CTIA, CCA submit compromise proposal on 3.5 GHz band

It’s not every day that two of the industry’s big trade associations agree on anything, but they reached a compromise on the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) band in the name of 5G.

The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) and CTIA submitted a compromise proposal to the FCC on Friday that outlines an agreement whereby they say the FCC should license Priority Access License (PAL) geographic license areas using Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the top 306 Cellular Market Areas (CMAs) and use county-based geographic area licenses in the remaining 428 CMAs.

“This compromise proposal paves the way for swift action while balancing the needs of the wide range of stakeholders that are expected to participate in the 3.5 GHz auction,” the associations said in an ex parte filing (PDF). “It promotes investment in the band and provides an opportunity for parties to acquire PAL spectrum in areas that best fit their business models and investment plans. And it is a far better solution than the existing census tract licensing framework.”

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The groups said the compromise proposal will reduce the more than 74,000 license areas and more than 500,000 licenses to roughly 2,700 license areas and 19,000 licenses—far more manageable numbers than before and dramatically reducing auction complexity for both the commission and bidders.

“Moreover, this compromise, with MSA licenses in larger urban areas, promotes investment across those markets and will largely eliminate the border interference issues posed by census tract licensing in urban areas,” they said.

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CTIA has been lobbying for larger PALs while the CCA has many members who would rather see the census-tract or smaller licensed areas. But CCA also was divided over the issue. T-Mobile is a CCA member and it’s been pushing hard for larger licensed areas. The group reportedly worked hard to reach a consensus, one that it apparently reached with CTIA.

There are still others arguing for different-sized licenses. Throughout the proceeding, Charter has advocated that adopting smaller licensing areas would increase competition, spur investment and promote innovation, resulting in more and better broadband services for consumers.

“Specifically, we understand that the wireless industry supports reducing license areas to Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the largest markets and to counties in the smaller markets,” Charter told the commission (PDF) on Friday. “We respectfully ask that the Commission also consider opening up the top ten percent of MSA markets to competition by similarly reducing these license areas to counties to significantly expand the competitive bidding and new entry into urban areas.”

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The IIOT Coalition, which includes General Electric, utilities and the Port of Los Angeles, strongly supports the commission’s existing geographic licensing approach in the CBRS band. The coalition sees the approach as critical for the industrial sector to “self-provision” IIoT wireless connectivity over geographically targeted, private networks rather than having to rely on commercial wireless carriers’ licensed spectrum and services.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday that the commission must expedite its mid-band efforts, as the international focus on 5G harmonization has centered on these frequencies and there are economic efficiencies from global harmonization. 

“To that end, in the next few months we will complete our review of the 3.5 GHz, or CBRS, priority access license structure and adopt new rules,” he said. “We will also continue to take the necessary steps to make the technical supporting systems operational so that unused spectrum in the band is available while incumbent users are protected.”