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Before October 27 Auction, a Q&A With Gregory Rose, Author of 'The WiMAX Band'

WASHINGTON, October 23, 2009 – Next Tuesday, October 27, 2009, the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to hold Auction 86, for the use of radio-frequencies being deployed through WiMAX technologies. The presence of two major carriers in the band – Clearwire and Sprint – makes this auction crucial for the success of WiMAX in the United States. Last week, BroadbandCensus.com began offering for sale a major report on “The ‘WiMAX Band’: Characteristics, Technology, Major Spectrum Holders in the BRS-EBS Service and Prospects for Auction 86.” BRS-EBS stands for Broadband Radio Service-Educational Broadband Service. Click here for further information about the report – including an extensive series of detailed and searchable auction tables in spreadsheets.

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Editor’s Note: Next Tuesday, October 27, 2009, the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to hold Auction 86, for the use of radio-frequencies being deployed through WiMAX technologies. The presence of two major carriers in the band – Clearwire and Sprint – makes this auction crucial for the success of WiMAX in the United States.

Last week, BroadbandCensus.com began offering for sale a major report on “The ‘WiMAX Band’: Characteristics, Technology, Major Spectrum Holders in the BRS-EBS Service and Prospects for Auction 86.” BRS-EBS stands for Broadband Radio Service-Educational Broadband Service. Click here for further information about the report – including an extensive series of detailed and searchable auction tables in spreadsheets.

BroadbandCensus.com Reporter-Researcher Christina Kirchner interviewed Gregory Rose, the author of the report, to provide a layman’s guide to what’s happening in the auction – and why it matters for the future of broadband. Below are edited excerpts from the interview:

Q: What prompted you to research this information and compile this comprehensive report in anticipation of this auction?

A: I have been working on spectrum issues for many years and I have contacts with the principal players. Also this is available in terms of [press] releases from these companies. They keep websites, they put information about them, all it takes some very digital searching and running into the right information and the right people.

Q: How long you been working on spectrum issues in relation to WiMAX and Clearwire?

A: WiMAX is an up and coming technology which has, in addition to Clearwire, been a particular national player in the provision of 4G [fourth-generation] wireless services. The fact that Comcast, Time Warner and several other companies – together with Sprint and Clearwire – invest heavily in the technology suggest something well worth keeping an eye on.

Q: WiMax is intended principally for wireless networks in metropolitan areas, correct? Will the presence of Clearwire engaging in more widespread spectrum leasing create more competition between existing spectrum license-holders?

A: Well, I think that the intended purpose is to challenge the incumbents in urban areas. Well, I mean the WiMAX technology can be used in rural areas. It has a 50-75 mile transmission zone, so that it is perfectly feasible technology for some rural areas. WiMAX competitors like DigitalBridge and Xanadoo, which have chosen smaller towns and rural areas because they know areas where Clearwire is not deployed, [are focusing] particularly in rural areas.

Q: What do you mean by not deployed? Are they purposely not doing that?

A: I think it is probably the influence of Comcast and Time Warner [which have an ownership stake in Clearwire] on their policy. Roughly 10 percent of America is in rural area, where there is not enough population or where the cost of deployment is relatively high, such that the rate of return that investors receive who deploy there is not terribly high. Given the fact that all major wireless companies are publicly-owned, they are held hostage to the expectations of financial markets. Deploying in these areas would significantly reduce their mean rate of return and they would be punished by investors in the stock market. So they have simply redlined 10 percent of America. And Clearwire seems to be following in that same policy probably for much of the same reasons. Smaller, privately owned companies are, however, beginning to deploy in some of those areas.

Q: In page seven of the report, it says “Spectrum coverage is in such redundant depth in these locales that there has been speculation that Clearwire believes that complete fixed and mobile WiMAX coverage will be more spectrum-intensive than originally projected.” In layman’s term, what is spectrum intensive?

