FCC’s March Open Meeting Highlights 3.45 GHz Band Auction

The FCC released the agenda for its next Open Meeting, scheduled for March 17, 2021. The March meeting will notably include a Report and Order that would reallocate 100 megahertz of prized mid-band spectrum in the 3.45 GHz band through Auction 110, and propose a band plan for the new 3.45 GHz flexible use wireless service aimed at supporting 5G technologies. The FCC will also consider a Public Notice for Auction 110 that would seek comment on appropriate auction application and bidding procedures. While the FCC is required to start the auction by the end of 2021, the agency expects Auction 110 to begin in October 2021. The 3.45 GHz band items are the product of long-term FCC, NTIA, and DOJ collaboration to open frequencies currently used by federal agencies for shared use by commercial wireless providers. The FCC also teed up a Report and Order that would increase public safety officials’ access to network reliability information by providing direct access to Network Outage Reporting System (“NORS”) and Disaster Information Reporting System (“DIRS”) data. In addition, the FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would propose reforms to the agency’s Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (“WEA”) System to facilitate comprehensive and timely emergency alerts for mobile devices. Lastly, the agency will consider a Notice of Inquiry on the status of open radio access networks (“Open RAN”) that virtualize certain network infrastructure, potentially increasing communications security.

You will find more details about the most significant items on the March meeting agenda after the break.

3.45 GHz Band Plan – The Report and Order would reallocate 100 megahertz of spectrum in the 3450-3550 MHz (3.45 GHz) band for flexible use wireless service and adopt a band plan as well as performance requirements to implement the new 3.45 GHz service. This framework would enable full-power commercial use while including protections for federal incumbents when and where they require access to the band. The FCC is required by statute to start an auction to grant new flexible use licenses in this band by December 31, 2021. The FCC also would propose modifying the licenses of secondary, non-federal radiolocation operations in the 3.45 GHz band to a new 2.9-3.0 GHz band assignment.

3.45 GHz Auction – The Public Notice would propose application and bidding procedures for the new flexible use licenses in the 3.45 GHz band through Auction 110. The FCC expects the auction to begin in early October 2021. Auction 110 would offer up to 100 megahertz of spectrum on an unpaired basis, divided into five 20-megahertz blocks licensed by Partial Economic Area. The Public Notice would seek comment on the proposed auction procedures, with comments due April 14, 2021 and reply comments due April 29, 2021.

Promoting Public Safety Through Information Sharing – The Report and Order would provide direct, read-only access to NORS and DIRS information for state, federal, local, and Tribal partners to increase public safety data sharing while preserving the confidentiality of providers’ network information. Agencies receiving the information would be permitted to share the NORS and DIRS data with agency officials, first responders, and individuals on a need to know basis, and publicly disclose aggregated and anonymized information derived from NORS or DIRS filings. The Report and Order would create an application process to grant agencies access to the information following a certification process to maintain the confidentiality of the information and databases.

Improving EAS and WEA – The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) would implement section 9201 of the National Defense Authorization Act and initiate a proceeding to ensure that mobile devices cannot opt-out of receiving WEA alerts from FEMA. The NPRM also would propose to amend annual reporting requirements for state EAS authorities, enable reporting of false EAS and WEA alerts by the FEMA Administrator as well as state, tribal, and local governments, and require repeating EAS messages when necessary. In an associated Notice of Inquiry, the FCC would seek further comment on delivering and improving EAS messages through Internet platforms, including streaming services.

Promoting Open RAN Networks – The Notice of Inquiry would ask for input on the status of Open RAN and other virtualized network environments. Specifically, the FCC asks for information about the current state of such technologies, what steps are required to deploy and scale Open RAN networks, and how deployment of these Open-RAN-compliant networks could benefit the agency’s policy goals and statutory obligations to increase the security of the nation’s communications networks. The FCC intends for carriers to consider and use the information developed in this proceeding to inform their approaches to next-generation equipment and services.