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FCC’s Ruling Modernizing the 5.9 GigaHertz Band for Commercial Use Met With Unanimous Support

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Screenshot from the FCC November meeting

November 19, 2020 — The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday repurposed 45 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GigaHertz (GHz) band for unlicensed operations, stating the spectrum had been poorly utilized by its former proprietor. The decision was unanimous.

In 2004, the agency dedicated 75 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 band to the auto industry for improving Dedicated Short-Range Communications between motor vehicles, in an apparent move to enhance public safety.

After nearly two decades of waiting for the industry to broadly deploy DSRC technology, “only a few thousand vehicles, out of the roughly 274 million cars and trucks on our roadways, have this technology on board,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

The FCC‘s ruling not only reallocates spectrum for commercial wireless use, but further updates the agency’s policies regarding intelligent transportation system services, by authorizing the use of connected vehicles technology called C-V2X, a cellular vehicle communications technology.

As C-V2X proponents still seek access to the band, the agency’s decision retains 30 megahertz of spectrum for automotive ITS services.

However, to ensure the maximum value of the long underutilized spectrum is realized, the lower 45 megahertz of the band, which sit next to the existing unlicensed 5.8 GHz band, will be utilized to support Wi-Fi necessary for telemedicine, education, and other valuable services, at a time when American’s need it most.

“What is most promising about this delegation is the ability of Wi-Fi providers to rapidly incorporate existing offerings, as soon as the order is effective,” said Commissioner Mike O’Rielly.

Many private and public entities have spoken out, commending the agency’s decision

Wireless Internet Service Providers Association  Vice President for Policy Louisa Peraertz praised the FCC’s leadership role in opening the underutilized 5.9 GHz band for shared, unlicensed commercial use today. “It has been largely offline for nearly two decades, denying Americans tremendous value and consumer welfare,” said Paraertz.

The FCC ruling tees up important transition matters going forward.

It allows immediate widespread indoor use of the lower 45 megahertz of the band. But a further rulemaking is pending. It would allow WISPs to permanently use the 45 megahertz outdoors.

“We look forward to working with all stakeholders to maximize the band for broadband consumers who need this unlicensed spectrum to stay connected during the pandemic,” said Paraertz.

NCTA, the Internet and Television Association, also endorsed the FCC’s united choice, saying that the “Commission’s bipartisan approval of a band-split approach will enable the creation of a new, wide indoor Wi-Fi channel that can quickly be brought online for American consumers, while also preserving sufficient spectrum for new automotive safety innovations.”

Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, supported of the agency’s initiative, saying “today’s FCC action is a win for closing the digital divide, a win for closing the homework gap, and a win for auto safety.”

The addition of 45 megahertz of unlicensed spectrum will create Wi-Fi channels capable of supporting the next standard Wi-Fi 6. This will enable wireless providers to dramatically increase the speed and reliability of rural broadband and increase the power of public hotspots and mobile hotspots, on which many low-income families rely, said Feld.

“In addition, the FCC will phase out the outmoded vehicle communication technology selected as the standard 20 years ago and will phase in a modern, more efficient technology requiring substantially less spectrum for collision avoidance and safety,” he said.

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FCC

Former Commissioners Commend FCC in Absence of Fifth Commissioner

But there’s concern a Senate vote on a fifth FCC commissioner will not happen before midterms.

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Screenshot of Former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2022 – Former chairs of the Federal Communications Commission commended the current FCC administration at a symposium on Wednesday for working together on important issues with a 2-2 party split, but expressed increasing uncertainty about the fate of a fifth commissioner.

The Senate vote to confirm Gigi Sohn, a Democrat and net neutrality advocate, has stalled for months. And former FCC commissioners were wary of her prospects before the midterm elections in November. Some Republican critics are concerned that Sohn, nominated by President Joe Biden in October, won’t be able to remain non-partisan on the issues she would encounter as a commissioner.

“Confirmation is still possible, but with the extended August recess and looming midterm election, there aren’t a lot of legislative days to get the job done,” said former FCC Chair Richard Wiley. With each passing day, the confirmation becomes more difficult, agreed panelists, as the Senate could flip to a Republican-controlled chamber come November.

In the meantime, the former commissioners praised the efforts of the current staff. “A lot of credit should go to the Chairwoman [Jessica] Rosenworcel and indeed to all the commissioners for maintaining a robust agenda over the last year and half and really getting decisions made,” said Wiley. “Two Democrats, two Republicans have worked together to serve the public interest.”

