Next Century Cities signed on to a letter that was sent to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week to reiterate the importance of retaining small license areas with short terms and competitive renewal for Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). The letter was sent in response to the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which proposes:
- Increasing the size and scope of PAL license areas from census tracts to Partial Economic Areas, which are much larger; and
- Extending the PAL license term from the current three-year period to a ten year term with renewal expectancy.
The letter, which was led by the Open Technology Institute at New America and signed by 13 total organizations as The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition, argues: “The current rules for PALs, adopted three years ago, are vital to promoting a diverse, robust and innovative 5G ecosystem; and are best suited (particularly when compared to the alternative licensing schemes proposed in the record) to increase rural broadband deployment, make the most efficient use of 3.5 GHz spectrum, improve opportunities for competitive entry and new market participants, and promote innovative use cases.”
Larger license areas and longer terms with renewal expectancies would dramatically increase the cost of PALs, putting them out of reach for smaller, rural carriers and other innovative spectrum users and locking in advantages for the largest carriers. Price increases associated with expanding license areas and term lengths would hurt competition, undermine the innovative spirit of the FCC’s 3.5 GHz Band rules, and damage the public interest.
The current 3.5 GHz rules are designed to help bridge the digital divide by making it easier for Wireless Internet Service Providers and other rural providers to deploy fast, affordable, and reliable broadband services. The existing rules also drive innovation by encouraging new users, such as hospitals, universities, manufacturing facilities, airports, hospitality venues, and many other potential users, to experiment with and develop novel uses for the spectrum.
The letter urges the FCC not to accept “compromise” solutions offered by groups that do not accurately represent the stakeholders that depend on the band, and to instead preserve the current licensing rules for CBRS.