Lower 12 GHz can be a win-win-win for consumers, competition and U.S. leadership — O'Rielly


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has lost – albeit hopefully temporarily – its authority to conduct spectrum auctions, but luckily for consumers and industry, the agency still has tools to make desperately needed mid-band spectrum immediately available for terrestrial broadband uses.

Thanks to changes in technology, the landscape around the lower 12 GHz band (12.2-12.7 MHz) has evolved significantly over the last several years. At the same time, 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) has taken the connectivity world by storm. Given the importance of identifying and maximizing the use of spectrum bands, I urge my peers at the FCC to immediately issue new rules to enable the use of 500 MHz of spectrum in the 12 GHz band for high-power fixed broadband.

Authorizing the 12 GHz band for fixed broadband would represent a historic spectrum policy win: it is one of the few bands of scarce spectrum resources that is ready for immediate deployment — just in time for the NTIA’s $42.5 billion investment in broadband. It can be utilized for higher power services without harming incumbent users or needing coordination with any government entities, allowing government dollars to go further and connect people sooner.

Efforts to unleash the 12 GHz band have made significant progress since 2016, despite some detractors’ best efforts to muddy the water and delay any change. The agency’s examination of the 12 GHz band has been thorough, thanks to a robust record and substantial engineering, economic, and technical data demonstrating this band’s availability for new higher-power fixed uses. A broad range of stakeholders, from trade associations to public interest groups to licensees, have weighed in to support new rules. 

During a time of uncertainty and hamstrung American spectrum capabilities, policymakers must look for ways to make critical bandwidth available to consumers and industry alike. If the FCC doesn’t act soon, we risk holding back technologies that can help close the digital divide, today. The good news is the FCC can supply the American public with 500 MHz of easy to unleash mid-band spectrum through a regulatory decision that is ripe for action. 

Michael O’Rielly served as a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission from 2013-2020. O’Rielly is currently principal at MPORielly Consulting, LLC, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for the Economics of the Internet and a senior fellow at the Media Institute. He is a member of the 5G for 12GHz Coalition.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by Fierce Wireless staff. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of Fierce Wireless.