FCC tackles 2 GHz, 700 MHz band issues

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Federal Communications Commission attempts to infuse spectrum assets into the wireless space while at the same time maintaining an open, competitive environment took center stage this week as the government agency tackled a number of issues facing the mobile industry.

The agency opened up proceedings that could allow for Dish network to use its 2 GHz spectrum assets initially set aside for satellite communications to be used for a terrestrial network. The commission had earlier this year had postponed granting Dish the right to use its 40 megahertz of spectrum for a terrestrial network following its approval of Dish’s acquisition of those assets from DBSD and TerreStar Networks.

In its latest filing, the FCC initiated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that could grant “flexible use of spectrum current assigned to the Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) in the 2 GHz band.” The move follows the FCC’s recent decision preventing LightSquared from using 1.6 GHz spectrum assets originally set aside for MSS service to launch a mobile broadband network citing interference issues with some ground-based GPS systems.

Jeffrey Silva, senior policy director for telecommunications, media and technology at Medley Global Advisors, noted that the FCC could complete the rulemaking on the proposal sometime during the third quarter. Silva added that the FCC is looking to craft rules that could prevent Dish from flipping its spectrum assets or forming an exclusive relationship with either of the mobile industry’s two largest wireless operators – Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility – that might limit competition.

“As such, we do not believe the Democratic-led FCC is anxious to have Dish secure 2 GHz MSS flexibility only to sell newfound value-added spectrum assets to a strong national carrier and thus could structure regulations to make such an outcome more difficult,” Silva wrote in a research note.

In addition to the Dish spectrum issue, the FCC is also looking to tackle 700 MHz interoperability issues that have been a cornerstone of lobbying efforts of rural wireless carriers. Currently, there are no rules that require carriers to establish interoperability across the 700 MHz band, which has resulted in diverse “band classes” in the lower 700 MHz band that some carriers have said is limiting their ability to acquire network equipment and devices.

“Therefore, we initiate this rulemaking proceeding to promote interoperability in the lower 700 MHz band and to encourage the efficient use of spectrum,” the FCC noted. “We will evaluate whether the customers of lower 700 MHz B- and C-Block licensees would experience harmful interference – and if so, to what degree – if the lower 700 MHz band were interoperable. We also explore the next steps should we find that interoperability would cause limited or no harmful interference to lower 700 MHz B- and C-Block licensees, or that such interference can reasonably be mitigated through industry efforts and/or through modifications to the Commission’s technical rules or other regulatory measures.”

Silva noted that the move could be a pre-cursor to spreading interoperability requirements across all 700 MHz bands, including the upper bands that are currently controlled by Verizon.

“The FCC is expected to move with caution and diligence in assessing whether (and to what extent) 700 MHz interoperability/roaming can be achieved without undue collateral damage in the form of interference to AT&T and others,” Silva explained. “If interoperability is instituted in the lower 700 MHz band, the FCC may later examine overlaying a similar policy on the upper 700 MHz band where Verizon holds a prominent position.”

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Dan Meyer

Editor-in-Chief, Telecom Software, Policy, Wireless Carriers
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Dan Meyer started at RCR Wireless News in 1999 covering wireless carriers and wireless technologies. As editor-in-chief, Dan oversees editorial direction, reports on news from the wireless industry, including telecom software, policy and wireless carriers, and provides opinion stories on topics of concern to the market such as his popular Friday column “Worst of the Week.”