CommLaw Monitor News and analysis from Kelley Drye’s communications practice group Wed, 03 Jul 2024 01:55:57 -0400 60 hourly 1 The FCC’s Packed September Meeting Agenda Includes Focus on IoT Spectrum and Robocall Prevention Thu, 16 Sep 2021 16:50:28 -0400 The FCC released a full agenda for its next Commission Open Meeting, scheduled for September 30, 2021. The agency will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to improve the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework (“Framework”) and outage reporting. The FCC will next address an Order on Reconsideration to vacate a 2020 order that permits states to lease spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band (designated for public safety use) to third parties for non-public-safety use and a Further NPRM (“FNPRM”) to adopt a nationwide framework for the 4.9 MHz band that would allow for public safety and non-public safety uses. The FCC will also consider adopting a Public Notice that would describe the process for the Office of Engineering and Technology (“OET”) to approve automated frequency coordination (“AFC”) systems, which must be used when performing certain unlicensed operations in the 6 GHz band. Rounding out spectrum issues, the FCC will consider a Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) focused on whether there is adequate spectrum to support the Internet of Things (“IoT”). The FCC will then shift its attention to two FNPRMs regarding robocalls. One FNPRM would propose that voice service providers block autodialed calls to numbers on the Public Safety Answering Points (“PSAP”) Do-Not-Call registry and seek alternative ways to protect PSAPs from robocalls and security threats. The other robocall-related FNPRM would propose that gateway providers take action to prevent robocalls that originate outside of the U.S. on U.S. numbers. Next, the FCC will address another NPRM to clarify that Tribal libraries are eligible to receive support under the E-rate program. The FCC will close its meeting by considering a Second Report and Order that would adopt standard questions to be answered by applicants with reportable foreign ownership that seek the Commission’s approval to obtain or modify certain licenses or to complete transactions involving those licenses.

You will find more information about the items on the September meeting agenda after the break:

Promoting More Resilient Networks - The NPRM would seek comment on various issues related to improving the reliability and resiliency of communications networks during emergencies and natural disasters. The NPRM focuses on whether the Framework (a wireless industry agreement aimed at providing mutual aid during emergencies, ensuring municipal and consumer readiness and communicating about service restoration) can be improved, such as by expanding participation, increasing the scope of participants’ obligations or codifying industry disaster-based coordination obligations. The NPRM would also seek comment on enhancing information provided to the FCC during disasters and network outages through the Network Outage Reporting System and the Disaster Information Reporting System. In addition, the NPRM would ask about communications resilience strategies to mitigate the impact of power outages, including coordination between communications providers and power companies and the use of backup power during disasters.

Reassessing 4.9 GHz Band for Public Safety – The Order on Reconsideration would grant requests by public safety organizations to vacate a 2020 order that permits states to lease spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band (designated for public safety use) to third parties for non-public-safety use. The Order on Reconsideration would also lift a freeze on 4.9 MHz licenses to allow incumbent licensees to modify licenses or seek new permanent fixed sites. The FNPRM would propose to establish a nationwide framework for the 4.9 GHz band to maximize public safety while promoting interoperable communications and interference protection throughout the network. Areas for comment would include how to protect public safety users from harmful interference, the use of the Universal Licensing System or another database to maintain relevant technical data, adoption of consistent technical standards to foster interoperability of equipment using the band and giving public safety uses priority. The NPRM would also seek comment on how to manage the band, incentivize public safety licensees to use the latest commercially available technologies and allow non-public safety use of the band without jeopardizing public safety operations.

Authorizing 6 GHz Band Automated Frequency Coordination Systems - The Public Notice would set forth a process for the OET to authorize AFC systems, which are required to operate standard-power devices in the 6 GHz band. Specifically, unlicensed standard power devices that operate in the 6 GHz band are required to check an AFC system prior to operating to avoid harmful interference to incumbent operations. The Public Notice would explain the approval process for AFC system operators, which would include conditional approval, a public trial period and an opportunity for public comment. The Public Notice would provide detailed information about the content of AFC system proposals and request that such proposals be submitted no later than November 30, 2021 (although proposals will be accepted after that date).

