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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The Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC’s” or “Commission’s”) vote at its open meeting on October 23, 2018 on a Report and Order regarding the 3550-3700 MHz band (“3.5 GHz Band”) was split along party lines. This was hardly surprising given the criticism of the original order in 2015 by the then-Republican minority. As the now-Republican majority approved changes sought by the commercial mobile industry to the Priority Access License (“PAL”) rules, the lone Democratic Commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel dissented. Spectrum in and around the 3.5 GHz range is often touted as a lynchpin for initial 5G deployment internationally. The FCC, in response, seeks to promote greater investment in the band, by 5G proponents in particular by making PALs, which are to be auctioned, more attractive to commercial mobile service providers. The Order hopes to accomplish this by, among other things, increasing the size of PAL license areas from census tracts to counties, and extending license terms from three to ten years with a renewal expectancy. Commissioner Rosenworcel casts the action as a missed opportunity for spectrum policy that promotes innovation by favoring instead the same old, same old.

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At its March Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a long-awaited Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) to consider promoting additional investment and activity in the 4.9 GHz band while preserving the core public safety purpose of the band.  Finding the band underutilized by public safety users, the FNPRM invites comment on ways that the band might be more heavily utilized by public safety while entertaining several options by which others might gain access to the band on a shared basis, including those supporting Critical Infrastructure Industries (“CII”), Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”), and 5G networks.  To implement any sharing scheme, the Commission proposes to draw upon previous experience in other bands, such as TV white spaces.
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At its Open Meeting on October 24, the FCC took a major step in recrafting the licensing and other rules for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (“CBRS”) in the 3550-3700 MHz band (the “3.5 GHz band”) and promote 5G rollouts.  Early in his tenure as FCC Chair which began in January of this year, Ajit Pai tasked Commissioner Michael O’Reilly with reexamining the regulatory framework in the band adopted in 2015, particularly as it applied to Priority Access Licenses (“PALs”).  Within months, CTIA and T-Mobile filed petitions for rulemaking to make the licensing rules, from commercial wireless’s perspective more investment friendly.  Now the Commission has moved ultra-rapidly to act on those petitions and issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to consider making rule changes largely consistent with those sought by those proponents.  The Commission hopes to bolster commercial investment and deployment in the band convinced that, for large scale 5G deployments, providers need greater certainty than the Wheeler-era rules afford.
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