FCC Proposes Licensing New Wireless Spectrum for Flexible Use

By J. Bradford Currier and Marc Martin

The spectrum band used for mobile wireless service would be extended by 10 MHz under a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking recently released by the Federal Communications Commission. Under the proposal, the FCC would license the so-called “H Block” spectrum for flexible use through a system of competitive bidding expected to occur in 2013. The licensing of the H Block was a requirement of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and the proceeds from the H Block auction will be used to support the buildout of a nationwide interoperable public safety network and reduce the national deficit. The FCC stated that its proposal is necessary to meet the growing demand for wireless broadband and follows other recent FCC efforts to make more wireless spectrum available.

Under the proposal, the FCC would license H Block spectrum for use in exclusive geographic areas. H Block licensees would be required to provide signal coverage and offer service to: (1) at least 40% of the population in each licensed area within four years and (2) at least 70% of the population in each licensed area at the end of a 10-year license term. New licensees would be required to reimburse a portion of the costs incurred in prior efforts to clear incumbents from the H Block and may disaggregate, partition, and lease their spectrum, subject to the FCC’s rules. Mobile and low-powered fixed transmissions would be authorized in the lower H Block spectrum, with base and fixed transmissions permitted in the upper H Block spectrum.

The FCC seeks comment on the above proposals as well as the appropriate interference mitigation techniques to ensure that the lower H Block spectrum does not cause interference to existing adjacent wireless operations. The FCC asserted that the power and emission limitations offered in its proposal would be sufficient to ensure that new and existing licensees can operate harmoniously but reserved the right to allocate the lower H Block spectrum to unlicensed use should interference issues become unmanageable. 

Comments on the proposal are due by February 6, 2012, with reply comments due by March 6, 2013.

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