FCC puts final rules in place for spectrum sharing in 3.5 GHz band

The FCC today reaffirmed its decision to create the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the 3.5 GHz band and took steps to finalize the rules for a new experimental sharing regime, making 150 MHz available for mobile broadband and other commercial uses.

The move today generally reaffirms the regulatory framework the commission adopted in the band in April 2015. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the proceeding represents a "blueprint for the future of spectrum policy," ditching the notion that everyone must make a choice between licensed and unlicensed spectrum. "The impact of this band and this approach is bound to be big," she said.

The FCC's decision to adopt new spectrum sharing tools and policies for the 3.5 GHz band comes after the NTIA several years ago identified the band as suitable for shared use between government and commercial interests, provided existing incumbents, including the Department of Defense (DoD) and fixed satellite services, were given protection. The three-tiered access framework for the 3.5 GHz band includes an Incumbent Access tier, Priority Access tier and General Authorized Access tier. The three tiers are to be coordinated through a dynamic Spectrum Access System (SAS).

The order today also resolves three outstanding issues. According to the FCC, it will take an
engineering-based approach for determining when a Priority Access License area is in use. It also adopts a flexible secondary market regime for Priority Access Licenses, and "balances the expanded access for wireless broadband operators with the need to protect fixed satellite service operations, and adopts protections that will be tailored to the characteristics of each grandfathered earth station."

Next steps include certifying SAS administrators and Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) operators and holding a future auction to make more spectrum available for commercial uses.

Not everyone agreed with the final rules, as Commissioner Ajit Pai had pushed for the commission to shrink the exclusion zones and move more quickly to open them up for consumer use. "I have also said that the FCC should be creating greater incentives for providers to invest in this band," he said. "Indeed, the IEEE 802.11 Working Group has expressed little interest in developing a technical standard for this band because of these issues."

"The FCC would like to test a theory -- to see if we can implement a sharing regime that will allow a mix of innovative offerings to flourish. Have we struck the right balance? Will we see a variety of providers and technologies competing in the band? I can't say for sure. It remains to be seen whether we can turn today's spectrum theory into a working reality," Pai said.

Wireless carriers, in particular AT&T recently, have been critical of parts of the FCC's plan for the 3.5 GHz band, and urged the commission to reconsider its proposed rules for the band. Others have advocated that the 3.5 GHz rules be adopted for 28 GHz or 37-39 GHz, a position that most wireless operators also oppose.

The FCC also approved a proposal to use real-time text (RTT) to make sure people with disabilities who rely on text to communicate have accessible phone access. The commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes to recognize real-time text as a replacement technology for text telephones, also known as TTY devices, on wireless phone networks starting in December 2017 for larger carriers.

Unlike most text messaging services, real-time text enables text to be sent immediately as it is typed, without pressing "send." The person receiving the text can then read what the person creating the text is saying as soon as he or she creates it, similar to how one person speaking can still hear the other person even if they talk over each other. By not requiring users to hit "send," 911 call center personnel, for example, will be able to receive even incomplete messages.

For more:
- see these two FCC releases

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