FCC wants to give “citizens broadband” spectrum to big mobile

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Some citizens are more equal than others.

The Federal Communications Commission says it wants to assign frequencies in the so-called Citizens Broadband Radio Service using a more traditional, industry-centric approach than previously planned. It’s a significant chunk of spectrum, 150 MHz located between 3.550 GHz and 3.700 GHz in what’s referred to as the “mid-band”.

It’s not pristine territory. Government and other legacy licensees are still operating in that band, and they would be protected. New operators, running under whatever new rules that the FCC eventually adopts, will have stay out of the way of those existing users and coordinate use among themselves.

Maybe.

There’s little doubt that the FCC will protect legacy users, but it’s considering allocating channels in the traditional way, with long term, renewable licenses that would be auctioned off in one way or another. That’s a model that big mobile carriers love – they have enough engineering expertise and capital to crowd out smaller competitors – but it’s a departure from the relative free for all that was originally envisioned.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel doesn’t like that approach. She’s a democratic appointee with a track record of critical thinking (for the record, I would put republican chairman Ajit Pai in that category too). In her dissent, she said it would be a step backward…

This rulemaking takes what was most innovative about our existing 3.5 GHz model and casts it aside in favor of existing business models. This is short sighted. The success of our future auctions depends on growing a new class of spectrum interests—who can innovate and join the ranks of those who bid on airwaves and support the Internet of Things. This is important. Because as our national providers grow bigger and fewer in number, the power of using auctions as a tool for distribution is compromised. Simply put, we need more entities interested in opportunities in our airwaves.

At this point, the FCC is just floating a trial balloon – a notice of proposed rulemaking in its jargon. The first round of comments will be due a month after it’s officially published, which likely means sometime in December.