2 GHz Band and a separate NPRM to authorize an unlicensed underlay across the entire 6 GHz band (5925 – 7125 GHz). With respect to the 4 GHz band we make four key points:

First, the Commission should explicitly rescind the antiquated policy that permits registered FSS earth stations to coordinate and reserve – and, thereby, receive interference protection for – “full band, full arc” operations over the entire 500 megahertz of the downlink C-Band, even though any given earth station typically uses only a small portion of the band. The Commission should modify its policy to clarify that earth station registrations provide priority access and interference protection only for the specific frequencies (and orbital slots) on which satellite earth stations are actually operating. The pending Petition for Rulemaking filed by the Broadband Access Coalition (of which OTI & PK are members) anticipates the need for FSS incumbents to switch transponders and frequencies, if needed, and proposes both an automated database coordination mechanism and a band-wide operability requirement for terrestrial equipment certified for use on the band.[1]

Second, we note there is overwhelming support in the record for a NPRM based on the BAC Petition’s proposal to amend and modernize Parts 25 and 101 of the Commission’s Rules to authorize P2MP fixed wireless deployments on locally-vacant spectrum to provide high-capacity broadband service in rural, unserved and underserved areas.[2]  FSS operators would receive full protection from harmful interference for any and all current or future operations. A spectrum sharing policy that immediately enables wide-channel P2MP fixed service on spectrum with mid-band propagation characteristics will make high-capacity broadband in rural and other less densely populated areas feasible much sooner and at far lower costs than relying on wireline deployments.  Access to wide channels of mid-band spectrum available for P2MP deployment will spur private sector investment in advanced broadband networks serving rural and other underserved communities. 

Third, there is strong support for the view that the Commission can immediately authorize the use of Part 101 coordination for P2MP fixed wireless deployments without foreclosing either the concurrent or future use of the band for CMRS deployments.  OTI & PK agree with commenters who support truly flexible use, allowing for a market-demand-driven coordination of actual deployments by fixed and mobile operators on a localized basis. Just as the adjacent CBRS band leverages a combination of database management, a relatively low transmit power limit, and a band-wide operability requirement to facilitate both fixed and mobile deployments, these same techniques can be combined to quickly unleash the fallow spectrum capacity of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for high-capacity fixed wireless (primarily in low-population-density areas) and capacity-enhancing mobile access points (primarily in core urban other high-traffic areas).

Fourth, there is a strong consensus in the record that FSS licensees operating in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band should be required to update the IBFS database as soon as feasible so that the Commission can determine which earth station licenses are still active and ensure their protection from interference. An updating of IBFS will also benefit FSS incumbents by ensuring that unregistered earth stations are protected from harmful interference.

Finally, OTI & PK strongly support the broad consensus in the record that the Commission should expeditiously issue a NPRM to develop service and technical rules that authorize unlicensed broadband operations across the entire 6 GHz band (5925 to 7125 MHz).  The breadth of the 6 GHz industry coalition in support of extending unlicensed access, both indoors and outdoors, from 5925 MHz up to 7125 MHz, is a testament to the critical role that unlicensed technologies – and Wi-Fi in particular – plays in our economy and society more generally. Our groups further recommend that even if a database management mechanism is necessary to ensure the protection of band incumbents from unlicensed operations outdoors, that the Commission bifurcate the NPRM to more quickly authorize the use of Part 15 Wi-Fi and other low-power unlicensed technologies indoors,  which can be safeguarded with an AC power requirement if needed.

A summary of the Broadband Access Coalition's Reply Comments to the petition to implement a spectrum sharing framework in the 3.7 - 4.2 GHz band is available below:

In its Comments, the Coalition urged the Commission to expeditiously issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to authorize the deployment of high-throughput, licensed, point-to-multipoint (“P2MP”) fixed wireless broadband services in the 3700 – 4200 MHz band (the “4 GHz Band”). These P2MP links can facilitate the rapid deployment of much-needed gigabit and near-gigabit fixed broadband service to consumers, businesses and anchor institutions in rural and other underserved areas.

In its Petition for Rulemaking (“Petition”), the Coalition proposed specific and concrete rule changes that would enable the immediate introduction of P2MP broadband service into the 4 GHz Band without disrupting incumbent Fixed-Satellite Service (“FSS”) operations.2 As the Petition explained, implementing P2MP services can be done rapidly and simply, using existing Part 101 frequency coordination procedures. The Petition also explained that the Commission can and should implement rules now for the immediate deployment of P2MP broadband that will not preclude later entry into the 4 GHz Band by mobile services.