8/22 FCC Reply Comments on Petition for Rulemaking Calling For Expanding Shared Access in the 3700-4200 MHz Band

New America's Open Technology Institute filed reply comments with fellow Broadband Access Coalition members Mimosa Networks and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association to the Federal Communications Commission regarding its earlier petition that proposed a new, licensed, point-to-multipoint (P2MP) fixed wireless service in the underutilized 3700-4200 MHz band used primarily by fixed satellite services (FSS). Open and shared access to this high-quality spectrum can narrow the high-capacity broadband gap in rural and other low-density areas, while also providing needed competition to lower prices in the majority of areas nationwide where consumers have only one choice for high-speed broadband service.

The reply comments include opposition to a request from some mobile wireless interests to consolidate consideration of the petition into a separate FCC Notice of Inquiry into mid-band spectrum. The comments also counter arguments that the petition will foreclose mobile use, and the Coalition also rebutted arguments from FSS that P2MP services cannot share the bands of spectrum without materially interfering with incumbent FSS operators. Below is a summary of the reply comments. 

Summary:

The Coalition’s Petition proposes to amend and modernize Parts 25 and 101 of the Commission’s Rules to enable deployment of high-throughput licensed point-to-multipoint (“P2MP”) fixed wireless broadband services in the 3700 – 4200 MHz band in a spectrally efficient manner, while protecting Fixed-Satellite Service (“FSS”) and Fixed Service (“FS”) incumbents from harmful interference through frequency coordination. The vast majority of the hundreds of Comments filed enthusiastically support the Petition, recognizing that the availability of a significant amount of mid-band spectrum can help satisfy the urgent need to make better broadband available to more American consumers. Initiating a rulemaking proceeding that proposes to adopt the proposals set forth in the Petition will begin the process of making much-needed spectrum available to facilitate the rapid deployment of gigabit and near- gigabit fixed broadband service to rural and other underserved areas. By acting expeditiously to adopt a notice of proposed rulemaking, and consistent with Section 7 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the “Act”), the Commission will be serving these important public interest objectives.

The Coalition vigorously opposes the request of mobile wireless interests to consolidate consideration of the Petition into the Mid-Band NOI. The Petition proposes specific and concrete rule changes that would enable the rapid and simple introduction of P2MP services using existing Part 101 frequency coordination procedures. Consolidating the proceedings would likely result in extensive delay in making an underutilized spectrum resource available, and thus further delay the provision of high-throughput broadband services that are so urgently needed in unserved and underserved areas.

The mobile wireless interests mischaracterize the Petition – it will not, as they claim, foreclose mobile use. The Commission can implement rules for P2MP now that will ensure that later entry by mobile services is not precluded. The future possibility of using portions of the 3700 – 4200 MHz band for sharing among fixed and mobile services should not, in any way, be allowed to delay immediate allocation and use of the band for P2MP services as described in the Petition, action that can yield immediate and tangible public interest benefits without foreclosing future mobile use of the band. Further, the 3700 – 4200 MHz band is not now, and will not for many years, be suitable for mobile use given the existing deployment of FSS earth stations and FS point-to-point links.

Contrary to CTIA’s assertions, implementing the Coalition’s proposal does not require an auction under Section 309(j)(1) of the Act. The Commission is required to use the auction process to award licenses for “mutually exclusive” applications. But under the rules proposed in the Petition, licensing through frequency coordination means there will be no mutually exclusive applications. The frequency coordination process under Part 101 of the Commission’s Rules is designed to avoid the occurrence of mutually exclusive applications by requiring potential applicants to successfully complete the frequency coordination process before they file a license application.

FSS operators also oppose the Petition, arguing that the 3700 – 4200 MHz band is already used efficiently, and that P2MP services cannot share the band without materially impacting incumbent FSS operations. Both of these arguments are flawed. First, the antiquated “full-band, full-arc” licensing policy results in severe underutilization of the band. Under the Coalition’s proposals, FSS operators would receive full protection from harmful interference from terrestrial operators for any and all current operations. Second, given the current demands on spectrum, it is bad public policy to reserve over 450 MHz of prime mid-band spectrum in the unlikely event of a satellite or transponder outage. Such outages can be accommodated within the scope of the Coalition’s proposals without the need for “full-band, full-arc” protection.