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FCC Looking to Open 6 GigaHertz Band to Very Low Power Devices

The Federal Communications Commission first took comments on the proposal in 2020.



Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel by New America.

WASHINGTON, September 28, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission announced on Wednesday that it will consider at its October meeting a proposal to allow very low power devices to operate in the 6 Gigahertz Wi-Fi band.

The proposal would open up 850 megahertz of the 6 GHz band – about two thirds of the band’s spectrum – for very low power, or VLP, operation. 

That means VLP devices could use radio waves set to frequencies in the allowed range to communicate with wireless routers. The commission first opened up the 6GHz range for unlicensed Wi-Fi connectivity use, meaning device manufacturers do not need specific permission from the FCC to use those frequencies, in 2020.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the proposed addition of VLP devices to that band would help meet growing demand for unlicensed spectrum.

Wi-Fi connectivity over unlicensed spectrum is the oxygen that sustains much of our everyday lives,” she said.

The proposed order does not go as far as some Wi-Fi advocates wanted. More than a dozen groups signed a letter urging the FCC to open all 1,200 MHz of the 6GHz band for VLP use, citing a desire to keep future technologies accessible.

The proposed report and order, circulated Wednesday to commissioners, puts off enacting rules on allowing low power devices to use slightly more power while indoors, another change the advocates wanted to see, instead opting to take more public comments on the move. 

It would also seek comment on expanding VLP use to the entirety of the band, something the FCC took comments on when it first opened the band for unlicensed use in 2020.

Apple has been urging the FCC to open the band to more mobile applications, such as smartphones, watches and headphones. At 16 times lower power than the standard Wi-Fi, VLP “greatly reduces the risk of harmful interference,” the company said in a presentation to the commission earlier this year. 

The commissioners will vote on the proposal at FCC’s open meeting on October 19, barring a government shutdown.

Reporter Jake Neenan, who covers broadband infrastructure and broadband funding, is a recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School. Previously, he reported on state prison conditions in New York and Massachusetts. He is also a devoted cat parent.

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NTIA Confirms Licensed-by-Rule May Apply for BEAD Funding

The move is a win for wireless providers, who have been pushing the NTIA on the issue.



Photo of telecom towers by Andrew Hart.

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has moved to confirm some wireless technology will be included in its $42.5 billion broadband grant program. 

The agency clarified it will define fixed wireless broadband provided through “licensed-by-rule” spectrum as reliable. That makes providers using that spectrum eligible for funding if fiber is too expensive, and protects them from overbuilding by other projects under the program.

The move is a win for wireless providers, who have been pushing the NTIA to move on the issue since it released the notice of funding opportunity for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program in 2022.

When the BEAD guidelines were first published, they only marked broadband provided via licensed spectrum – frequency bands designated by the Federal Communications Commission for use by a single provider – as reliable broadband. 

That meant areas receiving broadband through only unlicensed spectrum – bands set aside for shared use – would be open for BEAD-funded projects from other providers. This is still the case under the clarified rules.

The original guidelines would also put systems like the Citizens Broadband Radio Service in a gray zone. The CBRS uses a tiered license system, with government users, priority license holders, and general users sharing 150 megahertz of spectrum. Each tier gets preference over the one below it, meaning a general access user cannot, for example, interfere with a government system.

Some broadband providers use that spectrum on a general access basis to provide internet service. They were initially marked in the FCC’s broadband data with the same code as fully licensed spectrum, 71. But when the FCC added in January a new technology code specific to licensed-by-rule spectrum, 72, it became unclear how the technology would be treated by the BEAD program.

The NTIA cleared up any confusion on November 9, issuing an updated version of its FAQs specifying the new technology code would be treated as reliable broadband, and thus both eligible for BEAD dollars and protected from overbuilding. 

The agencies did not go so far as to comment on the merits of the technology, though, saying in its new FAQ section that it would treat licensed-by-rule as reliable because it was originally classified under 71, with fully licensed spectrum.

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Biden Administration Announces Plan to Free Up Spectrum

The NTIA will study repurposing 2,786 MHz of spectrum in the next two years.



Photo of the White House by Radek Kucharski.

WASHINGTON, November 13, 2023 – The Joe Biden administration announced on Monday a new plan for freeing up and managing wireless spectrum as private sector demand grows.

The White House’s plan calls for a two-year study on potentially repurposing five spectrum bands, a total of 2,786 megahertz. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency that led development on the plan, is set to conduct the study.

That push for reallocation is driven by growing demand from the private sector, the plan said. Growing technologies like 5G networks, precision agriculture, satellites, and Wi-Fi-connected devices are all hungry for the finite airwaves.

Bands slated for more immediate evaluation are the lower 3 GHz band, 5030-5091 MHz, 7125-8400 MHz, 18.1-18.6 GHz, and 37-37.6 GHz. Those are currently occupied entirely or partly by incumbents like the Department of Defense and other “mission critical” federal operations.

Industry groups support freeing up additional spectrum. Meredith Attwell Baker, president of CTIA, the trade group representing large telecom companies, applauded the plan in a statement, calling it a “critical first step” to that end.

Called the National Spectrum Strategy, the administration’s plan also set the stage for more long-term changes to spectrum planning and allocation.

The White House will develop a new process for that allocation, according to the strategy document. The process will be aimed at increasing communication between government and private sector stakeholders in those decisions. 

Currently, the NTIA allocates spectrum for federal users, while the Federal Communications Commission handles spectrum for non-federal purposes. The agencies do coordinate, but the White House is aiming for a more unified process.

“Simply put, the United States needs a better and more consistent process for bringing the public and private sectors together to work through the difficult issues surrounding access to spectrum, including dynamic forms of spectrum sharing,” the strategy reads.