Spectrum Requirements for the Internet of Things - The NOI (which is required to be issued by The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2021 (Pub. L. No. 116-28) (the “Act”)) would seek comment on whether there is sufficient spectrum available for current and future IoT needs. As directed by the Act, the LOI would ask for comment on how to ensure that adequate spectrum is available for the increased demand for the IoT, whether regulatory barriers would prevent accessing any additional needed spectrum and the roles of licensed and unlicensed spectrum for supporting the IoT.

Shielding 911 Call Centers from Robocalls – The FNPRM would propose to update the FCC’s rules governing the PSAP Do-Not-Call registry. Although the FCC adopted rules in 2012 to establish the registry as a means to protect PSAPs from unwanted robocalls, the registry has not been fully implemented due to security concerns associated with releasing PSAP telephone numbers to entities accessing the registry. The FNPRM would propose that voice service providers block autodialed calls to PSAP telephone numbers on the PSAP Do-Not-Call registry, as an alternative to allowing entities claiming to use autodialers to access the registry to identify telephone numbers that may not be called. In addition, the FNPRM would seek comment on whether autodialed calls and text messages continue to disrupt PSAPs’ operations, security risks associated with maintaining a centralized registry of PSAP telephone numbers, ways to address security issues (such as enhanced caller vetting and data security requirements) and alternative means to prevent robocalls to PSAPs (such as by utilizing other technological solutions or leveraging the National Do-Not-Call registry).

Stopping Illegal Robocalls From Entering American Phone Networks - The FNPRM would propose to require gateway providers to assist in the battle against illegal robocalls by applying STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication and other robocall mitigation techniques to calls that originate abroad from U.S. telephone numbers. The FNPRM would also seek comment on several other proposals aimed at mitigating robocalls, including the following requirements that would be applicable to gateway providers: (1) responding to traceback requests within 24 hours; (2) blocking calls upon notification from the Enforcement Bureau that a certain traffic pattern involves illegal robocalling; (3) utilizing reasonable analytics to block calls that are highly likely to be illegal; (4) blocking calls originating from numbers on a do-not-originate list; (5) confirming that a foreign call originator using a U.S. telephone number is authorized to use that number; (6) including robocall mitigation obligations in contracts with foreign customers; and (7) submitting a certification regarding robocall mitigation practices to the Robocall Mitigation Database. In addition, the FNPRM would seek comment on a requirement that service providers block calls from gateway providers identified as bad actors by the FCC and on whether additional information should be collected by the Robocall Mitigation Database. The FNPRM would ask whether there are alternative means to stop illegal foreign-originated robocalls. Finally, while the rulemaking proceeding is pending, the FCC would not enforce the prohibition in Section 63.6305(c) of the FCC’s rules on U.S.-based providers accepting traffic carrying U.S. NANP numbers that is received directly from foreign voice service providers that are not in the Robocall Mitigation Database.

Supporting Broadband for Tribal Libraries Through E-Rate - Pursuant to Section 254(h)(4) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, a library may not receive preferential treatment or rates (such as under the E-rate program) unless it is eligible for assistance from a State library administrative agency under the Library Services and Technology Act (“LSTA”). In 2018, the LSTA was amended to specifically include Tribal libraries as eligible for assistance from a State library administrative agency. The NPRM would propose to amend Sections 54.500 and 54.501(b)(1) of the FCC’s rules to clarify that Tribal libraries are eligible for E-rate support. The NPRM would also seek comment on other measures to enable Tribal schools and libraries to gain access to the E-rate program and ways to increase participation in the E-rate program.

