CommLaw Monitor News and analysis from Kelley Drye’s communications practice group Wed, 03 Jul 2024 05:21:18 -0400 60 hourly 1 Looking to the Skies: The FCC Seeks Additional Information on Potential Stratospheric-Based Communications Platforms and Services Sun, 07 Nov 2021 19:11:27 -0500 On November 2, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC’s) Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“Bureau”) published a public notice in the Federal Register focused on asking whether the 71-76 GHz, 81-86 GHz, 92-94 GHz, and the 94.1-95 GHz bands (“70/80/90 GHz Bands”) could be used “to provide broadband Internet access to consumers and communities that may otherwise lack robust, consistent connectivity.” The Commission is particularly interested whether stratospheric-based platforms, such as High Altitude Platform Stations (“HAPS”), which operate above twenty kilometers (approximately 65,000 feet), could be deployed for this purpose in the 70/80/90 GHz Bands. Comments are due by December 2, 2021, and replies by January 3, 2022.

The 70/80/90 GHz Bands are allocated on a co-primary basis for Federal and non-Federal use, for terrestrial, satellite, radio astronomy and radiolocation uses. For nearly twenty years, there has been a non-exclusive “light” licensing and registration scheme in the 70/80/90 GHz Bands for high-capacity, ground-based point-to-point links that can be used for any non-broadcast purpose. In a June 2020 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in WT Docket No. 20133, the Commission launched consideration of changes to the 70/80/90 GHz antenna standards and the link registration processes which proponents believed would increase the utility of the bands. But the record also affirmed that other stakeholders envisioned additional uses of the bands, which they claimed would be compatible with the ground-based point-to-point links such as using the 70/80/90 GHz Bands for point-to-point links to endpoints in motion to facilitate broadband service to ships and aircraft or for high-capacity links between points on the ground using stratospheric platforms.

Now, a year later, the Bureau is particularly “interested in the feasibility of permitting HAPS or other stratospheric-based platform services in these bands” and whether these services could be introduced compatibly with other services in the bands. Among other subjects, the Bureau asks how stratospheric platforms would be used in the bands (including information system operating parameters), what services the platforms can support (e.g., commercial, private, or governmental uses), and whether HAPS or other stratospheric platforms are commercially viable in light of several previous stratospheric platform advocates have indicated they are no longer actively pursuing their plans. The Bureau also asks whether, if it were to authorize stratospheric communications platforms to use 70/80/90 GHz Bands, the FCC should impose certain technical limitations or restrictions on the deployment of such services to protect incumbent operations, such as altitude restrictions, power limits, transmitter design considerations, directional constraints, additional emission limits, coordination, or other requirements. Much like a rulemaking notice, the Public Notice also inquires what licensing and service rules should apply to stratospheric-based communications services and whether they should be limited to services facilitated by nominally fixed stratospheric platforms, one of the defining characteristics of HAPS as described in international and FCC regulations.

The Public Notice also seeks comment on any international implications related to HAPS or other stratospheric-based platform services that might be authorized in the 70/80/90 GHz Bands. The Bureau noted that, at the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (“WRC”) of the International Telecommunications Union, additional spectrum bands were identified for HAPS globally at 31.0-31.3 and 38.0-39.5 GHz and in Region 2, the Americas, at 21.4-22.0 and 24.25-27.5 GHz. The Commission has not taken action to date to implement domestically these new international allocations, which supplement much more narrow allocations for HAPS at earlier WRCs in the 2, 6, 27/31, and 47/48 GHz bands.

Continuing the Public Notice’s theme of new means of potential connectivity for internet broadband access, the Bureau’s Public Notice also requests additional information regarding the potential use of the 70/80/90 GHz Bands to provide broadband Internet access to customers on airplanes and aboard ships. One of the subjects in the 70/80/90 GHz rulemaking proceeding initiated last year was consideration of a proposal by Aeronet Global Communications, Inc. to use these Bands for “Scheduled Dynamic Datalinks” (“SDDLs”) to aircraft and ships.