The plan calls for a new evidence-based methodology to help make those decisions, which the White House will develop.

Also in the strategy is a plan to set up designated areas for testing dynamic spectrum sharing and other spectrum research, and a workforce development plan.

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Experts Disagree on Licensed-by-Rule Spectrum

The framework could help free up more spectrum to meet rising demand, some experts said.



Screenshot of the panel.

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2023 – Experts disagreed on Wednesday about the importance of licensed-by-rule spectrum sharing for the future of broadband expansion.

Licensed-by-rule refers largely to the system by which the Citizens’ Broadband Radio Service operates, or something similar. The CBRS allocates 150 megahertz of spectrum among three tiers of users: government agencies, license holders on certain bands, and general access users who use the remaining spectrum opportunistically.

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at think tank New America, said the framework can help address increasing spectrum demand. Much low and mid-band spectrum is allocated to incumbents, like the military and radar system administrators, who cannot move their systems to another band.

“And even when it is possible to clear bands, it often costs more than an auction could raise and takes too long,” he said at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online panel.

But those incumbents rarely use all the capacity they were allocated or purchased at auction, Calabrese said, making a CBRS-style system a good way to open some spectrum to mobile and broadband providers.

Andrew Clegg, a spectrum engineering lead at Google, agreed. 

“If you can’t clear a band, this is one of the next best things you can do with it,” he said.

Google is one of six Spectrum Access System operators in the United States. The company controls one of the systems that allocates free CBRS spectrum to general access users while avoiding interference with incumbents.

Doug Brake, the assistant vice president of policy communications at CTIA, the trade group representing wireless mobile providers, was less convinced about licensed-by-rule frameworks.

“This technique is not ready for primetime and should not be the model going forward,” he said.

He favored more exclusively licensed spectrum, which is how the majority of CTIA members operate. He cited the higher power levels operators can use, and thus larger geographic areas they can serve, when spectrum is exclusively allocated to one provider.

Clegg disagreed. He said for the purposes of broadband adoption, the CBRS has already been successful. He pointed to the nearly 400,000 CBRS stations Google oversees.

“You wouldn’t have had that if the Department of Defense had just kept control of the band and had never shared it,” he said.

The panel was in broad agreement that different licensing schemes suit different situations.

“There are many tools in the toolbox we can use to make bands work for the most users,” said Traci Biswese, vice president and general counsel at NCTA, the trade group representing cable broadband and television companies.

“Admittedly, there are still certain technical challenges that remain when it comes to spectrum sharing,” said Andrew Drozd, head of research firm ANDRO Computational Solutions. “We haven’t solved everything.”

But spectrum sharing still represents a more efficient way of using the finite spectrum available, he said.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, October 18 – Spectrum Sharing: How Promising and How Real Is It?

The practice of spectrum sharing, where multiple operators coexist within the same bandwidth, is often lauded as a solution to the limited availability of spectrum. Some view it as a promising avenue for advancing 5G technology and beyond, potentially with the aid of artificial intelligence. However, critics contend that crowding may hinder and degrade connectivity performance. In light of the FCC’s recent plans to open up more spectrum for commercial use, what lies ahead for spectrum management and licensing? How can regulators strike a balance between expanding sharing opportunities and ensuring optimal connectivity?


  • Michael Calabrese, Director, Wireless Future Program, New America’s Open Technology Institute
  • Traci Biswese, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at NCTA – The Internet & Television Association
  • Dr. Andrew Drozd, President and CEO of ANDRO Computational Solutions
  • Doug Brake, Assistant Vice President of Policy Communications, CTIA: The Wireless Association
  • Andrew Clegg, Spectrum Engineering Lead, Google
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources

Michael A. Calabrese is a graduate of Stanford Law and Business Schools (JD/MBA) and of Harvard College. He directs the Wireless Future Program at New America’s Open Technology Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Washington, D.C and is a DSA Member. He develops and advocates policies to promote ubiquitous, fast and affordable wireless broadband connectivity, including the reallocation of prime spectrum for unlicensed access, next generation Wi-Fi, and dynamic spectrum sharing.

Traci Biswese is Vice President and Associate General Counsel at NCTA – The Internet & Television Association. Her advocacy focuses on spectrum policy, artificial intelligence,
cybersecurity, and supply chain matters. She is passionate about advancing the interests of the internet and television industry, and strives to contribute to the innovation, growth, and diversity of the sector.

Doug Brake is assistant vice president of policy communications at CTIA: The Wireless Association. He’s been engaged in broadband and spectrum policy for over ten yearsbefore CTIA he worked at in government at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and before that at the innovation-focused think tank, the Information Technology and Innovation foundation.

Dr. Andrew Drozd is a Technology Innovator, Executive Leader, Entrepreneur, and President/CEO of ANDRO Computational Solutions, LLC – a scientific R&D company he founded in 1994 headquartered in Rome, NY with offices in Syracuse, N.Y., Dayton, Ohio and San Diego, California. At ANDRO, he leads scientific research and development on the cutting edge of the nexus of wireless communications, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Andy holds 19 patents in the areas of wireless communications and AI, radio spectrum governance, and novel applications of blockchain. In his over 45-year career, Andy’s has earned a number of professional credentials that include: certification by the international Association of Radio and Telecommunications Engineers; IEEE Life Fellow; past president and board member of the global IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Society; member of the FCC’s Communications, Security, Reliability, Interoperability Council (CSRIC VIII); member of the Open-RAN Alliance for 5G; and was inducted into the Rome Academy of Sciences Hall of Fame in 2019.

Andrew Clegg is spectrum engineering lead for Google. He was instrumental in creating the CBRS band, and has also been involved in 6 GHz AFC. Prior to Google, he created the first-ever spectrum-related grant program at the National Science Foundation.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

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