Strengthening Security Review of Companies with Foreign Ownership - The Second Report and Order would adopt standardized national security and law enforcement questions (“Standard Questions”) to be answered by applicants with reportable foreign ownership as part of the Executive Branch review of certain applications filed with the FCC. The issuance of Standard Questions is the FCC’s final step in implementing several reforms to formalize and streamline the FCC and Executive Branch review process consistent with Executive Order No. 13913 (April 20, 2020), which established a Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United State Telecommunications Sector (“Committee” (formerly known as Team Telecom)) and set forth procedures and timelines for the Committee to complete its review. The Second Report and Order would include Standard Questions for the following types of applications when reportable foreign ownership (generally a 5 percent or greater equity and/or voting interest (indirect or direct) in the applicant) is present: (1) applications for a new or modified International Section 214 authorization or submarine cable landing license; (2) applications for assignment or transfer of control of an International Section 214 authorization or a submarine cable landing license; and (3) petitions for a declaratory ruling to permit foreign ownership in a broadcast licensee, common carrier wireless licensee or common carrier earth station licensee that exceeds the benchmarks in Section 310(b) of the Communications Act. There would also be a supplement to each set of questions to provide personally identifiable information for individuals with a reportable ownership interest, non-U.S. individuals with access to the applicant’s facilities, corporate officers and directors, and a law enforcement point of contact.

Spectrum: 2021 Thu, 21 Jan 2021 16:14:34 -0500 Join Partner Chip Yorkgitis and the Wireless Communications Alliance for a look at how the spectral landscape continues to evolve and what to expect in 2021. On January 26 at 7:00 pm EST (4:00 PST), this virtual event will feature deep dives on the key spectral allocations at 3, 6 and 60GHz, review anticipated changes at the FCC, and discuss how 5G is shaping up globally.

Click here to register.

FCC Plans to Open Up 6 GHz Band for Unlicensed Use, Propose $9 Billion Rural Mobility Fund, and Address Orbital Debris at April Meeting Tue, 07 Apr 2020 16:50:00 -0400 As the flurry of coronavirus-related actions continues, the FCC plans to return to “bread and butter” policy areas of spectrum and rural 5G deployment at its next meeting scheduled for April 23, 2020. First, the FCC plans to move forward on its proposal to open up 6 GHz band spectrum (5.925-7.125 GHz) for unlicensed use by smartphones, IoT devices, and other technologies. The FCC would allow standard-power unlicensed operations in certain band segments, subject to controls designed to avoid interference with incumbent microwave, cable, and satellite operators. The FCC also would permit lower-power unlicensed operations across the entire band, but only for indoor uses. Second, the FCC would consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek public input on a “5G Fund” offering up to $9 billion over ten years through an auction to support deployment of wireless broadband and voice services in rural and other hard-to-serve areas. The 5G Fund would represent the wireless counterpart to the wireline-focused Rural Digital Opportunity Fund adopted earlier this year and replace Phase II of the Mobility Fund, which the FCC mothballed after questions arose about reported coverage data. Finally, the FCC would update its orbital debris mitigation requirements to mandate additional disclosures and incorporate new inter-agency standards.

Running the gamut from rural networks to outer space, the FCC’s April agenda will impact service providers across the industry. Consequently, stakeholders should closely examine the deployment and funding opportunities presented in the FCC’s proposals. You will find more information on the key April meeting items after the break:

Unlicensed Use of 6 GHz Band: The draft Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would authorize two types of unlicensed operations in the 6 GHz band. First, the FCC would permit unlicensed operations in the 5.925-6.425 GHz and 6.525-6.875 GHz sub-bands at standard power levels used in nearby bands (i.e., 23 dBm/MHz), provided such operations use an automated frequency control (AFC) system. The AFC would determine the frequencies available for use without causing harmful interference to incumbent operators and make only those frequencies available for unlicensed operations. Second, the FCC would permit unlicensed operations across the entire 1,200 megahertz of the 6 GHz band at a lower power (i.e., 5 dBm/MHz) without an AFC system, but restrict such operations to indoor uses. The FCC would seek comment on allowing a higher power level (i.e., up to 8 dBm/MHz) for indoor unlicensed operations. The agency also plans to ask whether it should permit very low power unlicensed operations without an AFC system both indoors and outdoors and, if so, what that power level should be.