FCC Plans to Finalize Phase I RDOF Auction Procedures and Explore 5G Use of High-Band Frequencies at June Meeting Wed, 27 May 2020 20:31:32 -0400 The FCC plans to focus on “bread and butter” issues of broadband deployment and expanding commercial spectrum use at its next meeting, scheduled for June 9, 2020. Specifically, the FCC anticipates adopting final auction procedures for Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”), which will provide up to $16 billion over 10 years to support broadband deployment in rural and other hard-to-serve areas. Rejecting calls for delay during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC would commence the auction on October 29, 2020. The FCC also would address bidding area, performance requirement, and letter of credit issues that drew heated debate at the rulemaking stage. In addition, the FCC anticipates seeking comment on rule changes to expand use of high-band spectrum in the 71-76 GHz, 81-86 GHz, 92-94 GHz, and 94.1-95 GHz bands (“70/80/90 GHz Bands”) to support wireless 5G backhaul and other services. The 70/80/90 GHz Bands proposal is just the latest in a slew of FCC actions designed to open up more spectrum for commercial use, and would seek input on technical and operational rules to avoid interference to incumbent operations. Rounding out the major June items, the FCC plans to clarify key timeframes and criteria for state and local reviews of requests to modify existing wireless infrastructure to remove purported barriers to network improvements.

Covering the gamut of network funding, spectrum resources, and construction, the June meeting items will impact nearly all providers of 5G and other next-generation technologies and deserve close attention. You will find more information on the significant June meeting items after the break:

RDOF Phase I Auction Procedures: The FCC’s draft Public Notice would establish RDOF Phase I auction procedures that largely mirror the agency’s initial proposals for the program. In particular, the FCC would require auction participants to bid by census block group and establish an auction weighting mechanism that favors higher-speed, lower-latency services when awarding support. Auction winners would be required to offer service at the bid-upon performance level to 40% of the supported locations by the end of the third full calendar year following funding authorization and to an additional 20% of locations each year thereafter. As expected, service providers would be required to file a short-form application including basic ownership, technical, and financial information to participate in the auction, followed by a long-form application from auction winners providing detailed network descriptions and deployment plans. Auction winners would be obligated to obtain a letter of credit that would increase in value until the service providers begin to satisfy their deployment milestones. Service providers would not be required to receive designation as an eligible telecommunications carrier by the FCC or state authority to participate in the RDOF Phase I auction, but they would need to receive such designation before receiving any funding under the program.

Expanding High-Band Frequency Access: The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order would seek comment on proposed changes to the rules governing the use of the 70/80/90 GHz Bands to support wireless 5G backhaul and broadband services onboard aircrafts and ships. First, the FCC would propose changes to antenna standards for the 70 and 80 GHz Bands to permit the use of smaller antennas and ask whether it should make similar changes to the standards for the 90 GHz Band. Second, the FCC would seek input on authorizing point-to-point links to endpoints in motion in the 70 and 80 GHz Bands and classifying those links as “mobile” services to support new offerings. Third, the FCC would request comment on whether it should change its link registration process for the 70/80/90 GHz Bands to eliminate never-constructed links from third-party registration databases, thereby opening the spectrum for new registrations. Finally, the FCC would propose power limits and other technical and operational rules to prevent harmful interference to incumbent operations in the 70/80/90 GHz Bands. As the 70/80/90 GHz Bands are currently allocated to co-primary Federal and non-Federal use, the FCC would coordinate any rule changes with affected federal agency incumbents through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Clarifying State/Local Wireless Review: The FCC’s Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would clarify agency rules implementing Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act of 2012, which streamlines state and local reviews of requests to modify existing wireless infrastructure. Section 6409(a) and associated FCC rules require state and local governments to approve modification requests for existing wireless towers and base stations within 60 days as long as the modification does not “substantially change” the physical dimensions of the tower or base station. However, confusion exists among service providers and government authorities on when this 60-day shot clock begins. The FCC would clarify that the 60-day shot clock begins to run when a requester takes the first procedural step in a locality’s application process and submits written documentation showing that a proposed modification is eligible for streamlined treatment under Section 6409(a). The FCC would find that this approach would prevent localities from effectively postponing wireless network modifications through multiple interim procedural hurdles. The FCC also would clarify what types of infrastructure modifications represent a “substantial change” that would not qualify for streamlined treatment under Section 6409(a).