Don’t Let the FCC Take Away 3.5 GHz Shared Spectrum!

T-Mobile is proposing to eliminate unlicensed use of the spectrum, raising the barrier to entry for businesses seeking to utilize the 3.5 GHz band.

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As discussed in a previous post, T-Mobile USA, Inc. (“T-Mobile”) is petitioning the FCC to gut the core purpose of the current rules governing the 3550-3700 MHz spectrum band (“3.5 GHz” band), which is to lower the barrier of entry of smaller carriers into the wireless 5G business by allowing commercial shared use of 3.5 GHz via licensed and unlicensed allocation.

These rules are intended to pave the way for broadband providers, large and small, to implement new and innovative wireless broadband services.

T-Mobile wants the FCC to license the entire spectrum band and grant other favors to large wireless carriers. If adopted, T-Mobile’s proposal would virtually eliminate unlicensed use of the spectrum (except when they say so), thereby substantially raising the barrier to entry for businesses seeking to utilize the 3.5 GHz band, which is critical to the growth of 5G wireless broadband in the U.S.

The FCC is soliciting public comment on T-Mobile’s Petition.

The initial comment period ended on July 24, 2017. Comments submitted revealed some disturbing trends. While many (mostly small) commenters opposed T-Mobile’s petition, a number of very powerful companies filed in support of some or all of T-Mobile’s proposals. These companies include AT&T, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, Nokia, Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Boingo.

Because these corporations’ voices speak very loudly at the FCC, it is critical that any business that wishes to retain the current rules must file reply comments, opposing the positions of these corporate behemoths.

Moreover, a recent public statement by FCC Commissioner O’Reilly provides a strong indication that he supports T-Mobile’s proposal. This increases the urgency of making your voices heard. Reply comments are due August 8, 2017.

T-Mobile’s Proposed Rule Changes

  • Auction all 150 MHz of the 3.5 GHz band as PALs, restricting unlicensed use of the band “when it is not in use by PAL licensees.”
  • Eliminate the “seven PALs per license area” limitation.
  • Eliminate the three-year, non-renewable PAL term, replacing it with a ten-year license term with renewal expectancy.
  • Exponentially expand PAL license areas by eliminating the small census tract areas and replacing them with the much larger “Partial Economic Areas.”
  • Take away the little remaining unlicensed spectrum by eliminating the rule that (except in rural areas) when there is only one application for a PAL in a license area, no PAL will be assigned; the spectrum will remain accessible solely for shared GAA use.
  • Permit partitioning and disaggregation of PALs so that PA licensees can slice up their licenses any way they choose.

If T-Mobile’s proposals are adopted, the 3.5 GHz band will likely become the sole domain of the largest wireless carriers and equipment manufacturers. It is no surprise that they filed in support of T-Mobile’s petition.

 

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Among other things, if T-Mobile’s proposal is adopted, smaller carriers that intend to bid on PALs will find themselves priced out of the market, while businesses that intend to use the unlicensed 3.5 GHz frequencies will be out of luck. Moreover, since most small cells are carrier-specific, the larger carriers will have a lock on critical parts of the 5G infrastructure.

Accordingly, it is critical that 5G stakeholders speak up in this proceeding. If your voices are not heard, it is quite likely that T-Mobile and the other big carriers will take the spectrum that your businesses were relying upon.

The CommLaw Group does not represent any of the “Big Four” wireless carriers and is therefore not conflicted. We stand prepared to zealously advocate for denial of T-Mobile’s Petition on behalf of competitive providers and other beneficiaries of the current rules.