By J. Bradford Currier
Under its recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry, the Federal Communications Commission seeks to increase the supply of spectrum for mobile broadband use by permitting flexible use of 40 MHz of spectrum located in the 2 GHz Band currently licensed for Mobile Satellite Service. Specifically, the proposed rules would allow terrestrial mobile broadband service in what the FCC termed the “AWS-4 Spectrum,” located at 2000-2020 MHz and 2180-2200 MHz. The NPRM/NOI covers four key areas:
(1) AWS-4 Spectrum Band Plan
The FCC would license AWS-4 Spectrum in paired 10 MHz blocks for a 10-year term and would allow a licensee holding two contiguous blocks of AWS-4 Spectrum to combine these authorizations into a single licensed block. The FCC seeks comment on whether the AWS-4 Spectrum band should be shifted up 5 MHz to 2005-2025 MHz or up 10 MHz and compressed to 2010-2025 MHz. Additionally, the NPRM asks for industry input regarding its licensing scheme and whether the FCC should separately license a service area to cover the Gulf of Mexico, which poses special interference challenges.
In the NOI, the FCC seeks comment on an alternative band plan proposed by NTIA, which would create two new blocks of spectrum: (1) PCS-Extension Block and (2) AWS-Extension Block. The PCS-Extension Block would cover 35 MHz consisting of existing MSS downlink spectrum located at 2180-2200 MHz and spectrum located at 1695-1710 MHz. The AWS-Extension Block would encompass 30 MHz consisting of existing MSS uplink spectrum located at 2000-2020 MHz, combined with spectrum located at 2020-2025 MHz and 1995-2000 MHz. The alternative band proposal would require the relocation of existing licensees and may require incentive auctions.
(2) Licensing Conditions and Obligations
The NPRM imposes no eligibility restrictions on AWS-4 Spectrum licensees. The proposed rules would license the AWS-4 Spectrum under Part 27’s flexible use rules, allowing the licensee to use the spectrum for any terrestrial use permitted by current frequency allocation regulations. Applicants for AWS-4 Spectrum licenses would not be required to choose between providing common carrier and non-common carrier services. Future licensees would be able to lease AWS-4 Spectrum under the secondary market transaction rules first established by the FCC in 2003. The NPRM seeks comment on whether licensees should be permitted to enter into de facto transfer lease arrangements or whether licensees should be limited to spectrum manager lease arrangements.
AWS-4 Spectrum licensees would be subject to certain performance and construction requirements. First, within three years an AWS-4 licensee must provide signal coverage and offer service to at least 30% of their total AWS-4 population. Second, within seven years the licensee must provide coverage and offer service to at least 70% of the population in each of its license authorization areas. If the licensee fails to meet these obligations, then it may lose its AWS-4 Spectrum licenses. The NPRM seeks comment on these requirements, penalties, and appropriate means for assessing compliance.
(3) Relocation and Cost Sharing
The NPRM establishes relocation and cost-sharing obligations on AWS-4 Spectrum licensees. New entrants would be allowed to relocate incumbent licensees and recoup a portion of these relocation costs from later entrants. The FCC proposed a sunset date for new entrants’ relocation obligations at 10 years after the issuance of the first AWS-4 Spectrum license. The cost-sharing plan would be administered by a clearinghouse, which would resolve relocation disputes and assess the amount of relocation costs recoverable by a new entrant in the AWS-4 Spectrum. The NPRM seeks comment on whether the AWS-4 Spectrum relocation and cost-sharing rules should differ from previous AWS proceedings and whether the proposed sunset date poses certain risks to entrants or incumbents.
(4) Interference and Other Technical Issues
The NPRM suggested numerous technical rules designed to prevent interference to other licensees from AWS-4 Spectrum users. The proposed regulations would impose emission limits on AWS-4 Spectrum licensees and require licensees to protect incumbent MSS licensees from harmful interference. The proposed rules would also impose: (1) base station and mobile station power limits; (2) antenna height restrictions; (3) signal strength restrictions; and (4) international coordination requirements on terrestrial operations. The FCC seeks comment on the proposed interference mitigation measures and industry input regarding whether the FCC should impose special interference rules protecting GPS services.
Once the NPRM/NOI is published in the Federal Register, parties will have 30 days to comment.