A: Ah, yes, WiMAX is suppose to be non-line-of–sight.Rather, it goes through things rather than have a direct line of sight connection to where it is transmitting. In Portland, the first major WiMAX roll -out deployment, that there have been more line-of-sight problems than the engineers thought there would be. There are WiMAX “dead zones” so they had to put up more towers to retransmit signals than they would have expected to if WiMAX didn’t have at least, in practical terms, some line of sight limitations. And that involves using more spectrum, transmitting at higher power levels, that sort of thing.

Q: So being spectrum intensive is, effectively, a bad thing?

A:Yes, although Clearwire has enough spectrum in redundancy in places where it is planning to deploy, it is confirmatory that there is some problem. [That’s why] they have acquired so much spectrum redundancy in given areas.

Q: How do hills and other physical obstacles have an effect on these transmissions?

Apparently they can. And some weather conditions, too. It is very wet out here [in Portland] much of the year, and I think with the intersection of hills and precipitation surprised Clearwire a bit in how much a difficulty they were going to have covering the entire Portland metropolitan area.

Q: Hence, in hindsight, the cost of deploying WIMAX abilities in rural areas more than they thought it would be. So when a company is coming to auction, how do they properly value what they should bid on particular frequencies?

A: Well, very little of WiMAX spectrum was actually auctioned. The rest or the majority of the spectrum is picked up on the secondary market, which is where they will transfer licenses or long-term leases of their licenses. And those transactions have to be approved of the FCC. Given the fact that there has been encouragement from the FCC to have BRS-EBS licenses-holders agree to use other spectrum, they will have an incentive to go onto the secondary market to either transfer or lease the spectrum they have, while they are migrating to other spectrums of the FCC.

Q: What is going to happen at the buildout deadline set for May 2010, and what kind of action can we expect for this auction on October 27?

A: They have set relatively low build-out expectations and the FCC has a history of giving waivers to those who don’t meet build out requirements. It has been a matter of continuing public interest to the community who vigorously see it as a failure of enforcement of the build-out requirements, which allows incumbents to warehouse their spectrum.

I expect the FCC to enforce the rules, but also at the same time, can see them do one- or two-year long waivers in cases where the spectrum holder has not been able to meet the requirement if they show evidence of serious intention [to deploy].

We have a relatively small number of bidders and I am expecting Clearwire and Digital Bridge to clearly dominate the scene, particularly Clearwire, making a national footprint by holding over half of the BRS-EBS spectrum. There are going to be three active bidders over the Gulf of Mexico region, mainly with communications with oil rigs. Then there will be smaller companies competing for spectrum in their existing footprint, competing for a handful of licenses.

Q: Any other issues?

A: There were some issues from the commenters of the bidding. The FCC has resolved them to the satisfaction of the people who are more likely to bid in the first place. Some of these issues were raised because of the implications that were raised at the other auctions, because once the FCC has decided on the rules of the auction, they will carry those rules over from one auction to another auction to another auction. So there were some commenters concerned about the long term effects on auctions of the certain kinds.

For more information on the purchasing the report, including the FREE Executive Summary, click here.

About BroadbandCensus.com

BroadbandCensus.com was launched in January 2008, and uses “crowdsourcing” to collect the Broadband SPARC: Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. The news on BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census News LLC, a subsidiary of Broadband Census LLC that was created in July 2009.

A recent split of operations helps to clarify the mission of BroadbandCensus.com. Broadband Census Data LLC offers commercial broadband verification services to cities, states, carriers and broadband users. Created in July 2009, Broadband Census Data LLC produced a joint application in the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program with Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program. In August 2009, BroadbandCensus.com released a beta map of Columbia, South Carolina, in partnership with Benedict-Allen Community Development Corporation.

Broadband Census News LLC offers daily and weekly reporting, as well as the Broadband Breakfast Club. The Broadband Breakfast Club has been inviting top experts and policy-makers to share breakfast and perspectives on broadband technology and internet policy since October 2008. Both Broadband Census News LLC and Broadband Census Data LLC are subsidiaries of Broadband Census LLC, and are organized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. About BroadbandCensus.com.