5G Fund: The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order would seek comment on establishing a 5G Fund to provide up to $9 billon to support the deployment of 5G mobile broadband and voice networks in rural and other hard-to-serve areas over ten years. The 5G Fund would support deployments in areas left uncovered by the recently-approved T-Mobile/Sprint merger, which included a commitment to serve 90% of rural Americans within six years. Under the FCC’s proposal, funding would be awarded through competitive bidding in two phases. Phase I would provide up to $8 billion in support, including $680 million in funding reserved for deployments on Tribal lands. The FCC would request input on two options for the Phase I timeframe. Under the first option, the FCC would initiate Phase I in 2021 using existing wireless deployment data to determine eligible areas and prioritize support for areas historically lacking 4G LTE (or even 3G) service. Under the second option, the FCC would hold off on Phase I until at least 2023 in order to use more granular deployment data developed through its upcoming Digital Opportunity Data Collection. Phase II would take place after the completion of Phase I, targeting especially hard-to-serve areas and reserving at least $1 billion to support networks used for precision agriculture. In addition, the FCC would seek comment on 5G Fund auction procedures as well as the appropriate eligibility, application, and performance requirements for auction participants.

Orbital Debris Mitigation: The draft Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would mark the FCC’s first major update to its orbital debris mitigation requirements in over 15 years and incorporate a number of recommendations developed by the agency with NASA, the Defense Department, and other federal agencies. The FCC would require all satellites to be able to perform collision avoidance maneuvers any time they are in orbit above the International Space Station (approximately 400 kilometers altitude). The FCC also would update its disclosure requirements to include new information related to satellite collision risk, protecting inhabitable spacecraft, maneuverability, and how operators plan to share information related to space situational awareness. In addition, the FCC would codify requirements for geostationary-orbit satellite license extensions and limit such extensions to five years. The FCC further plans to ask whether it should impose a bond requirement for geostationary and non-geostationary space stations contingent on successful post-mission station disposal.

FCC’s October Meeting Has No Spectrum Item or Particular Theme Thu, 10 Oct 2019 17:33:25 -0400 Last week, the FCC announced its tentative agenda for its upcoming October 25, 2019 open meeting and released drafts of the items on which the commissioners will vote. There is a notable lack of a spectrum item on the agenda, as Chairman Pai does not appear ready yet to address the pending mid-band spectrum proceedings (including C-Band and 6 GHz). In addition, while the items will address themes that have been consistent throughout Ajit Pai’s chairmanship, like bridging the digital divide and removing unnecessary regulatory burdens, there does not appear to be a particular common theme among the items on the agenda. We have not been able to come up with a way to weave a Halloween theme into the agenda either, but at least the Chairman’s blog did take time out to wish the Nationals good luck in their series with the Dodgers. Those well wishes appear to have paid off!

You will find more details on some of the most significant October meeting items after the break:

Measuring CAF Recipients’ Broadband Performance: The draft Order on Reconsideration would modify the uniform testing methodologies for all carriers receiving Connect America Fund (“CAF”) support to use for speed and latency testing established by the Wireline Competition Bureau, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology last year, and provide flexibility based on carrier sizes, networks and technical abilities. The modifications would, for example, align testing dates more closely with build-out obligations and establish a pre-testing period so that carriers can address any issues without penalty before formal testing and reporting begins.

911 Fee Parity: The draft Declaratory Ruling responds to a primary jurisdiction referral from a dispute between 911 districts in Alabama and BellSouth and other telecommunications carriers. The federal NET 911 Act prohibits states from discriminating against interconnected VoIP services by assessing a higher 911 fee than is assessed on traditional telecommunications services. Under Alabama law, local telephone services were assessed per “line” to the network while VoIP services were assessed per telephone number (not per line). The Declaratory Ruling is intended to ensure parity between VoIP services and traditional telecommunications services by clarifying that the NET 911 Act provision applies to the total amount of 911 fees that a subscriber pays for the same 911 outbound calling capability. Thus, even if the per-unit assessment is the same, the state may not impose a larger total fee on VoIP providers.

Tariff Rules Modernization: The draft Report and Order would adopt two uncontroversial changes to the FCC's tariff filing requirements that were the subject of a 2018 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Interim Waiver Order released nearly a year ago. Specifically, the Order would allow carriers to cross-reference their tariffs and those of their affiliates, and would remove the requirement that certain carriers file short form tariff review plans 90 days before their annual interstate access charge tariff filings are effective. The requirements have become outdated now that tariffs are submitted and reviewed electronically, and annual access charge filings have diminished in complexity.

