Comment Period Opens for FCC's 3.5 GHz Rule Overhaul

The CommLaw Group warns: "Don't let them take away your spectrum."
By RFID Journal

Current 3.5 GHz Rules

The FCC's current rules for commercial shared use of the 3.5 GHz band were written with 5G innovation in mind. This is promoted by the unique and unprecedented three-tiered commercial radio service: Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).

CBRS Spectrum Allocation
The order of priority for interference protection in the CBRS band consists of: (1) incumbent licensees; (2) Priority Access (PA) licensees; and (3) General Authorized Access (GAA) operators.

The first and highest tier (Tier 1) contains incumbent federal users and fixed satellite service (FSS) operators. These incumbents have complete interference protection from the two lower CBRS tiers.

The second tier is PA. A PA license (PAL) is an authorization to use an unpaired 10 MHz channel in the 3550-3650 MHz range in a geographic service area for a single three year period. The PA geographic service areas are census tracts, which typically align with the borders of political boundaries such as cities or counties. PA licensees can aggregate up to four PA channels in any census tract at any given time, and may obtain licenses in any available census tract. PA licensees must provide interference protection for Tier 1 incumbent licensees and accept interference from them. But, PA licensees are entitled to protection interference from GAA operators.

The third tier, GAA, permits access to 80 MHz of the 3.5 GHz band that is not assigned to a higher tier. GAA will be licensed by rule, meaning that entities that qualify to be FCC licensees may use FCC-authorized telecommunications equipment in the GAA band without having to obtain an individual spectrum license. GAA operators will receive no interference protection from PA or Tier 1 operators, and must accept interference from them.

PAL Auction Procedures
The auction application process for PALs will commence when the FCC issues a Public Notice delineating the application window and auction/allocation rules. The FCC will assign seven PALs per geographic area. When the FCC receives competing applications in a census tract that seek a number of PALs that exceed the available supply, the FCC will assign PALs via auction. In situations where there is only a single applicant for one or more PALs in a census tract, the license will not be assigned; rather the associated spectrum will be available on a shared GAA basis until the next auction.

Unlike previous auctions, the FCC will not offer bidding credits to small businesses or any other specialized entity in the PAL auctions. Bidding credits are unnecessary because the small census tract licensing areas will be affordable, thereby obviating the need for credits or other types of financial assistance to the bidders.

PAL applicants will not bid on specific spectrum blocks. Rather, frequency coordinators will assign frequencies based on the amount of spectrum a licensee is authorized to use in a given license area.

PAL License Terms
PALs will be licensed for one three-year, non-renewable term, but in the first application window PAL applicants will be permitted to apply for two consecutive three-year terms. PAL auctions will be held every three years. PA licensees may apply for subsequent auctions to renew their existing PALs and/or apply for new ones. The short PAL license terms will help to ensure that more than one entity will have access to the PALs and that the licensees will be incentivized to commence service in a short period of time.

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