FCC chair Wheeler says fiber companies can't hold 5G hostage

7 September 2016 by Steve Blum
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Backhaul is critical to development of next generation mobile networks, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in Las Vegas this morning, promising the commission will ensure “that lack of competition in some places cannot be used to hold 5G hostage”.

It doesn’t look like the Federal Communications Commission will be taking up pricing and access regulations for middle mile backhaul in September, though. In what could be his final CTIA keynote as FCC chair, Wheeler promised new rules, but “before the end of this year” and not before the end of the month. Might be this month, but that didn’t seem to be the direction that Wheeler is leaning.

Wheeler was vague about the timing of new privacy rules but referred to them as “imperative”. Privacy, though, wasn’t on his critical path for deployment of 5G wireless networks over the next decade. Wheeler pointed to three issues – backhaul, spectrum and local restrictions on cell sites – as the three biggest policy bottlenecks that must be overcome. He didn’t exactly declare war on “nimbyism and the recalcitrance of local authorities” but he didn’t have kind words in that regard either.

The FCC’s attempt to clear 120 MHz of television spectrum and re-use it for mobile broadband will be scaled back to 114 MHz and a new reverse auction will be launched next week, Wheeler said. Television stations wanted, in aggregate, $88 billion to give up 120 MHz, but wireless companies were only willing to pay $23 billion. The hope is that cutting back on the bandwidth will bring the two sides closer together.

New rules for cable set top boxes, which is the third major policy decision in the FCC’s hopper, weren’t mentioned. The agenda for this month’s commission meeting will be released tomorrow. We’ll find out then if any of those three issues – backhaul pricing (business data services in FCC-speak), privacy and set top boxes – will be decided soon.