FCC Aims to Open up 6 GHz Band for Unlicensed Use While Protecting Incumbents through Automated Sharing Features and Other Restrictions Mon, 15 Oct 2018 16:19:00 -0400 Responding to demands by high tech companies for more so-called “mid-band” unlicensed spectrum to augment that already made available in the 5 GHz Band, which accommodates Wi-Fi, Internet of Things (“IoT”), and other Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) applications as well as Licensed Assisted Access and LTE-Unlicensed solutions, the FCC will vote on a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) at its October 26 Open Meeting to make up to 1200 megahertz of nearby spectrum available for similar purposes. The draft leaves no doubt that, to make the 5.925-7.125 GHz band (the “6 GHz Band”) available for unlicensed use, sophisticated sharing mechanisms will need to be in place. Various parts of this frequency range are already used by fixed, mobile, and satellite services, and the draft item commits to protecting these incumbents and allowing these services to grow while at the same time opening the band to increased numbers of unlicensed devices. To achieve this, the Commission is considering drawing upon its experience with white spaces and the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (at 3550-3750 MHz), and would seek comment on numerous subjects before adopting rules. The draft item would be a stepping stone to enabling unlicensed devices to operate with wider bandwidths and higher data rates, which the Commission hopes would set off a new wave of innovation in consumer devices complementing its recent moves to spur the rollout of next-generation 5G networks. The NPRM, when adopted, will be sure to generate a wave of comments from both equipment manufacturers and broadband providers hungry for more spectrum as well as incumbent public safety organizations, utilities, satellite companies, and various other fixed and mobile services licensees seeking to protect and hoping to expand their existing operations in the 6 GHz Band, particularly as relocation options for other similar spectrum are increasingly scarce.

Currently, the Commission’s unlicensed rules permit operations in the 6 GHz Band for wideband systems (e.g., sensor/tag systems used to locate objects) and ultra-wideband operations. In general, the draft NPRM would allow other unlicensed devices to be introduced to the 6 GHz Band by splitting the spectrum into four sub-bands that pair technical and operational parameters with certain 5 GHz U-NII sub-bands, while incorporating features designed to protect incumbent licensees in those sub-bands. The Commission hopes that by mirroring the operational and technical parameters that already exist for unlicensed devices in the 5 GHz Band, it will “create an enhanced ecosystem of unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band and the nearby U-NII bands” (which are spread over 580 megahertz within the 5150-5850 MHz range).

5.925-6.425 and 6.525-6.875 GHz: Automated Frequency Control

Unlicensed devices using the 5.925-6.425 GHz and 6.525-6.875 GHz sub-bands would be able to operate both outdoors and indoors at power levels permitted for unlicensed use in the U-NII-1 and U-NII-3 sub-bands (5150-5250 and 5725-5850 MHz, respectively). But the NPRM envisions that unlicensed devices in the 6 GHz sub-bands labeled U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 by the draft item would only be allowed to transmit if an automated frequency control (“AFC”) system determines that such transmissions are permitted, so as to avoid harmful interference to licensed operations. The AFC system, or systems, would communicate with an unlicensed device that acts as a “standard-power access point,” which, in addition to operating itself, would control operational permissions for client devices as well as devices accessing a wireless router in the home or an access point at a public location.

