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Wireless Infrastructure Advocates Urge Municipalities to Work Collaboratively on 5G Facilities

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February 25, 2021— Municipalities and the nation’s carriers must work together to deploy and extend networks as the era of 5G quickly approaches, experts said Wednesday.

Tensions have been picking up between industry and local governments about access to infrastructure to extend broadband networks by installing small cells on those towers and poles.

Carriers have complained either about a lack of access or excessive fees to attach that equipment, and they say that access is crucial for the extension of existing infrastructure and the deployment of the next-generation networks.

Experts at the Wireless Infrastructure Association’s All Access Policy Summit 2021 on Wednesday were hopeful that those differences can be mended. They expressed optimism that lawmakers – despite their differences – could get behind closing the digital divide and ultimately allow the Biden administration to make meaningful change to bridge the divide.

Matt Mandel, vice president of government and public affairs for the Wireless Infrastructure Association, said the pandemic has shown how critical distanced learning, telehealth and telework, and those facts have illuminated for all how important it is to close the divide.

Staci Pies, vice president of government affairs for communications infrastructure company Crown Castle, agreed with Mandel about the need for partnerships between broadband providers and municipal governments for deploying 5G infrastructure—a crucial component to bridging the digital divide.

Pies recognized the difficulty in how to determine which communities to prioritize for 5G deployment, but emphasized that “need” could not be the exclusive metric. She stated that communities also needed to be able to demonstrate “readiness” for 5G.

Mandel explained that this readiness could be viewed in different ways. He noted that WIA partnered with municipal governments during the early days of the pandemic to ensure that communities were able to voice their concerns, and then attempt to help them to resolve issues they raised.

Mandel said that certain jurisdictions did not allow electronic signatures or filing, so WIA held meetings with local governments to facilitate the transition to a more digitally-dependent ecosystem. He explained that establishing these relationships with municipal governments would also be a critical element in the adoption of 5G.

Both panelists agreed that these processes are aided by the fact that both sides of the aisle recognize the importance of broadband.

Broadband issues are “one of the few kind of oases of bipartisanship,” Mandel said. He noted that while the parties may disagree on the specifics of what kind of action is necessary to solve the problems at hand, they are both able to agree that issues like the homework gap and the digital divide need to be solved.

The panelists were optimistic that stimulus and infrastructure packages, such as one containing $7.6 billion that would be directed to the Emergency Connectivity Fund, might receive bipartisan support.

Additionally, both said they hoped that the E-Rate program that subsidizes internet access to schools and libraries could possibly be expanded to homes.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Washington Jewish Week and The Center Square, among other publications. He he covered almost every beat at Broadband Breakfast.

Spectrum

Interference Concerns with FCC Raised Over Wi-Fi in 6 GigaHertz Band

Southern Linc raised concerns about potential interference issues with the agency’s opening the band for unlicensed use.

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Illustration by Jose Ruiz from PC Mag

WASHINGTON, November 30, 2022 – Wireless service provider Southern Linc raised concerns with the Federal Communications Commission on November 9 about potential interference issues with the agency’s opening of the 6 GigaHertz (GHz) band for unlicensed use.

The concerns, laid out in a post-meeting letter to the FCC, explained that the agency’s decision to open up the band traditionally used by services including broadcasting to unlicensed use was based on measurements taken in 2018. Since then, wireless data points have multiplied, rendering these measurements outdated and unreflective of the current Wi-Fi environment, Southern Linc representatives argued.

Southern Linc urged the collection of data on current Wi-Fi operations to successfully develop and implement automated frequency coordination systems. A thoroughly tested automatic frequency control system could provide for effective shared use of the 6 GHz band and reduce harmful interference, the company said.

Earlier this month, the FCC approved the testing of 13 proposed automated frequency coordination database systems from various technology companies to ensure interference issues are limited. During testing, each company will make the automated frequency coordination system available for a specific period for the public to test the system’s functionality.

Southern Linc also recommended a proposal made by trade associations to engage in next-generation Wi-Fi, dubbed “6E” for its capability to use the 6 GHz band. To date, the University of Michigan has a campus-wide Wi-Fi 6E system, the largest currently operating network of unlicensed 6 GHz devices.

In April 2020, the FCC adopted its 6 GHz Order, freeing up 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band (from 5.925–7.125 GHz) for unlicensed use, including for Wi-Fi connectivity. The order, supported unanimously by the FCC commissioners, was expected to improve Wi-Fi reliability and speed.

A few months later, in response to a challenge from AT&T, the D.C. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the FCC order stating that the “petitioners have failed to provide a basis for questioning the commission’s conclusion that the order will protect against a significant risk of harmful interference.”

