At Wednesday’s July Open Meeting, the FCC approved a Report and Order (“Order”) to modify the regulatory framework and allocation plan for the 2496 – 2690 MHz (“2.5 GHz”) band—at 194 megahertz, the largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3 GHz. The objective of the Order is to make more mid-band spectrum available for commercial use and facilitate the development of 5G services—a key spectrum policy priority for this FCC and the Trump Administration. The Order will allocate unused spectrum in the band and remove educational use requirements to free it up for non-educational commercial entities.
Continuing its push to free up spectrum to support next-generation 5G services, the FCC plans to move forward on auctions of both mid- and high-band spectrum for commercial mobile use at its next open meeting scheduled for July 10, 2019. First, the FCC would establish new licensing rules for the 2.496-2.690 GHz band (“2.5 GHz Band”) currently used for educational television services to facilitate the auction of the spectrum next year. The FCC contends that the 2.5 GHz Band, which represents the largest contiguous block of mid-band spectrum considered for auction to date, has largely gone unused and should be opened up for commercial use. Second, the FCC would adopt application and bidding procedures for the auction of spectrum at 37.6-38.6 GHz (“Upper 37 GHz Band”), 38.6 GHz-40.0 GHz (“39 GHz Band”), and 47.2-48.2 GHz (“47 GHz Band”). This auction would be the FCC’s third auction of high-band spectrum, following the recent auctions of 24 GHz band and 28 GHz band spectrum. As we previously noted, this auction is complicated by the presence of incumbent licensees in the 39 GHz Band, who would be offered incentive payments to accept modified licenses or leave the Band under the FCC’s plan. Rounding out the major July actions, the FCC expects to seek comment on establishing a three-year, $100 million universal service pilot program to support telehealth services as well as eliminate pricing regulation and other restrictions on certain legacy data transport services offered by price cap carriers.
You will find more details on the most significant July meeting items after the break:
The FCC’s proposed rulemaking to establish an overall budget cap on the Universal Service Fund (“USF”) was published in the Federal Register on June 13, 2019, which sets the comment deadline on July 15, 2019, and the reply comment deadline on August 12, 2019. As we previously highlighted, the notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) will consider a USF cap separate and above the individual budgets for each of the four USF programs, although the NPRM does not propose a specific budget, primarily raises questions about how to proceed, and does not contain any proposed rules.
A request to extend the NPRM comment period has been filed by the Education and Library Networks Coalition, but the FCC generally does not grant such requests.
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Full Spectrum’s “Inside the TCPA” offers a deeper focus on TCPA issues and petitions pending before the FCC. Each episode tackles a single TCPA topic or petition that is in the news or affecting cases around the country. In this episode, Partner Steve Augustino and Associate Chris Laughlin discuss the FCC’s efforts to reduce the volume of illegal robocalls. Steve and Chris refresh the audience on illegally spoofed calls and discuss the FCC’s efforts to urge carriers to implement call blocking and call authentication techniques, including the SHAKEN/STIR framework.
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On Friday, May 31, 2019, the FCC released a much-anticipated notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) to consider the adoption of an overall budget cap on the Universal Service Fund (“USF”), separate from any individual budgets for each of the four USF programs. The NPRM is in response to years-long advocacy on the part of Commissioner O’Rielly to impose budgets on USF spending, and it comes over dissent of the two Democratic Commissioners. While Commissioner O’Rielly justified the proposal as responsible stewardship of public money and said it would not limit funding in the near future, Commissioners Rosenworcel and Starks criticized the proposal as undermining the goals of Universal Service and, at worst, creating a “universal service hunger games” among the support programs.
The release of the NPRM was our first look at the specifics of a proposal that broke a month ago. The NPRM does not propose a specific budget, primarily raises questions about how to proceed, and does not contain any proposed rules. Nevertheless, opponents of the proposal have been most vocal since word of the NPRM came out, and we expect those USF stakeholders to continue in opposition to the approach. Meanwhile, proposals to reform USF contributions remain stalled (and lacking any consensus), while the contribution factor hovers around 20% of assessable revenues.
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Industry & Security (BIS) added Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and its non-U.S. affiliates to the U.S. Entity List. The move by the U.S. export control regulator broadly prohibits U.S. and non-U.S. persons from providing the listed Huawei entities with any “items” that are “subject to” BIS’s Export Administration Regulations (EAR).
The sanctions could have a serious impact on Huawei and on companies that supply and do business with the firm. Similar sanctions temporarily imposed on ZTE, another Chinese telecommunications firm, last year were referred to as a “death penalty” ban due to the crippling impact it had on ZTE’s operations.
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.
At its May 2019 Open Meeting, the FCC approved a Public Notice (“Notice”) that sets the stage for the auction of certain toll free numbers with the dialing code 833—the first time an auction mechanism will be used to distribute any numbering resources. The FCC intends to auction over 17,000 numbers set aside during the opening of the 833-prefix because more than one entity expressed an interest in the number. In 2018, the FCC approved the use of competitive bidding to allocate these numbers. With this Public Notice, the FCC sets proposed ground rules for the auction. Comments on the auction pre-bidding procedures proposed in the Notice are due by June 3, 2019 and reply comments by June 10, 2019.
Our “Tuning into Spectrum” podcast series takes a close look at hot topics and issues in radio spectrum. Thanks to technological advancements, a major development in recent years has been the growing prospects for innovative use of higher spectrum bands. In this episode, Associate Avonne Bell talks with Partners Chip Yorkgitis and Josh Guyan about the FCC’s heightened focus on millimeter wave spectrum. They discuss the connection to 5G, potential impacts on federal meteorological and passive services, the use of an incentive auction in a new setting, innovative proposals for spectrum access, and more. Look out for additional spectrum updates in the coming months in this continuously evolving environment.
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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.