FCC Frees Up Spectrum for Mobile Broadband

The FCC begins rulemaking process to provide device interoperability, groundwork for Dish Network to convert satellite spectrum to wireless broadband.

By Kenneth Corbin
Wed, March 21, 2012

CIO — The Federal Communications Commission took up issues relating to wireless spectrum at its monthly meeting today, voting to initiate a pair of rulemaking proceedings as it continues work to free up more sections of the airwaves for robust wireless broadband service.

By unanimous votes, the FCC opened proceedings to consider a proposal by Dish Network to reallocate a 40 MHz of spectrum currently licensed for satellite usage to wireless service, and a framework to achieve mobile device interoperability in a key portion of the airwaves while guarding against interference.

The latter issue, concerning the 700 MHz band of spectrum, has broadly pitted rural carriers against AT&T and Verizon, with the smaller firms arguing that their larger rivals have used their market clout to prevent certain devices from operating on all networks within that spectrum.

The Rural Carrier Association (RCA) hailed the FCC's move for its potential to level the playing field with large incumbents, which have argued that past device interoperability proposals would not shield their networks from interference, a standoff that prompted the FCC's regulatory intervention.

"Many RCA members own spectrum in the lower 700 MHz spectrum but are unable to build out their networks and compete with others moving to 4G/LTE because of a lack of interoperability," Steven Berry, the trade group's president and CEO, said in a statement. "The sooner this is resolved, the faster customers all across the country will have access to 4G/LTE devices and services."

The Process Begins for Dish Network

For Dish, the commission's action begins the formal process of freeing up a recently acquired portion of the 2 GHz band of spectrum, known as AWS-2, for wireless broadband.

The FCC's move comes on the same day that the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel is planning to hold a hearing to consider the implications of Verizon's blockbuster deal to purchase spectrum licenses from Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. That proposed transaction came alongside an agreement between Verizon and the cable firms to cross-sell each other's services. Public interest groups and unions representing affected workers have blasted those agreements, arguing that they would effectively create a monopoly in the telecom sector.

The FCC has identified spectrum reallocation as a signature priority in its broadband agenda, and recently won a major victory on Capitol Hill when Congress approved legislation authorizing the commission to conduct so-called incentive auctions, through which television broadcasters would be invited to relinquish their spectrum licenses in exchange for a portion of the proceeds generated through the resale to wireless broadband operators.

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