Expert Opinion

Kate Forscey: Mobile Broadband Gap Needs to Be Remedied, Too

A recent study by CostQuest suggests that 37,000 more towers are needed to bring mobile coverage up to speed nationwide.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Kate Forscey, contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute

It’s no longer a question: Whether it’s launching a new business, keeping up with friends, or finding the cheapest gas station nearby, the Internet is quintessential to the extent we don’t even think twice—until we don’t have it.

While Internet in America’s cities and suburbs weathered COVID’s storm, rural and low-income Americans have struggled to get any Internet access for decades.  The well-known stories of parents taking their kids to McDonald’s parking lots to do their homework haven’t ended—far too many Americans still lack access to the broadband they need.

The federal government, however, is taking steps to change the story.  The FCC’s Universal Service Fund has awarded billion dollars to deploy fiber and fixed wireless service to unserved areas through an alphabet soup of programs like the ACAM, the CAF, the HCLS, and the CAF BLS.  The most prominent of these is the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund that auctioned off $9.2 billion in federal support to connect 5.2 million unserved homes with high-speed broadband.

Congress has stepped up, too, with the bipartisan Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act.  That legislation sent $42.45 billion for states to build out fixed, high-speed broadband.  In addition, Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program, allocating $14.2 billion to reduce the cost of broadband for low-income households.

Policymakers recognize the problem and their responsibility to do something, and they are taking action on a bipartisan basis.  This is good.  But it’s not enough.  All of this funding is directed at one broadband gap—fixed connections to the home.

Mobile connectivity gap remains unresolved

There is another broadband gap—mobile connectivity—that’s unresolved.  A recent study by CostQuest suggests that 37,000 more towers are needed to bring mobile coverage up to speed nationwide.

Mobile broadband is central to the daily goings-on of families and businesses as we leave our houses with the fading of the pandemic.  That’s especially true for rural communities where commutes are longer, educational opportunities are sparse, and precision agriculture is necessary to stay in business.

To be fair, work is underway.  The FCC allocated $9 billion in 2020 for its 5G Fund, a support program to bring high-speed mobile connectivity to unserved Americans.  But that’s only a fraction of the funding needed to close the mobile gap.  And the FCC cannot move forward with the 5G Fund until it finishes updating its broadband coverage maps, which it’s been working on since 2019 and should be ready this fall.

So what to do?  Well, the FCC can move forward with its 5G Fund.  The auction model for that fund, as the Commission has proposed, would work—the RDOF used a similar model, costing the federal government $6.8 billion less than the FCC originally estimated.  And that $6.8 billion in savings could be redirected to the 5G Fund now that Congress is working to close the fixed-broadband gap.  The only downside is that the 5G Fund is a long-term solution—it will likely take several years before the funding is awarded.

Private companies are bringing new solutions to bear

In the interim, private companies are bringing innovative solutions to bear.  For example, AST SpaceMobile is building the first space-based cellular broadband network, allowing existing mobile phones to jump seamlessly from their terrestrial service to the company’s satellites and back again.  If the FCC were to fully authorize the service, it could expand the reach of existing towers and lower the cost of building out 5G to the far reaches of America.

Following in AST’s footsteps, SpaceX’s Starlink just announced a technology partnership with T-Mobile to enable connectivity to mobile phones in areas that don’t currently have access. Amazon’s Project Kuiper has similarly partnered with Verizon to extend the reach of mobile networks.

The advantage of these immediate solutions is they don’t require granular mapping or government funding to get started—they just need the FCC’s okay.  And while they don’t solve the problem entirely (satellite service works much better in Kansas cornfields than in the forested hills and hollers of West Virginia), they can quickly close the mobile gap where they do work well.

I remain hopeful that we can and will close the mobile gap.  Just as Congress and the FCC have relied on a variety of solutions to connect every household, we’ll need a multi-pronged approach to bring mobile connectivity to every American.  That means moving forward on government solutions like the 5G Fund as well as private solutions that give companies the flexibility to serve new customers.

Connectivity is having a bipartisan moment—let’s make it last.

