FCC Likely to Have Active 2022 Spectrum Agenda
Howard Buskirk, Consumer Electronics Daily
The FCC will likely take on several spectrum proceedings in coming months, regardless of what happens to the nomination of Gigi Sohn as the third Democratic commissioner, industry officials said. Those items could include proposals on the 12 GHz and 4.9 GHz bands, the lower 37 GHz band, revised rules for short-range field disturbance sensor radars in the 60 GHz band and allowing cellular vehicle-to-everything deployments in 5.9 GHz.
Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel hasn’t been broadcasting an agenda, but she’s on firmer political footing now than before she was designated permanent chair and then confirmed to another term as a commissioner, and could likely get unanimous votes on many of the bands from the split 2-2 commission, experts said. Rosenworcel said after the December FCC meeting that nothing has slowed down the work of the FCC since she took the helm in January (see 2112140062). The agency declined comment this week.
Former Commissioner Mike O’Rielly told us “my experience suggests that the commission could notch early unlicensed wins with 60 GHz and 5.9 GHz, as both seem ready and would be incredibly beneficial, but since only so much related work was able to be done last year, it’s tough to see where the next licensed 5G mid-band, beyond lower 3 GHz, is coming from or how soon, which must be a top priority. Adding to this must be pushing back against federal agencies, like FAA in the C-band debate, to keep already allocated 5G bands on track and without any delays.”
Being named permanent chair means Rosenworcel can “pursue an aggressive agenda at the commission, especially on spectrum,” said Digital Progress Institute President Joel Thayer. But with a 2-2 commission, everything will be more difficult, he said. “Although there might be broad agreement on these spectrum issues, the devil will always be in the details in terms of whether the chair can muster the votes necessary,” he said: “Proceedings, like 12 GHz, 4.9 GHz, or 5.9 GHz will require a lot of negotiation on her part with her Republican colleagues due to their hyper-politicization. Good news for her is that these issues, at least within the walls of the commission, are traditionally bipartisan and led by the engineering.” Most also already have a full record on which to act, he said.
In the C-band, questions remain about when Verizon and AT&T will start using the spectrum. Last week, the FAA issued a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin on interference with radar altimeter systems. AT&T and CTIA declined comment. Verizon didn’t comment. Questions also overhang the still-to-be-scheduled 2.5 GHz auction, with the FCC yet to address AT&T’s pursuit of a revised spectrum screen, which could complicate T-Mobile’s bidding in that auction (see 2109140058).
Rosenworcel “has to” get more active on spectrum, said former Commissioner Robert McDowell. The four commissioners “can definitely all work together and should,” he said. “All of a sudden we have a dearth of mid-band spectrum for 5G,” he said, noting delays in deploying C-band and the long lead time for making the 3.1-3.45 GHz band available, with no auction before mid-2025 (see 2111120050). Making more unlicensed available helps, but the real need is licensed for 5G, he said. “The spectrum pipeline … is an issue,” he said.
A year into the Biden administration “there is no spectrum plan, there are no big auctions planned, at a time when everyone was all about ‘we’ve got to beat China on the race to 5G,’” McDowell said.
Advocates of moving forward on rules for 12 GHz see an opening because of the problems with moving on other bands (see 2111080045). “Rosenworcel is facing increasing pressure from public interests and industry to free 12 GHz for 5G given the growing chorus of concerns bogging down other bands,” a spokesperson for the 5G for 12GHz Coalition said in an email: “The current situation in other potential mid-band spectrums highlights the increasingly complex task of navigating interference concerns.”
“It has been almost a year since the FCC unanimously opened the [12 GHz] NPRM, RS Access CEO Noah Campbell told us. Proponents “have proved out the coexistence,” he said: “The book is closed on that. The engineering is really totally clear. … There really just isn’t a reason to wait.” With the $65 billion dedicated to broadband in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (see 2111100081) “it just makes perfect sense to have this frequency in the toolbox for expanding connectivity,” Campbell said.
“Spectrum has been of particular interest and priority for Rosenworcel,” said Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld. Waiting for the nomination and confirmation “slowed things down,” as has having only four commissioners, he said: “You don’t want to get out too far ahead.” That FCC staff is still working from home slowed engineering studies, he said. “There’s been this stasis that will hopefully now be removed,” he said.
“This is clearly” Rosenworcel’s “moment,” Feld said. The main thing that will likely change now is that Rosenworcel will provide more direction to the bureaus “to lay the groundwork for proceedings,” he said.
“Rosenworcel has a terrific opportunity to keep up the FCC’s positive momentum in making new spectrum resources available for wireless uses,” said Free State Foundation Director-Policy Studies Seth Cooper. “Particularly while the commission remains in a 2-2 deadlock, repurposing spectrum for commercial services like 5G almost certainly is the most consequential undertaking that can garner a consensus among the commissioners,” he said. While bands “may be at different stages of development, and each may pose unique challenges to work through, Chairwoman Rosenworcel ought to favor an all-of-the-above approach,” he said.