William Kennard added that, “this is an energetic commission, they want to get things done.”

Some initiatives that have received unanimous FCC votes include spectrum-sharing initiatives and robocall enforcement.

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FCC

FCC Adopts Spectrum-Sharing Incentives, Proposal on Call Traffic Arbitrage

The agency voted to incentivize the sharing of underutilized spectrum to increase connectivity in the nation.

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Photo of Nathan Simington, Brendan Carr, Jessica Rosenworcel of FCC (left to right)

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted at its July open meeting Thursday to adopt spectrum-sharing incentives and to crack down on the practice of driving up revenue from call traffic inflation.

The commission voted to adopt a program that will build incentives for larger spectrum holders to make underutilized spectrum available to smaller carriers, tribal nations and entities serving rural areas. The program, called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program, will have incentives including longer license terms, extensions on buildout obligations, and more flexible construction requirements.

The commission is also seeking comment on whether to expand the program eligibility to non-common carriers serving non-rural areas.

“I’m excited to see the new deployments this program will foster,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “I think it will help expand wireless deployment in rural and tribal communities… to make sure we reach 100 percent of us with high-speed service.”

Experts have advocated for more carve-outs for unlicensed spectrum to tackle the growing demand for connections and relieve congestion on existing frequencies. The Rural Wireless Association applauded the FCC Thursday on the vote, saying it believes that program can “encourage the necessary transactions that can expand telecommunications and broadband service in rural America.”

Cracking down on call traffic arbitrage

The commission also proposed rules to address the practice of telephone companies inflating traffic to generate more revenue, which raises costs for long-distance carriers.

Intercarrier compensation is the system of regulated payments that sees carriers compensate each other for cross-carrier call traffic. Some companies, however, continue to take advantage of the system by inflating traffic to extract additional revenues, the FCC identified. As a result, the FCC proposes to adopt monitoring rules to identify illegal arbitrage practices.

“This rulemaking is designed to shut down the loopholes these companies are exploiting,” said Rosenworcel. It would require providers to tally and report call traffic volumes to the FCC to verify its compliance with access stimulation rules, which were adopted in 2019 to clarify financial responsibility for calls.

Other actions

The FCC also proposed a $116 million fine against ChariTel Inc. for a robocall scheme that made nearly 10 million robocalls to toll-free numbers, which then generated revenue for the company from payments by the toll-free service provider.

FCC commissioners further voted to open an inquiry to evaluate how the Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program can be modified to support the connectivity needs of domestic abuse survivors.

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FCC

FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’

In remarks at the Rural Wireless Association event on Wednesday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reaffirmed the FCC’s goals.

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Photo of Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, leading a discussion at the summit on Wednesday by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 30, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks acknowledged the agency’s goal of obtaining secure broadband networks at an event of the Rural Wireless Association on Wednesday.

“We must ensure that our broadband networks are secure,” Starks said in keynote address at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here, delivered via Zoom. “This is evident in the constant barrage of attacks of American networks from hostile state and non-state actors.”

Starks continued, “insecure networks, by definition, can’t provide the stable, reliable, always on communications we need. Especially during emergencies… Broadband must be secure for the full benefits of broadband to be achieved.”

The issue of ridding American telecommunications networks of equipment manufactured in China was a constant theme during the conference.

In addition to Starks’ presentation, several sessions addressed the dilemma faced by telecommunications carriers, particular rural ones, that had in the past invested heavily in lower-cost equipment from Huawei, a leading Chinese manufacturer.

As the political winds have changed on the topic over the past three years, Congress has allocated funds for a “rip and replace” program. The FCC is expected to announce the providers that will receive nearly $2 billion as part of the program by July 15.

But some fear that number could be more than $4 billion short of needed funds.

“The funds available will cover only a very small portion” of the costs to replace Huawei with non-Chinese manufacturers, said Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association.

Potential new requirements imposed on telecom providers

The commission recently sought comment on whether it should require carriers that receive high-cost support to have include baseline cyber security and supply chain risk management plans.

If these plans are included in requirements, Starks said that American communication networks would be protected from bad actors. Moreover, they are consistent with requirements already included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Starks thanked the RWA for its activity and advocacy in the “rip and replace” proceedings, officially dubbed the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program.

“The threat is real,” called Starks. “Companies that are deemed by the federal government to be a threat to the United States and its people can not have free reign in data centers featuring some of the most sensitive data of Americans.”

This comes only days after Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores in response to the apps’ obligation to comply with the Peoples Republic of China’s surveillance demands.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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