8/8 FCC Reply Comments Opposing Petitions to Change the Citizens Broadband Radio Service Licensing Rules

Regulatory/Legislative Filings
Aug. 8, 2017

New America's Wireless Future Program and Public Knowledge filed comments urging the FCC to reject calls from CTIA and T-Mobile to make changes to the licensing rules under the Citizens Broadband Radio Service.

Executive Summary:

The record in this proceeding overwhelmingly demonstrates that the Commission should not proceed to a rulemaking and should summarily reject the changes to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) licensing rules and three-tier framework proposed by Petitioners CTIA and T-Mobile, respectively. At least 9 out of every 10 commenters oppose the radical changes to the Priority Access License (PAL) rules proposed by CTIA and T-Mobile. While opposition to license areas as large as Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), 10-year terms and non-competitive renewal with no build-out requirement spans many industry sectors – from rural and small wireless ISPs, to enterprise wireless, content providers, Internet companies and consumer advocates – support for CTIA’s proposed changes to PALs is, not surprisingly, limited to the largest mobile carriers, their largest suppliers (e.g., Qualcomm, Ericsson, Nokia), and the trade associations they dominate (e.g., Telecom Industry Association 5G Americas). Other stakeholders across the wireless and Internet ecosystem recognize the Petitions for what they are: A proposed spectrum industrial policy fashioned to benefit a single business model at the expense of competitors, the economy and the public interest more broadly.

Even more notable is the lack of any record support at all for T-Mobile’s proposal to eliminate the allocation for General Authorized Access (GAA) and to auction the entire 150 megahertz for exclusive licensing under the preclusive PEA and permanent licensing scheme proposed by both T-Mobile and CTIA. Conspicuous in their silence, not even other CTIA members, or T-Mobile’s major suppliers and trade associations, could bring themselves to support the company’s self-serving and disruptive proposal to upend the innovate three-tier access scheme at the heart of CBRS.

An overwhelming share of the comments filed agree with OTI and Public Knowledge that the particular PAL changes proposed by CTIA and T-Mobile should be rejected because they urge the Commission to refashion the rules for the exclusive benefit of one type of provider (a handful of wide-area cellular providers) to the detriment of thousands of other users and use cases, some of which would compete directly with CTIA’s members. CTIA and T-Mobile propose to fundamentally redefine PALs to tightly fit the mobile carrier business model and, thereby, to foreclose potential competitors to, or substitutes for, the offerings of the largest mobile carriers.

The record shows strong support for the reality that license areas as large as PEAs or counties are not necessary to stimulate investment in mid-band spectrum and could easily lead to both a narrowing and a net reduction in overall investment and use of the band.  The CBRS band was intended to provide complementary licensed and unlicensed spectrum, primarily on a small cell basis, for a diverse range of users and use cases. The CBRS concept of making spectrum available on a “localized” and “targeted” basis is user- and industry-neutral.  Under the current rules, mobile carriers are free to aggregate contiguous census tracts, but smaller operators and localized use cases are not hostage to unproven secondary markets transactions with significant transaction costs that depend entirely on whether the big mobile carriers ultimately find it is in their self-interest to support an active secondary market for competitors.

Localized and third-party users and use cases – including rural WISPs, “neutral host” LTE networks, factories customizing machine-to-machine networks, utilities, airports, shopping malls, and sporting arenas – may or may not have the same capabilities as a mobile carrier “5G” offering from the user’s perspective. That is a judgment the Commission should leave to the marketplace – as the CBRS Order wisely did – rather than adopt an industrial policy fashioned by an incumbent industry segment to foreclose diversity, innovation and choice concerning America’s wireless future.