Consumer groups rally for smaller Priority Access Licenses

A group of entities calling themselves the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition (PISC) is urging the FCC to stick to its original rules for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) for the 3.5 GHz spectrum, arguing that larger licensed areas will undermine the goal of the small-cell innovation band.

PISC, whose members include the Open Technology Institute at New America, Public Knowledge and the American Library Association, among others, reiterated in a May 30 letter the importance of retaining small license areas with short terms and competitive renewal processes. They want the FCC to stick to the rules that had the Priority Access Licenses (PALs) based on census tracts.

They’re also voicing concern about reports that at least one FCC commissioner is encouraging industry stakeholders to accept the so-called “compromise” struck between national (CTIA) and regional (CCA) mobile carriers—one they say that would ultimately undermine the most robust and innovative uses of the band.

“We continue to believe that auctioning PALs with coverage areas larger than census tracts would undermine the goal of this small-cell innovation band,” they told the commission. “The current PAL rules allow rural and small ISPs, individual business facilities and venues and public-purpose networks—including schools, libraries, college campuses and municipal services—to leverage access to both interference-protected and unlicensed (GAA) mid-band spectrum. This innovative synergy will be lost if smaller and local users cannot acquire PALs.”

The group recognizes that the self-styled "CBRS Coalition" represents a wide variety of industries and is a good faith effort to find a compromise that will hasten productive use of the band, but the PISC members say they can’t endorse a hybrid scheme that leaves only two of seven PALs for rural broadband and the wide variety of innovative and local uses that served as the basis for adopting census tract PALs in 2015. That coalition is reiterating a proposal brought forward in early May but added a provision in an attempt to incorporate part of the CTIA/CCA compromise.

RELATED: Google, GE, Ruckus and others press for their CBRS licensing framework

“The big tent company filing today demonstrates that rural ISPs and virtually every other industry has been willing to compromise on a reasonable combination of large- and small-area licenses, yet Commissioner O’Rielly appears to be holding out for an agreement that tailors the licenses to big mobile ISPs and excludes thousands of other potential investors and users,” Michael Calabrese, director, Wireless Future Project, at New America, told FierceWirelessTech in a statement.

FierceWirelessTech asked for O’Rielly’s comment on the situation and will update the story if we hear back.