Rural broadband providers keep pressing for smaller CBRS licensed areas

Several organizations representing the interests of rural telecom and electric cooperatives recently met with FCC staff to discuss rules for the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS)—namely, that they want the rules to remain much the same as they were crafted in the first place.

Representatives of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA), Federated Wireless and Ruckus Networks talked about the importance of making sure the Priority Access Licenses (PALs) are properly sized to spur auction participation by a number of potential licensees, including electric utilities and telecom providers serving rural America, according to an ex parte filing (PDF).

Notably, NRTC, NRECA and NTCA stated that auctioning PALs by Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), which is what most larger wireless operators are advocating, would foreclose opportunities for rural wireless services. They say PEAs favor larger established operators to the detriment of smaller, rural operators and new entrants.

General Authorized Access (GAA) spectrum is unlikely to be as widely used in rural areas when compared to suburban and urban use, they argued.

Although NRTC has responsibly disaggregated portions of its nationwide 220 MHz spectrum, “most of the larger carriers have a poor track record of ‘sharing’ spectrum,” according to their presentation. “We therefore do not support the notion that these disaggregation schemes are a reasonable substitute for the smaller PAL license areas that we recommend.”

RELATED: AT&T eyeing GAA, but not too much until 3.5 GHz CBRS license rules are know

Separately, General Electric (GE) has been another big proponent for census-tract licensing for PALs. GE, its industrial and critical-infrastructure customers and others plan to make intensive use of the spectrum with targeted, localized wireless network deployments designed to generate a wave of new cutting-edge jobs and economic growth in urban, suburban, rural and remote areas, the company has said (PDF).

Under the commission’s current rules, GE and its customers would be able to use their own licensed 3.5 GHz spectrum to “self-provision” industrial IoT (IIoT) wireless connectivity over geographically targeted, private TDD-LTE networks, rather than having to rely solely on wireless carriers’ licensed spectrum and services.

GE acknowledged it has a huge economic stake in the preservation of census-tract licensing and the use of the 3.5 GHz band as a springboard for the IIoT. The design, installation and support of digital infrastructure are increasingly important elements in GE’s business and it talks about providing its IIoT customers with “connectivity in a box” in the 3.5 GHz band.


The FCC currently is reviewing its rules for the band after T-Mobile and CTIA last year submitted petitions to the agency seeking to make the rules more conducive to investment by carriers and more harmonized with the rest of the world when it comes to 5G.