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FCC adds ‘protection zones’ to AWS-3 spectrum auction plans

The Federal Communications Commission late last week updated rules for use of the AWS-3 spectrum that is set to be auctioned off to commercial cellular operators later this year. The updates include the establishment of “protection zones” designed to reduce interference concerns between commercial wireless services and satellite-based communications that will continue in some of the AWS-3 bands.
The FCC said it has set up 27 protection zones in areas where 47 “federal earth stations” will continue to receive satellite signals using the 1675-1695 MHz and 1695-1710 MHz spectrum bands. License users with base stations in those protection zones and operating near those bands will be required to coordinate services to ensure that interference concerns are mitigated.
As previously included in AWS-3 rulemaking, the FCC also reiterated that companies that gain access to spectrum licenses will have to put up with potential interference from federal users in the 1755-1780 MHz bands that are set to be cleared of federal users as part of the auction process.
The protection zone addition did not go over well with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who fired off a formal letter stating his objection to the process. Pai’s objections centered on the lack of information regarding the location of the protection zones.
“So I asked for the answers to two elementary questions. How does this document change the zones? And what are the new zones? I had thought that these were quite reasonable inquiries,” Pai stated. “So I was surprised when my requests for this basic information were denied. Instead, I was told that after the commission adopted the item, I would be briefed on the new zones.

Ajit Pai
Ajit Pai

“My position is simple,” Pai continued “I can’t cast an informed vote on new coordination zones if I don’t know what those coordination zones are. Voting first and then learning about what you’ve voted on is irresponsible. Unfortunately, others disagreed; the item was pulled from the full commission and pushed out at the bureau level today. This is no way to run a railroad.”

The FCC in late March released its initial AWS-3 rules that included plans to auction 50 megahertz of paired spectrum and unleash 15 megahertz of unpaired spectrum. The licensed spectrum will include three 5×5 megahertz options, leaving just a single 10×10 megahertz license covering the country.
In mid-May, the FCC further fleshed out the AWS-3 rules, noting that there would not be any limitations on bidding eligibility. Operators have shown mixed reactions to the AWS-3 auction, with Verizon Wireless showing strong interest in the band in order to further bolster its current ownership in AWS-1, while Sprint has hinted that it may skip the AWS-3 proceedings all together as it does not currently own any spectrum in that vicinity.
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