The FCC’s March Open Meeting: Spectrum, Spectrum, and more Spectrum
The FCC’s March Open Meeting: Spectrum, Spectrum, and more Spectrum
The FCC’s March Open Meeting: Spectrum, Spectrum, and more Spectrum

    Get Involved Today

    Earlier today, at its monthly
    open meeting
    , the full Federal Communications Commission took the first
    step in in two separate processes that will, if done correctly, vastly improve
    the wireless market for consumers. In keeping with its standard procedure, the
    Commission adopted two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking, which will allow it to
    solicit public comment and work towards two decisions: whether or not to
    mandate that cell phones be able to operate in the entirety of one particular
    wireless band instead of just segments (Interoperability),
    and whether or not to free spectrum for mobile broadband use (Mobile Satellite Service).

    Interoperability: Should Cellular Phones Work Across a Spectrum Band?

    In the Interoperability rulemaking, the Commission will consider whether
    or not to mandate that devices like cell phones be able to work in all segments
    of the lower 700 MHz spectrum band. For reasons too complicated to explain
    here, the 700 MHz band is very valuable spectrum real estate upon which to
    operate a cellular network, and is technically superior to higher-frequency

    This prized spectrum is mostly
    controlled by AT&T and Verizon, although some smaller cellular providers
    own slices. These small providers have asked the Commission to mandate that
    devices made to function in one segment, or block, of the 700 MHz band be interoperable,
    or able to function in all of the blocks. This request is motivated by a
    reasonable fear that equipment manufacturers will not produce devices able to
    function in the small carrier bands, and the carriers will be practically
    unable to use their spectrum.  

    The Commission, will
    whether or not allowing interoperability will cause interference
    issues, and will decide whether or not to mandate
    interoperability in the lower 700 MHz band.  All three Commissioners agreed that
    interoperability was an important goal, and appear poised to mandate it if
    necessary, but all hoped that interoperability would be the outcome of
    voluntary industry measures adopted before the Commission is prepared to act.

    In his statement, Commissioner Robert
    McDowell, the FCC’s lone Republican, extolled the virtues and superiority of an
    independent interoperability framework over government mandates. Commissioner
    Mignon Clyburn, on the other hand, cited the technical potential of the lower
    700 MHz band and the fact that the “lack of interoperability means fewer device
    and service choices for consumers” as justification for Commission action.

    Chairman Julius Genachowski,
    speaking last, expressed hope that industry would develop a standard, but
    reminded those present that this rulemaking is being initiated because no solution
    has been reached. Because interoperability in the lower 700 MHz band would
    allow smaller wireless companies to more effectively compete with the two dominant
    providers, Public Knowledge hopes that industry will swiftly agree on an
    interoperability standard. However, given the absence of such an agreement, PK
    believes that the Commission should act of such a development does not occur

    Mobile Satellite Service: Expanding Mobile Broadband Spectrum?

    In the second item on the agenda,
    the Commission voted to work towards a decision on what to do with spectrum
    currently assigned to Mobile Satellite Service (Mobile Satellite Service). This
    “AWS-4” spectrum, in the 2GHz band, is owned by DISH Network and contains an ancillary
    terrestrial component that currently lies unused. This terrestrial component is
    unnecessary for the operation of DISH’s satellite service, and could be used by
    other providers operating land-based mobile broadband networks. The revenue
    that allowing additional use would bring would be a windfall for DISH, and the
    public would benefit from the increased supply of mobile broadband spectrum.

    As was the case with the Interoperability item, both
    Commissioners and the Chairman supported the decision. The Wireless
    Telecommunications Bureau, the expert division of the FCC that put forward the
    idea of taking action, noted that it will address the possibility of division
    of the spectrum at issue, technical issues, and will provide for consideration
    of interference protection, but pointed out that clearing this spectrum for
    mobile use would be a significant step towards meeting demand for mobile broadband

    While agreeing that a market-based
    allocation of this spectrum will produce an outcome that is better for
    consumers than the current situation, Commissioner Clyburn expressed a
    particular interest in how the reallocation of this spectrum will help rural
    consumers, and how it will foster competition in the mobile broadband market.
    She is right to be concerned: the public interest will be better served if a
    broad array of companies are able to take advantage of the newly-released
    spectrum, as compared to its being captured by AT&T and Verizon.