FCC Commissioner Addresses Spectrum Policy, 911 Fee Diversion Before Wireless Associations

On Thursday, Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly addressed the New Jersey and New York Wireless Associations for a webinar, giving the group policy updates. He also thanked the associations for their work to keep Americans connected during this time.

O’Rielly first discussed 5G wireless service, explaining that “[w]hat is truly exciting about 5G is that people can see in it the future come to life…A 5G wireless world will no longer be about one, siloed device carried in a pocket or purse. If the Internet served to connect people and places through specialized devices, 5G will take it a step further to serve as the first real wireless standard to seamlessly connect everything else.” Furthermore, 5G will serve as a foundation for future technology. While the definition of 5G continuously evolves, “[a]t the most basic level, with 5G, we should expect to experience massive increases in speed and capacity and far lower latency. All will greatly enhance the consumer experience. But, when we examine those changes in the works, Releases 16 and 17 New Radio, or NR,…are designed to establish the technical parameters for more complex use cases.”

The FCC is also managing the United States’ spectrum resources, which “is becoming only more difficult as we seek the necessary bandwidth to deploy next-generation services in an environment where the optimal frequencies have been allocated to others. This is even more true when it comes to identifying much sought-after mid-band spectrum.” The Commissioner adds that on July 23, PALs will begin to be auctioned; these are the “first new mid-band licenses for 5G and other innovative uses.” There are 271 applicants that have qualified to bid in the auction. “Of course, due to the band’s three-tier innovative and experimental structure, PAL holders will still have to protect incumbent uses, such as U.S. Navy radar, so potential bidders must perform their due diligence.”

O’Rielly noted that the FCC will auction the majority of the existing C-band of spectrum, from 3.7 to 4.2 gigahertz. As a recap, “last February the Commission finally voted to reallocate and auction the 280 megahertz of spectrum for terrestrial broadband, while preserving the upper 200 megahertz for the satellite incumbents and their contractees. At the same time, we sought comment on the auction procedures for these fourteen, 20 megahertz licenses in each of the 406 partial economic areas, or PEAs.” This is set for a December auction with all 280 megahertz cleared by December 5, 2023.

Looking at future wireless bands, the Commissioner said more spectrum is needed to prepare for the future. “Almost all experts agree that the Commission must find upwards of 500 to 800 megahertz of additional spectrum for licensed commercial purposes in the next three to five years.” O’Rielly stated the “[t]op of the list of next bands is 3.1 to 3.55 GHz. It currently houses a number of Department of Defense radar systems and has been identified by Congress for possible commercial purposes.” He proposed that at least 200 megahertz must be cleared to meet spectrum demand. He states that the upper and lower 100 should be relatively easy to repurpose. “As for the remaining 250 megahertz in the lower portion of the band, the bulk of it, at a minimum, must be shared, as in the 3.5 GHz tiered structure of priorities. This would protect the DoD purposes while opening these portions to 5G services as well.” The Commissioner noted that after this band it is more complicated to identify other bands, which are currently being explored and discussed with industry experts.

Lastly, Commissioner O’Rielly commented on 9-1-1 fee diversion, which is an effort “to stop the diversion of consumer-paid-9-1-1 fees by state and local governments.” He stated that “[t]he good news is that, save for any backsliding, the pool of diverting states is now down to just four.” However, “[t]he bad news — and I expect no shock in this audience — is that both New York and New Jersey continue to cement their positions, remaining squarely on the committed diverter list. While the other two states, Nevada and Rhode Island, are either relatively new to the practice or have flirted with doing the right thing, New York and New Jersey have said they have absolutely no interest in making changes, or, at other times, have made up hairsplitting justifications for practices that Commission experts have repeatedly rejected. To put it in context, New Jersey and New York account for $175.5 million of the total $187 million diverted in 2018, or a whopping 93.9 percent, according to the Commission’s last report.” The FCC is working to further stop this diversion.