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On October 7, the Enforcement Bureau (“EB” or “Bureau”) of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) took action to enhance the method by which public safety and enterprise wireless providers file interference complaints and receive initial responses. In a Public Notice, the Bureau announced that a new interference complaint intake portal, which the Bureau sees as a “backstop” when private resolution efforts fail, is now operational for these types of spectrum users. The action was in response to the Commission’s 2015 Field Modernization Order, in which the FCC called on the Bureau to ensure that EB’s field offices respond to radiofrequency interference (“RFI”) complaints filed by public safety and industry users in a timely fashion.

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At its Open Meeting on Thursday (September 26), the FCC will be set to adopt a Public Notice that seeks comment on bidding procedures for Auction 105 – the long-anticipated auction of Priority Access Licenses (“PALs”) in the 3550-3650 MHz (“3.5 GHz”) band. According to a draft of the Public Notice released in early September, the Commission will auction seven unpaired 10-megahertz channels in each county-based license area for a total of 22,631 PALs nationwide. The Public Notice also seeks comment on allowing bidders the option to bid at a Cellular Market Area (“CMA”) level in the 172 top CMAs that incorporate multiple counties and are classified as Metropolitan Statistical Areas (“MSAs”). We identified this “package bidding” as a potential cause for dispute at this bidding procedures stage in our November 5, 2018 post on the Report and Order that modified the 3.5 GHz Band licensing regime.

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By unanimous vote, the FCC launched a rulemaking this past week to consider allocating the 1675-1680 MHz band for co-primary use by flexible commercial terrestrial fixed and mobile operators with incumbent federal operators. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), released on Monday, May 13, is, in many fundamental ways, similar to a proposal Ligado first made in a 2012 petition for rulemaking, with adjustments over the years, seeking to allow terrestrial mobile operations in the 1675-1680 MHz band.

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At its April Open Meeting, the FCC approved a Fifth Report and Order (“R&O”) in the Spectrum Frontiers Proceeding that adopted sharing rules in two settings. The new rules will allow the federal government to deploy, in limited circumstances, additional station sites in spectrum to be auctioned for flexible mobile and fixed use in the 37.6-38.6 GHz frequency range (the “Upper 37 GHz Band”). The rules also will allow fixed satellite service (“FSS”) operators to individually license earth stations in the 50.4-51.4 GHz band (the “50 GHz Band”) while the FCC considers whether spectrum in the 50 GHz Band should also be auctioned for flexible mobile and fixed use. By acting now on these matters, the Commission intends to help provide Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service (“UMFUS”) providers with certainty regarding their potential future use of the spectrum before the auctions commence.

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The FCC is requiring fixed-satellite service (“FSS”) operators to provide the Commission with information about their current use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (“C-Band”) by May 28, 2019, according to a Public Notice released jointly earlier this month by the FCC’s International Bureau, Wireless Bureau, and Office of Engineering and Technology. The FCC will use the information to consider potential rules that allow new commercial terrestrial services in the Band while protecting incumbent satellite and earth station operators. The Band is currently allocated to FSS and the fixed service, but the Commission has proposed adding a mobile, except aeronautical mobile, allocation, which would allow commercial wireless providers to operate 5G services in the Band. The amount of spectrum to be reallocated or shared, the extent of protection for incumbents, and the means of protection for incumbents are all, as yet, undetermined, and they are topics of substantial debate among stakeholders.

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The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), at its April 12, 2019 Open Meeting, voted to adopt a Public Notice that proposes application and bidding procedures for the single, simultaneous auction of three mmW spectrum bands—37 GHz (37.6-38.6 GHz), 39 GHz (38.6 GHz-40 GHz), and 47 GHz (47.2-48.2 GHz)—as we previously reported. The Public Notice lays the groundwork for the second-ever incentive auction (in the 37 and 39 GHz Bands) and continues the FCC’s intent to make more mmW band spectrum available for auction. The auction is scheduled to begin on December 10, 2019. Comments on the Public Notice are due by May 15, 2019 and reply comments are due by May 30, 2019.

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Following on its 2017 Notice of Inquiry and proposals by several entities going back at least five years, the FCC is poised to consider establishment of a wireless broadband service in the 900 MHz band (896-901/935-940 MHz), a major change from its historical use for narrowband private land mobile radio. At its March 15 Open Meeting, the FCC will consider a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that would propose to allot 60% of the spectrum for wireless broadband licensees’ use, subject to commercial mobile rules, while preserving the remainder for continued narrowband operations . The comments on the NPRM, assuming it is adopted, will follow publication in the Federal Register, but the length of the comment periods is not set out in the draft.

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At its March 15 Open Meeting, the FCC intends to vote on a Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) in its Wireless E911 Location Accuracy Requirements proceeding that would consider adoption of a vertical, or z-axis, location accuracy metric. Currently there is no z-axis metric, despite proposals by the Commission going back to as early as 2014. The FNPRM, if adopted, would propose a z-axis metric of +/- 3 meters relative to the handset for 80 percent of wireless E911 calls, the same metric proposed in a Third Further Notice in the proceeding. The Commission deferred promulgation of a specific metric for lack of sufficient test data in a 2015 order that established benchmarks and timetables for the deployment of z-axis in the top 50 Cellular Market Areas (“CMAs”).

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The FCC’s Spectrum Frontiers proceeding, which is focused on making millimeter wave (“mmW”) spectrum available for flexible commercial mobile and fixed use, seems poised to move into a new phase even as the current phase is playing out. At its next meeting on December 12, 2018, the agency will vote on rule changes to facilitate a consolidated auction of spectrum in three spectrum ranges designated in 2016 and 2017 for flexible mobile and fixed use:  the so-called Upper 37 GHz Band (37.6-38.6 GHz), the 39 GHz Band (38.6-40.0 GHz), and the 47 GHz Band (47.2-48.2 GHz). The FCC reportedly anticipates completing the auctions by the end of 2019, following the present auction of 28 GHz Band licenses (in 27.50-28.35 GHz) and the immediately-following auction of 24 GHz Band spectrum (in 24.25-24.45 and 24.75-25.25 GHz). A draft order has been made available to the public.

Of particular interest, the recently released draft item would lay the groundwork for the FCC’s second incentive auction (after the “inaugural” broadcast incentive auction completed in March 2017). A 39 GHz incentive auction would be structured quite differently than the 600 MHz broadcast incentive auction and attempt to reduce encumbrances in the 39 GHz Band by offering existing licensees the option to relinquish their licenses in exchange for payment. The FCC leadership appears bullish that the three auctions will draw significant interest from major service providers looking to support next-generation applications, including 5G wireless connectivity and the Internet of Things. Naturally, the first-in-time 24 and 28 GHz auctions may give some sense in advance of that interest. Through November 26, 2018, after 18 rounds, the 28 GHz Band auction had generated under $200 million in bids, albeit that spectrum is encumbered in many of the largest markets and in slightly more than 50% of all counties nationwide, including the most populous. The 24 GHz Band auction may prove a much better test of the appetite for participants to pay high prices for so-called “high band” spectrum.


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