Next Century Cities joined 20 other organizations, together representing the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition, in sending a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to maintain small license areas with short terms and competitive renewal and to instate stronger buildout requirements in the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).

CBRS was established in the 3.5 GHz band by the FCC in 2015. The 2015 Order was notable because it created census-tract size Priority Access Licenses (PALs) and three-year license terms. This gave an opportunity for smaller, local entities, such as anchor institutions and local wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) to implement innovative use-cases in the band while being guaranteed interference protection. This framework was expected to promote innovation in the band and to make spectrum infrastructure available to deploy rural broadband.


On October 23, 2018, the FCC will vote to dramatically change the rules that govern CBRS licensing. The proposal would:

  • Increase the size of PALs from census tracts to counties
  • Increase PAL terms from 3 years with competitive renewal to 10 years with expected renewal
  • Create end-of-term performance requirements for license holders

If adopted, these rule changes would dramatically increase the cost of PALs, putting them out of reach for smaller, rural carriers and other innovative users. The loose performance requirements and expected license renewal would also encourage spectrum hoarding, resulting in unused spectrum and untapped potential in the band. For instance, national ISPs are more likely to get spectrum for large areas but only deploy it in the urban parts of those counties, leaving rural parts of the county behind.

In our joint letter to Chairman Pai, Next Century Cities and the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition advocated for maintaining small license areas with short terms and competitive renewal, as well as instating stronger buildout requirements within the band.

The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition writes:

“In this proceeding, you are actively taking spectrum that was licensed to allow rural providers eager to serve rural America to acquire licenses and handing that spectrum to large national wireless and cable companies by changing the existing rules for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). Nearly every rural carrier in the record — as well as every stakeholder other than cellular providers and cable operators — has explained that expanding license areas to larger than census tracts places the cost of licenses out of reach…

The existing CBRS rules were designed with the input of rural stakeholders to recognize the economic realities of deployment in rural America and on Tribal Lands. The changes in the draft R&O once again ignore these realities, and again threaten to leave rural America behind.”


Share your opinion with the FCC and Congress

Individuals, municipalities, and organizations can voice their opinion on CBRS by submitting comments or a letter to the FCC through Wednesday, October 17, 2018. Follow Next Century Cities’ step-by-step guide to submitting comments here (using docket No. 17-258). You can also reach out to your representatives in Congress using Public Knowledge’s pre-written comments and submission tool at the bottom of this page.


You can view the livestream of the FCC’s vote on the item here at 10:30am ET on Tuesday, October 23, 2018. Find the meeting agenda and more information here.


Learn more about CBRS and the FCC’s proposal:

Public Knowledge: The FCC is Preparing to Take Yet Another Hit at Rural America, But It’s Not Too Late to Stop It

Open Technology Institute: The Good, the Bad, and the 5G

Next Century Cities’ CBRS webinar

Next Century Cities Signs Letter in Support of Current CBRS Rules (June 2018)

Next Century Cities’ comments to the FCC (December 2017)