Frontier, Consolidated and Windstream plead for flexible rural wireless spectrum rules

Frontier, Consolidated and Windstream told the FCC that to leverage wireless spectrum bands like 3.5 GHz to address rural broadband gaps, the current license size should be changed.

In a recent joint FCC filing, the three service providers, which are all recipients of the regulator’s CAF II program, say that the larger license sizes—specifically partial economic areas (PEAs)—are too big and too expensive.

As a result, the trio added that PEAs would preclude “potential participation from carriers considering deploying fixed wireless in very rural areas.”

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“For our companies, traditional large area mobile licenses, such as PEAs, cover much too great of an area and drive up the costs of licenses too high to make fixed rural wireless feasible in the 3.5 GHz Band,” Frontier, Consolidated and Windstream said in the joint filing (PDF). “As we are exploring leveraging fixed wireless technology as an important tool to increase broadband speeds and expand broadband coverage in rural portions of our service areas, PEAs necessarily would require us to acquire too large of a license at too great of a cost to make any project feasible.”

Changing the licensing rules, these providers say, would also recognize the differences between large urban areas and less-populated rural areas. By preserving smaller census tract license sizes in rural areas, the FCC could encourage innovative rural use cases while still accomplishing its goals of attracting mobile investment to the 3.5 GHz band.

“As we have learned from experience, very large spectrum license sizes seem to leave rural areas behind,” the companies said. “The 3.5 GHz Band, which has been designed as a test band for next-generation spectrum deployments, is the perfect place to test the best ways to encourage rural deployment, such as through a hybrid licensing scheme preserving census tract-sized licenses in rural areas.”

While these providers are continually expanding their wireline-based networks into more rural areas, the advent of broadband wireless would enable them to reach very rural areas where deploying wireline facilities is too expensive.

Each of these providers is at some stage of trialing broadband wireless technology as an additional technology to fulfill their CAF II rollout commitments in rural areas.

Frontier, for one, confirmed in September it was testing broadband wireless with plans to deploy it in more areas if it meets its requirements.

But these telcos aren’t the only ones interested in leveraging broadband wireless. Charter and the National Cable Telecommunications Association (NCTA) have proposed a county-sized license structure.

Frontier, Consolidated and Windstream responded that while county-sized licenses are a good step, they could give cable providers an advantage over other providers.

“While county-sized licenses, as proposed by NCTA and Charter, would be a step in the right direction for rural areas compared to PEAs, county-sized licenses would still be too large to promote rural broadband buildout,” the companies said. “With a total of 73,057 census tracts compared to 3,143 county equivalents, there are still 23 census tracts for every county. While this ratio may be relatively higher in more urban areas and relatively lower in more rural areas, the more granular census tracts would allow more targeted bidding in rural areas. Additionally, county-sized licenses would unfairly favor just one type of competitor.”