FCC Moves to Repurpose Yet More Spectrum for Wireless

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The Federal Communications Commission Wednesday opened a proceeding on how to open up satellite spectrum in the 2 GHz band for mobile terrestrial use, one of the proposals in the National Broadband Plan and yet another element of the commission's multipart strategy to free up spectrum from broadcasters and others for mobile broadband.

That is the rulemaking proposal it signaled it would tee up when earlier this month it denied Dish's request for a waiver to use its satellite spectrum for mobile broadband, saying it would consider the issue more generally in the rulemaking.

The FCC has been trying to adopt a more flexible use policy for spectrum that could be repurposed to help meet the growing demands of all those smart phones and tablets and apps. It was the motivation behind granting a waiver to LightSquared to use its satellite spectrum for terrestrial service, though that waiver ran into what the FCC has called unresolveable interference issues with GPS, at least in the short term.

Tuesday's move would free up an additional 40 MHz of spectrum, with another 15 MHz in government spectrum added to that by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

Wireless Bureau Chief Rick Kaplan said the proposal demonstrated the commitment of the commission to free up more spectrum, or as he put it, "leave no megahertz behind."

Commissioner Robert McDowell said that appetite for spectrum appeared to be insatiable and that the FCC was taking "a small but important step to satisfy that hunger."

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski pointed out that that 40 MHz, and potentially 15 more from NTIA, was more than half of the spectrum cleared in the DTV transition repacking of broadcasters (70 MHz). Proposed incentive auctions will reclaim another 80 MHZ or so from broadcasters as well, if they agree to give it up.

He said the FCC had been pushing "relentlessly" to free up spectrum for the past three years, including through promoting flexible use, allowing unlicensed use in the "white spaces" between TV channels and pushing for incentive auctions

The item was voted unanimous at a wireless broadband-centric public meeting Wednesday at which the commission also teed up a proposal for increasing interoperability -- being able to use a variety of different devices -- in the lower 700 MHz band, spectrum reclaimed from broadcasters as part of the DTV transition. While the FCC put interoperability conditions on the upper C block of that spectrum, it did not do so on the lower block, and now is seeking input on the impact of doing that, including potential interference issues.

McDowell, who opposed the conditions on the C block, voted for the NPRM, but noted that there were no draft rules in it and that the NPRM also talked about an industry, rather than government-mandated regime, and a "generous" time frame for comment. In introducing the item, the Wireless Bureau made it clear that voluntary industry efforts were preferable.

"We are encouraged by the Commission's action today to facilitate mobile internet use in the 2 GHz band," said AT&T in a statement. "The events of the last two years have made clear that the challenges associated with finding additional spectrum for commercial use are significant. Yet there is no goal more important to the millions of customers who depend on the mobile internet."

"CTIA commends the FCC for taking steps to bring the 2 GHz Mobile Satellite Spectrum to market for mobile wireless broadband services," said the association in a statement. "While we have not yet had an opportunity to review the details of the FCC's proposal, CTIA has long called for the FCC to open a rulemaking as the next step in determining how the 2 GHz spectrum should be most effectively deployed. CTIA and our members look forward to working with the Commission to find ways to harness this underutilized spectrum to benefit the nation's wireless consumers."

Public Knowledge was pleased that the FCC was teeing up interoperability, and that the FCC might be clearing the way for DISH to compete with incumbent wireless carriers. "The Commission is encouraging broadband competition by opening up terrestrial satellite spectrum for another potential competitor to help consumers," said the group.

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