In December 2021, the National Spectrum Management Association echoed concerns about harmful interference, alleging the FCC decision was made without proper testing.

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Wireless

GOP Senators Want NTIA to Revisit View That Unlicensed Spectrum Networks Are Not ‘Reliable’

The coalition sent a letter to NTIA head Alan Davidson urging the agency to reconsider the policies outlined in the BEAD NOFO.

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Photo of Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mon., in July 2015, by Joel Kowsky used with permission

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2022 – Led by Montana’s Steve Daines, a coalition of Republican senators on Tuesday urged the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to remove regulatory barriers facing networks that rely entirely on unlicensed spectrum.

In the notice of funding opportunity for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, the NTIA stated that any fully unlicensed networks will not be considered a “reliable broadband network,” and therefore all locations served exclusively by such networks will be classified as unserved.

The coalition, which included Ted Cruz, R-Tex., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., sent a letter to NTIA head Alan Davidson urging the agency to reconsider, arguing the NTIA’s BEAD notice was at odds with congressional intent and precedent set by the Federal Communications Commission.

“Broadband is not a one-size-fits all service. Different states, regions, communities and differing terrain will require different solutions. Removing options off the table will result in communities being left behind,” the senators wrote. “Solutions that work in urban areas may not work in rural America where farms and homes can be miles apart. Likewise, what works in flat terrain, may not work well in mountainous areas. It is important that NTIA allow all broadband providers and technology to compete in order to ensure that we finally close the digital divide.”

The senators also expressed concern that the NTIA’s current policy would lead to waste of taxpayer dollars if areas served by otherwise satisfactory unlicensed-only networks are allotted funding for another type of build, such as a fiber deployment.

“This is a great development for [wireless internet service providers], who serve their communities mainly with unlicensed spectrum,” Mike Wendy, director of communications for the wireless-provider trade organization WISPA, said Tuesday. “Instead of fiber-only builds, it would help limited taxpayer resources go further to bring all Americans online.”

Not all industry players are sanguine about the potential of unlicensed spectrum. Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association and a fervent supporter of fiber-optic broadband, opposed the senators’ stance.

“Senators that are pressing NTIA to include technologies that have been defined as ‘unreliable’ are doing their constituents a huge disservice,” Bolton told Broadband Breakfast Tuesday.

“We have a once in a generation opportunity to get this right,” he added. “Let’s keep broadband about people and ensure that no one is left behind because of their zip code.”

Bolton argued that the NTIA’s BEAD-related policies should facilitate the deployment of long-lasting broadband infrastructure. Bolton also touted fiber as essential to smart grid modernization, public safety, and emerging technologies such as 5G.

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Spectrum

Interagency Spectrum Agreement Already Paying Off, Officials Say

The August agreement has improved the agencies’ capacity for long-term planning, said an NTIA official.

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Photo of Derek Khlopin, the NTIA’s deputy associate administrator of spectrum planning and policy

November 21, 2022 – The updated memorandum of understanding on spectrum coordination between the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is already greasing the wheels of federal spectrum policy, said officials from both agencies during a webinar Monday.

Freeing up spectrum for commercial use will drive 5G technology and the attendant economic benefits and has become a favorite cause of many in Washington. The agencies agreed to the updated memorandum in August, at which time FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called for a “whole-of-government” approach to spectrum policy.

The August agreement has improved the agencies’ capacity for long-term planning, said Derek Khlopin, the NTIA’s deputy associate administrator of spectrum planning and policy.

And although the memorandum is young, “it’s starting to have a meaningful impact and will continue to,” Khlopin said. He added that his agency is considering methods to concretely track the memorandum’s effectiveness going forward. Khlopin also suggested that the memorandum will demystify the NTIA’s spectrum-related activities for other federal agencies, to the benefit of all.

“I think [the memorandum] reestablished expectations and focused on the sharing of information between the agencies and on long-range planning,” agreed Joel Taubenblatt, acting bureau chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at the FCC.

The FCC administers spectrum for non-federal uses, the NTIA for federal uses. Federal spectrum managers must weigh the needs of federal agencies – e.g., spectrum used for national security purposes – with the interests of private actors. One way of making more spectrum available is to convince federal agencies to give up their allotments. 

In October, Scott Harris, senior spectrum advisor at the NTIA, said his agency will develop a “spectrum strategy” that will heavily rely on public consultation. Khlopin on Monday echoed Harris, saying that the public’s input is critical.

The FCC announced the winners of the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz) spectrum auction in September and adopted a notice seeking comment on the 12.7–13.25 GHz band last month. Last week, Commissioner Brendan Carr called on his colleagues to make still more spectrum available.

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