Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) voted unanimously to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) and Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) (WT Docket No. 10-153) proposing rule changes and asking for input on further changes designed to remove regulatory barriers to the use of at least 750 megahertz of spectrum below 13 GHz for wireless backhaul and other point-to-point and point-to-multipoint communications, while protecting established license holders. With these proceedings, the FCC hopes to promote fourth generation (4G) mobile broadband network deployment nationwide by enabling more flexible and cost-efficient microwave services that reduce the cost of broadband backhaul solutions.
These proceedings will affect service providers and users, such as broadcasters, public safety entities and public utilities, that rely on microwave facilities for wireless backhaul, microwave equipment manufacturers, incumbent licensees in the Broadcast Auxiliary Service (“BAS”), Cable Television Relay Service (“CARS”) and satellite services, frequency coordinators, and tower operators. Comments are due 60 days after Federal Register publication and reply comments are due 90 days after publication.
The NPRM seeks comment on a number of specific proposals to update regulatory classifications outdated by the evolution of convergent technologies and provide for increased spectrum sharing as recommended in the National Broadband Plan, including:
Statements by the Commissioners
The Commissioners expressed unanimous supported for the NPRM and NOI. Chairman Genachowski referenced the National Broadband Plan, and describing wireless spectrum as “one of the most important headings in that plan.” He also noted that the Commission “has addressed a spectrum topic at almost every meeting since the introduction of the Broadband Plan,” and the Plan’s “big ideas of spectrum recovery” have enjoyed recent support in the form of bipartisan legislation and the President’s Executive Memorandum on Spectrum. Chairman Genachowski described microwave spectrum as “the blood and guts of the mobile ecosystem,” and as “a growing viable solution for mobile broadband traffic” as providers accelerate deployment of 4G networks, noting that spectrum is the most cost-effective way to do so. Chairman Genachowski stated that “spectrum sharing can make an additional 750 MHz of microwave spectrum available for wireless backhaul and other advanced point-to-point uses,” including fixed broadcast studio links, to increase the capacity, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of the microwave bands while protecting incumbent licensees.
Democratic Commissioner Copps noted that backhaul costs are “a significant part of wireless service operating expenses” and supported the proposed measures as a way to optimize the supply of scarce spectrum resources and overcome obstacles to bringing broadband to all Americans. He expressed concern regarding rural America’s limited broadband access and reliance on wireless backhaul, which he described as “the lifeblood of a healthy and innovative broadband market.” Democratic Commissioner Clyburn likewise expressed her support of the NPRM and NOI as ways to reduce broadband costs and increase opportunities for rural consumers. Commissioner Clyburn highlighted the need for public input on how to best balance the public interests of “providing up to 750 MHz of spectrum while protecting incumbent operations.”
Republican Commissioner Baker also expressed her support for increased regulatory flexibility to incorporate microwave solutions “where appropriate, especially in rural America.” She pointed out that the proposed measures will help to “ensure that innovative applications are not held back by network bottlenecks” as escalating traffic demands from 4G networks “will result in an estimated ten-fold increase in backhaul capacity needs.” Republican Commissioner McDowell likewise expressed his approval of removing regulatory barriers to the flexible, cost-effective use of spectrum backhaul to facilitate increasing deployment of 4G networks, noting that wireless providers need increased backhaul to accommodate data traffic increases as consumers are taking advantage of a wider range of wireless services. Commissioner McDowell reiterated his support for FCC consideration of point-to-point backhaul services in the TV band White Spaces, “especially in rural areas where there is more abundance of white spaces.” Ruth Milkman, Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, indicated the Bureau would have a recommendation for the Commission regarding such use of the TV bands “by the end of this year,” following further information-gathering and analysis.
Please contact us if you would like to discuss how these proceedings could affect your equipment or operations. We would be pleased to assist you in preparing comments to the Commission’s proposals. Please contact the following lawyer in our Telecommunications, Media & Technology Group:
This article was originally published by Bingham McCutchen LLP.