O’Rielly calls critics’ claims about 3.5 GHz changes ‘gibberish’

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly points out that some critics of proposed changes in the 3.5 GHz rules are calling them stale ideas from policies past, and to that, he says: Gibberish.

The FCC has posted a draft of the 3.5 GHz Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for consideration at the FCC's open meeting later this month. The rule changes have sparked an uproar among many proponents of unlicensed spectrum because the changes are seen as widely favoring the four biggest U.S. wireless operators. T-Mobile, one of the big proponents of changes to the rules that were previously approved by the commission, has argued that they’re necessary, in part, for the U.S. to remain competitive in 5G.

“In response to petitions seeking review of these rules, many stakeholders argued convincingly that, for large scale 5G deployments, companies require greater certainty to ensure that investment would not be stranded,” O’Rielly said in prepared remarks before the 6th Annual Americas Spectrum Management Conference on Friday. “To provide such an environment, many commenters appropriately requested longer license terms, larger geographic areas, and renewability. I will keep my discussion short since this item is currently before the Commission, but many of these views are reflected in the draft NPRM.”

Some critics have stated that the proposed changes are mere stale ideas from policies past, he said. “Gibberish. Those ‘stale’ ideas are what have produced the highly successful and envy-of-the-world spectrum auctions, provided state of the art wireless networks, and made the U.S. the leader in wireless technologies,” he said. “In fact, the NPRM fixes the three tier structure to protect incumbents, maintain GAA services, and actually ensure that the maximum number of licenses are available per market for all providers—small, medium and large.”

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“What it doesn’t do is retain artificial restrictions—both implicit and explicit—through license and auction structure. You may remember how great the ‘special’ auction provisions, like set asides, worked in the incentive auction. Let me refresh your memory: they didn’t,” he added.

“The other argument made is that these licenses were secretly promised to rural providers because of a sentiment that big providers warehouse spectrum in smaller markets. That is false on both accounts,” he said. “But, to the extent that we need to fix wireless licenses to ensure broadband buildout in rural markets, the solution is stricter construction obligations going forward and facilitating the partition of licenses.”

Multiple stakeholders continue to lobby for their positions in the 3.5 GHz proceeding. T-Mobile has told the commission that while it’s generally pleased with the draft NPRM and order, it’s disappointed in the treatment of two issues it previously raised: the potential use of Priority Access Licenses (PALs) throughout the 150 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band and the change in effective isotropic radiated power limits for CBRS devices.

Michael Calabrese, representing New America's Open Technology Institute, has noted that with respect to the draft NPRM proposing to reopen and revise the licensing rules for CBRS, at least 9 out of every 10 companies and associations filing comments opposed the “preclusive changes” to the PAL rules proposed by CTIA and T-Mobile, according to an ex parte filing.

“Most commenters agreed that the particular PAL changes proposed by CTIA and T-Mobile should be rejected because they would refashion the rules for the exclusive benefit of one type of provider (a handful of wide-area cellular providers) to the detriment of thousands of other users and use cases, some of which would compete directly with CTIA’s members,” Calabrese said.

The commission will consider the 3.5 GHz NPRM and order (PDF) at its Oct. 24 meeting.