The draft item notes that the U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 sub-bands are home to point-to-point microwave links that support public safety, railroad, oil and gas pipeline, utilities, and wireless and wireline communications service, as well as some fixed satellite services. As the fixed service incumbents are at known, fixed locations, the FCC believes the AFC system could be a “simple database” which is automatically queried to determine which frequencies are available for an unlicensed device to use at a given location and time. The FCC seeks comment on numerous aspects of possible approaches to the AFC system concept, thereby highlighting the many technical and other issues that will need to be resolved. These include what are the basic eligibility requirements to be an AFC system operator; whether there should be more than one AFC system; whether the FCC’s ULS system is or can be made sufficiently reliable as the basis for AFC system operation and determination of available frequencies; whether and how AFC systems (assuming there are more than one) will need to exchange data; whether the AFC system(s) should be centralized or de-centralized; whether unlicensed devices will need to register with the AFC system(s) and will need to identify themselves to incumbents; how the location and height of an unlicensed 6 GHz Band device will be determined before frequencies are selected; what security needs to be in place to ensure proper operation of the AFC system(s); whether 6 GHz Band unlicensed devices might cause aggregate harmful interference to satellite space station receivers and, if so, how to mitigate that interference; how often unlicensed devices would need to check the AFC system to confirm the availability of the frequencies they are using; and whether and how AFC system operators can charge access fees. The FCC also requests input on the nature of and metrics for the appropriate interference standard to protect incumbent licensees, ensuring that unlicensed devices in the U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 sub-bands cannot operate co-channel to any fixed link within that link’s defined exclusion zone. In this area, the Commission faces a number of “real-world” challenges, such as properly allowing for multipath fading when an AFC system determines that a frequency is available, with the goal of maximizing spectrum utilization by licensed and unlicensed devices.

6.425-6.525 and 6.875-7.125 GHz: Low-Power, Indoor Operation

Meanwhile, unlicensed devices using the 6.425-6.525 GHz and 6.875-7.125 GHz sub-bands, which the NPRM terms the U-NII-6 and U-NII-8 sub-bands, respectively, would only be allowed to transmit indoors and at lower power levels than in the U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 sub-bands (equal to the same, more restricted, power levels already applicable to the 5 GHz U-NII-2 bands (i.e., 5250-5350 and 5470-5725 MHz)). However, as the draft NPRM would propose, unlicensed operations in the U-NII-6 and U-NII-8 sub-bands, by “low-power access points” and client devices, would not be subject to AFC system coordination before operation. The draft NPRM states that this sub-band is primarily used for mobile such as Broadcast Auxiliary Service television pick up stations (i.e., electronic news gathering and wireless video links), mobile and fixed Cable Television Relay Service links, several varieties of fixed television-service-related links which operate on a more restricted basis, licensed wireless microphone operations, and a limited number of satellite services. The itinerant operations of the foregoing mobile services make the use of an AFC system infeasible. The FCC inquires how indoor use effectively can be assured, asking, for example, whether it should adopt specific equipment restrictions to ensure indoor operations (e.g., requiring devices to have a direct connection to a power outlet) and how to address potential interference complaints.

Interference Mitigation

The FCC’s draft item proposes a number of interference mitigation measures and potential limitations on unlicensed device use, indicating an openness to outside recommendations on how to best strike the balance between unlicensed and licensed use of the band. For example, would AFC system(s) permit operations on certain frequencies but at lower powers, whereas operation would be precluded if the unlicensed device’s maximum power were used to determine available frequencies? In addition, the NPRM would propose client devices be allowed to connect with both standard-power access points and low-power access points, and be permitted to operate across the entire band which should encourage the widespread availability of client devices. Similarly, to promote widespread adoption, the draft NPRM would also inquire whether there are ways to allow higher power and even outdoor operations in the U-NII-6 and U-NII-8 sub-bands without causing interference to mobile operations. Conversely, the Commission intends to ask whether non-AFC system operations by low-power access points should be permitted in the U-NII-5 and U-NII-7 sub-bands. Finally, the NPRM would propose to preclude operation of standard-power and low-power access points in moving vehicles, cars, trains, or aircraft (and implicitly raises the question whether sufficient spectrum is available for unlicensed operations in moving vehicles, in addition to certain 60 GHz unlicensed operations on aircraft pursuant to Commission decisions in the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding). The adoption of the NPRM would provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to weigh on the future use of the 6 GHz Band.

