Tuesday, April 24, 2007

FCC Targets "Third Pipe" for Broadband, Outlines Some New Rules for 700 MHz Band

The FCC outlined new rules for the 698-806 MHz spectrum band, commonly referred to as the "700 MHz Band," which is currently occupied by television broadcasters and will become available for wireless services, including public safety and commercial services, when the DTV transition is completed on February 17, 2009. The FCC also postponed decisions on other key issues related to the spectrum, calling instead for more public comment.

Among the actions that the FCC took related to the commercial services portions of the 700 MHz Band, it adopted a mix of geographic area sizes for licensing the spectrum -- including Cellular Market Areas (CMAs), Economic Areas (EAs) and Regional Economic Area Groupings (REAGs) -- and established rules related to power limits and other technical issues, as well as initial license terms.

In addition, the FCC applied 911/E911 and hearing aid compatibility rules to all commercial mobile radio services (CMRS) providers, regardless of the spectrum being used, to the extent the service meets the scope requirements in the FCC's current rules.

The FCC said it is seeking additional public comment on performance requirements for the unauctioned licenses in the 700 MHz Band, and also on several proposals to modify the 700 MHz band plan, including proposals recently filed by Frontline Wireless, LLC, and various public interest groups.

Other key points of the FCC action include:

  • The FCC adopted provisions to encourage the efficient and effective use of the 700 MHz Guard Band spectrum. The FCC replaced the existing Guard Band Manager leasing rules with the spectrum leasing policies established in the FCC's Secondary Markets proceeding, providing Guard Band licensees with greater flexibility. In addition, the FCC tentatively concluded that it would not adopt certain Guard Band proposals advanced by parties seeking a restructuring of the existing Upper 700 MHz band plan, and sought comment on a proposal recently filed by Access Spectrum/Pegasus.

  • With regard to the 700 MHz Public Safety spectrum, the FCC tentatively concluded that the current public safety wideband allocation should be revised such that only broadband applications consistent with a nationwide interoperability standard should be deployed on a going forward basis. The FCC also tentatively concluded that it should consolidate the 700 MHz Public Safety spectrum, by combining the narrowband spectrum at the upper portion of the public safety allocation and the broadband spectrum at the lower portion.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said "In much of the country, however, consumers have a choice of only two broadband services: cable or DSL. And in some parts of the country, consumers don't even have that choice. The most important step we can take to provide affordable broadband to all Americans is to facilitate the deployment of a third "pipe" into the home. We need a real third broadband competitor. And we need a technology that is cost-effective to deploy not just in the big cities, but in the rural areas, as well. All Americans should enjoy the benefits of broadband competition -- availability, high speeds, and low prices.

The upcoming auction presents the single most important opportunity for us to achieve this goal. Depending on how we structure the upcoming auction, we will either enable the emergence of a third broadband pipe -- one that would be available to rural as well as urban American -- or we will miss our biggest opportunity. Such a status quo outcome certainly would not sit well with consumer groups that have been strongly urging us to adopt rules that facilitate the ability of a "third pipe" to develop."

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein commented: "...as we consider a schedule for the upcoming 700 MHz auction, we must remember that our rules have not yet been finalized. We must be mindful that some companies may not currently be in a position to move forward with plans to participate in the auction until the Commission makes a final decision about the band plan and specific performance requirements. They need sufficient time to establish business plans and line up financing. Consequently, we must make sure that our auction schedule allows for sufficient spacing between the adoption of final 700 MHz band rules and the filing of auction applications. This will ensure that the auction truly is available to a diverse group of interested parties, and that full participation will lead to a more successful and robust auction. I am confident that we can provide the necessary time for preparation and still comply with our statutory obligations related to the auction."http://www.fcc.gov

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