Kate Forscey is a contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute and principal and founder of KRF Strategies LLC. She has served as senior technology policy advisor for Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo and policy counsel at Public Knowledge. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Spectrum

FCC Spectrum Authority Expires on September 30, Agency Seeks Renewal

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s proposal for increased auction authority would allow the agency to support infrastructure investment.

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WASHINGTON, September 26, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel urged Congress last week to extend the agency’s authority to conduct spectrum auctions, which is set to expire this week.

“The FCC has held the authority to hold spectrum auctions for about three decades,” Rosenworcel said during a National Telecommunications and Information Administration spectrum policy symposium on September 19.

“It has been a powerful engine for wireless innovation and economic growth.
In fact, using this authority the FCC has held 100 auctions and raised more than $233 billion in revenue”

September 30 will mark the end of Congress’s fiscal year and the expiry of the FCC’s authority. In July, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce passed the Spectrum Innovation Act of 2022, H.R. 7624, which includes an extension of the auction authority through to March 2024.

Spectrum and Next Generation 911

The Spectrum Innovation Act was passed in July of this year, which required the FCC to host a spectrum auction to use $10 billion of allocated funds towards Next Generation 911, an Internet Protocol-based system to replace the analog 911 system.

Implementing NG911 in states and counties nationwide will require the coordination of emergency, public safety, and government entities. 

Urgent Telecommunications reported last week that the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition, a coalition of public-safety associations, said that NG911 would not be available for years.

The coalition requested that NG911 funds could be borrowed immediately from the U.S. Treasury, which would be repaid when the proceeds from the 3.1-3.45 GigaHertz (GHz) spectrum auction are made available.

 

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Spectrum

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chair Takes FCC to Task for Communication With Tribes

‘You need to get a little better about talking to and listening to native communities,” the chairman told the FCC.

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Screenshot of Sen. Brian Schatz, D-HI, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

WASHINGTON, September 23, 2022 –Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Brian Schatz on Wednesday urged the Federal Communications Commission to consult more regularly with Tribal leaders on the spectrum-licensing processes.

“Some of [the problems voiced native panelists at the roundtable] could simply be avoided by better, more aggressive, more continuous, more humble consultation, and you’re going to save yourselves a ton of headache,” said Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat. “I’m wondering if you need to get a little better about talking to and listening to native communities at every step in the process.”

“Chairman, I think you put that extremely well,” responded Umair Javed, chief council for the office of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Tyler Iokepa Gomes, deputy to the chairman of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, told the committee of difficulties faced by native Hawaiians in obtaining spectrum licenses. Since the DHHL is a state entity, not a Tribal government, Gomes said, it was forced to compete against two local, native communities in a waiver process. Gomes said that his agency’s competition with the other waiver applicants caused considerable friction in Hawaii’s native community at large.

Low digital literacy is also a problem for some native communities attempted to secure spectrum licenses. “When it comes to technology, a lot of people seem to be scared of it,” said Keith Modglin, director of information technology for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, a federally-recognized Indian Tribe.

Modglin argued that education initiatives to raise digital literacy and explain the intra- and intercommunity benefits of spectrum would benefit his band greatly.

The land of the Mille Lacs Band is a “checkerboard,” meaning that Tribal lands are interspersed with non-tribal lands, said Melanie Benjamin, the tribe’s chief executive officer. According to Benjamin, navigating government’s failure to account for this status caused substantial delays for her tribe.

In addition to improving communication, Schatz called on the FCC to take affirmative actions to ease regulatory burdens on small tribes. “There are some really under resourced native communities, and it shouldn’t be a labyrinth to figure out what they’re eligible for,” he said. “Try to figure out some one-stop shop, some simple way to access the resources that they are eligible for under current law.”

Javed acknowledged a need for the FCC improve its communication with native communities, but he said the FCC is making strides in other areas. “While spectrum is one piece of that puzzle, I think we are making a lot of progress in some of our programs like the Affordable Connectivity Program, updates to the E-Rate program, some of our mapping efforts as well,” he said.

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