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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At its August Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission” or “FCC”) unanimously initiated a major inquiry proceeding into what it labels “mid-band spectrum,” namely the frequencies between 3.7 GHz and 24 GHz.   The proceeding has major potential spectrum management ramifications for the coming years as the record developed could serve as a catalyst for future allocation and rule proceedings in a number of bands.  Recall that in late 2014, the Commission launched its Spectrum Frontiers inquiry proceeding into spectrum above 24 GHz, which led to an order adopting rules for flexible licensed and unlicensed use of almost eleven (11) gigahertz of spectrum in July 2016, and a further notice which may lead to as much as another eighteen (18) gigahertz becoming available in the near future.

In adopting its Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”), the Commission cited the need to meet “future demand” and the desire to “evaluate spectrum bands in all ranges.”  According to the Commission, in extremely general terms given the more than six-fold increase in wavelength between the bottom and top of the so-called “mid-band” range and the many pre-existing allocations throughout the range, these bands have better propagation characteristics (at least in some regards) than higher frequencies and hold out the promise for greater channel bandwidths than lower frequencies.
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