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Communications Daily: FCC Approves on 4-0 Votes Items Making High-Band Spectrum Available for 5G

August 3, 2018

The FCC approved 4-0 rules for the nation’s first auction of high-band spectrum for 5G. Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mike O’Rielly raised questions about the approach. The commission will auction the 28 GHz band first, with an auction starting Nov. 14, with a 24 GHz auction to follow immediately. Members also approved a Further NPRM aimed at making additional high-band spectrum available for 5G.

Rosenworcel said the FCC needs to be bold in a 5G era, and the auction rules sometimes aren’t. “We should be willing to divert from the stale practices of the past and develop auction policies that take into full account the spectrum realities of the present,” she said.

The agency sought comment on timing of auctions and the record was clear, Rosenworcel said. “Commenter after commenter told us that including the 37, 39, and 47 GHz bands in the 24 GHz auction would minimize bidder risk and increase the likelihood of auction success,” she said. “They cautioned us not to auction the 24 GHz band on its own. And yet, today we do just that.” Commenters also warned about the need to make mid-band spectrum available for 5G, she said. “Yet, we are haphazardly scheduling high-band auctions without a full public calendar and a clear plan to auction mid-band spectrum.”

Commissioner Mike O’Rielly didn’t mention T-Mobile or Sprint, but he said the FCC must act quickly to address concerns from some companies about their bidding status. Determining the appropriate upfront payments and minimum opening bid prices is “complicated” and the FCC adopted a three-tier approach to set prices, he said. Concerns remain about licenses being sold too cheaply, he said. “I hope we hit the right balance,” he said. “If we find there are significant problems, we’ll need to review our approach prior to the 24 GHz auction.” T-Mobile and Sprint have both sought auction maneuvering room (see 1807250025).

The auctions raised “thorny, technical, and time-consuming issues,” which are “key to conducting a successful auction,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr. “This was hard work.” The FCC still has lots of work to do and American competitiveness is in the balance, he warned. “In the race to 5G, we’re positioning the U.S. to win,” he said. “We’re 4 GHz ahead of second-place China and making progress every day on both spectrum and infrastructure.”

With the auction procedures we adopt today, we seek to promote competitive bidding, make it easier for applicants to participate, and assign high-band spectrum licenses as efficiently as possible,” said Chairman Ajit Pai.

Members approved 4-0 an FNPRM on cleaning up the 39 GHz band, for a proposed auction next year of the 37, 39 and 47 GHz bands. The rules were changed as the FNPRM was before commissioners to provide additional flexibility, as expected (see 1808010071).

The FNPRM proposes to modify the band plans of the three bands from 200 MHz to 100 MHz channels. It proposes an incentive auction offering contiguous blocks of spectrum throughout the 39 GHz, upper 37 GHz, and 47 GHz bands. A pre-auction voucher exchange would allow incumbent licensees to consolidate and rationalize their holdings before the auction.

Rosenworcel said the draft was changed to permit 39 GHz band incumbents to use their vouchers to acquire new spectrum rights in any of the high-frequency bands that will be auctioned. “By granting bidders greater flexibility, we can generate more interest in the auction and allow bidders the ability to assess which bands work best for them,” she said. “A more thoughtful auction will result.”

We still have a lot of work to do,” O’Rielly said: “We must ensure that incumbents are made whole, the maximum amount of contiguous spectrum is available for auction and the process is as simple as possible.” O’Rielly is concerned about the complexity of the rules. “Some of the possible voucher and repacking concepts are novel, complex, or just a tad confusing,” he said. “This effort is a little like trying to trade Monopoly properties. Here, it is not only trading with your co-players, but also with the bank.”

Pai and Carr said the FCC needs to clean up the 39 GHz band. “There are too many incumbent interests” in the band and “efforts to resolve these encumbrances voluntarily haven’t solved the problem,” Pai said. “This calls us to act.”

The items “will help the United States win the global 5G race,” said Scott Bergmann, CTIA senior vice president-regulatory affairs. “High-band spectrum is critical to meeting growing demand for connected devices, and will enable the Internet of Things and the smart cities of the future.”

5G holds exciting potential for innovation across entire industries,” tweeted CTA President Gary Shapiro. “I’m excited to see how the @FCC keeps pushing the U.S. forward.” Mobile Future Executive Director Margaret McCarthy urged the agency “to keep its foot on the gas in order to free up more of the spectrum that will further fuel America’s 5G leadership.”

Also at the meeting, rules to ease pole attachments and make it harder for localities to slow down communications tower projects were approved on a party-line commissioner vote: 1808020034; and a radio incubator order was approved 3-1: 1808020048. As covered in the Notebook section at end of 1808020034, all members voted to move forward on reimbursing a variety of broadcasters affected by post-incentive auction channel moves; a telehealth pilot program notice of inquiry was approved 4-0; commissioners said work remains pending on auction software, prompting some concerns; and commissioners said little about Sinclair/Tribune despite numerous questions from reporters.