• CBRS spectrum has become a factor in determining BEAD eligible locations

  • The NTIA is allowing wireless internet service providers who use CBRS to claim their coverage as “served” on the FCC’s broadband map

  • This prevents fiber providers from bidding on these same areas

Wireless internet service providers (WISPs) hit a homerun when federal officials clarified that areas covered by broadband running on Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum could be marked as served for purposes of BEAD.

Many folks in the fiber broadband community are not familiar with wireless internet service and the rules regarding wireless spectrum.

But CBRS spectrum has become a factor in the FCC’s national broadband map, and it is affecting the determination of BEAD-eligible locations.


The first BEAD rules from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said that for wireless broadband, only service providers who owned their own licensed spectrum could apply for BEAD funds in unserved locations.

But later, the NTIA clarified its rules and said that service providers who had access to general authorized access (GAA) CBRS spectrum could apply for BEAD funds in unserved locations.

Previously, GAA CBRS spectrum had been considered as unlicensed. But after the rule change, it is considered as licensed-by-rule.

Richard Bernhardt, senior director for Spectrum and Industry at the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), said after the NTIA’s clarification, licensed-by-rule is considered the same as licensed spectrum, for purposes of BEAD.

This has opened the window for any WISP, using GAA spectrum in areas where it has CBRS radios, to claim those areas as served.

And it appears that some WISPs have capitalized on that rule change and claim that they do (or can) serve large areas with their fixed wireless access services.

This is all perfectly legal.

The FCC considers service to be available at a location if the provider has service at that location or could initiate service through a routine installation within 10 business days of a request with no extraordinary monetary charges or delays. And many WISPs can access licensed-by-rule CBRS spectrum and meet the 10-day availability window.

All this came about after the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) asked the NTIA to loosen the BEAD rules regarding spectrum. WISPA said that a large group of WISPs have long used unlicensed spectrum as a low-cost, flexible option to reach rural areas.

In January 2023 WISPA warned NTIA that as much as $8.6 billion in broadband subsidy money could be wasted on trying to reach the most rural locations with fiber.

Subsequently, NTIA did change its rules and decided to treat GAA CBRS spectrum as licensed. And for this reason, a wireless spectrum rule is affecting BEAD-eligible locations.