Spectrum Takes Center Stage Again at FCC October Meeting Fri, 05 Oct 2018 21:27:26 -0400 At last week’s 5G summit at the White House, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology (“5G FAST Plan”). The first of the three components of the Chairman’s announced strategy is making more spectrum available for 5G services by expanding licensed and unlicensed opportunities. To those ends, the FCC announced this week that the Commissioners will vote at its next meeting on October 23, 2018, on three items that would launch a proceeding to consider more unlicensed operations, make rule changes designed to increase the value of mid-band spectrum, and expand channels for land mobile radios primarily used by government agencies and businesses. Specifically, the FCC proposes allowing unlicensed devices to operate in the 5.925-7.125 GHz band (the “6 GHz Band”) to support next-generation unlicensed technologies, including Wi-Fi. The agency also anticipates recrafting the licensing rules related to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3.550-3.700 GHz band (the “3.5 GHz Band”), with an emphasis on the Priority Access Licenses (“PALs”) it will auction. In addition, the FCC expects to increase, through various methods, the number of channels available for private land mobile radio (“PLMR”) operations in the 806-824 MHz and 851-869 MHz bands (the “the 800 MHz Band”).

Rounding out the major actions that will be voted on later this month at the Open Meeting, the FCC released a draft item that would offer regulatory relief to rate-of-return carriers providing Business Data Services (“BDS”). The proposed items are sure to impact every sector of the communications industry, from the largest wireless carriers to the smallest broadband providers and device manufacturers to business, industrial, and public safety radio users, while potentially transforming large-scale data transport services.

Enabling Unlicensed Use of the 6 GHz Band: The FCC has long been pressed to expand unlicensed use of the 6 GHz Band. It now seems poised to commence a rulemaking to consider just that, while ensuring incumbent licensees are protected. The draft proposed rulemaking would allow unlicensed devices to operate in the 6 GHz Band, subject to certain restrictions that vary depending on the specific frequencies used. The FCC proposes that devices using the 5.925-6.425 GHz and 6.525-6.875 GHz sub-bands would only be allowed to transmit if an automated frequency control (“AFC”) system determines that such use will not cause harmful interference. The FCC noted that these sub-bands currently are occupied by licensees operating point-to-point microwave links and some satellite systems. Meanwhile, devices using the 6.425-6.525 GHz and 6.875-7.125 GHz sub-bands would only be allowed to operate indoors and at lower power levels, but use of these frequencies would not depend on an AFC system. The FCC asserted that these sub-bands are used for mobile and satellite services whose itinerant operations make the use of an AFC system impracticable, while the proposed operating restrictions would seem to offer sufficient protection to incumbents.

Reforming the 3.5 GHz Band Rules: Major wireless carriers have peppered the FCC for almost two years with proposed changes to the geographic license areas for PALs, favoring auctions over larger geographic areas, with longer license periods and expectations of renewal. Smaller providers have supported retaining the smaller census tract licenses adopted in the original PAL framework several years ago. The FCC draft order contains a compromise approach that would issue PALs across the country at the county level. The FCC also would increase the license term for PALs from three years to ten years and make PALs renewable in order to foster long-term investment. Moreover, the FCC would seek to promote greater spectrum utilization through the enhancement of secondary markets in PALs by permitting partitioning and disaggregation of the licenses.

Expanding PLMR Operations in the 800 MHz Band: The FCC has worked for years to increase the efficiency of PLMR operations in the 800 MHz Band. A draft order would, among other things, add 318 new “interstitial” PLMR channels in the 800 MHz Band and terminate a freeze put in place in 1995 that prevented PLMR licensees from gaining access to other license category pool frequencies the 800 MHz Band without a waiver. The FCC also would extend conditional licensing authority above 470 MHz to PLMR stations that operate in the 800 MHz Band and the 700 MHz narrowband, allowing entities to operate for up to 180 days while their applications remain pending. In addition, other changes included in the draft include making new channels available in the 450-470 MHz band for industrial/business radio use in gaps located between PLMR spectrum and other services.

Restructuring Rate-of-Return BDS: The FCC took action in 2017 to deregulate most BDS, which provide dedicated point-to-point transmissions at guaranteed speeds over high-capacity data connections for major businesses, governments, and other large institutions. Under the draft order and proposed rulemaking, certain small rural carriers would be allowed to move from longstanding rate-of-return regulation to “incentive” price cap regulation for some of their BDS offerings. Critically, the FCC would not require these carriers to comply with tariffing, cost assignment, and jurisdictional separations requirements. The draft item would also seek comment on the appropriate regulatory treatment for these carriers’ other transport services, including the need for price controls.