WISPA urges using two license sizes for 3.45 GHz auction

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) is urging the FCC to auction spectrum licenses based on smaller county-sized geographic areas for the upper 40-megahertz portion of the 3.45-3.55 GHz band.  

According to an ex parte filed Friday, WISPA met with FCC officials to discuss three recommendations for changes to the draft order for Auction 110. A Second Report and Order for service in the 3.45 GHz band is up for vote at the FCC’s March 17 open meeting along with a Public Notice seeking comment on bidding procedures for an auction. 

Currently it proposes a band plan to auction the key mid-band spectrum in five 20-megahertz blocks licensed based on Partial Economic Areas (PEAs). PEAs are larger and have been used in prior auctions like the recent blockbuster C-band auction.

WISPA isn’t suggesting changes to the lower 60-megahertz, involving so-called A, B, and C blocks, which would still be based on PEAs. But the group says changes to the D and E block (40-megahertz total), in favor of 10-MHz blocks based on counties instead would promote three objectives: more participation by rural providers; targeted spectrum acquisition by small and large entities; and coverage buildout in rural areas.

WISPA previously advocated an auction for 3.45-3.55 GHz spectrum using the CBRS priority access license (PALs) auction as a guide, noting it used counties and saw a high level of participation by smaller entities. PEAs, in comparison, deter small providers who want to serve more localized areas.  

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“The C-band auction, which auctioned PEAs, attracted only 57 qualified bidders and 21 winners. By contrast, the recent CBRS PAL auction, which auctioned counties, attracted 271 qualified bidders and 228 winning bidders, a number of which are WISPA members, utilities, cable companies, and a diverse group of other industries,” WISPA’s ex parte filing stated.

Using counties for D and E block licenses won’t stop the FCC from reaching its required aggregate price reserve of about $14.78 billion, WISPA contends.

Based on its predicted revenue model, a 60/40 split of the 3.45-3.55 GHz band between PEAs and counties would bring in about $17.36 billion and $2.57 billion, respectively – to reach total proceeds of around $19.93 billion.  

RELATED: CBRS a good guide for 3.45-3.55 GHz: WISPA

That said, the C-band auction showed just how eager major carriers are for mid-band spectrum, and paid handsomely for licenses covering PEAs with total auction proceeds of more than $81 billion. 

WISPA also noted the upper 40-megahertz is adjacent to the CBRS band, and a combination of two license sizes would allow smaller players to bid for spectrum, while larger carriers would still have PEAs but could also target specific areas on a county-level for added capacity where needed.

PEAs and the proposed aggressive buildout timelines will discourage rural areas from getting coverage, according to WISPA, since license winners can deploy in urban areas first where they get better returns.

“By contrast, buildout rules at the county level will ensure that all counties, even rural counties are subject to buildout requirements. We observed that the obligation to serve rural counties was not a deterrent to broad participation in the CBRS PAL auction…” WIPSA described to FCC officials. 

The industry group suggested a few other modifications to the draft order, including reduced power limits for the D and E blocks to align better with the CBRS band and protect users there.