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'Wireless Purgatory'

Carrier Groups Disagree on Proposed Changes to Enhanced Competition Rules

CTIA and other commenters asked the FCC to adopt alternative construction and renewal requirements, proposed in a Further NPRM as part of the new enhanced competition incentive program (ECIP). Others disagreed with CTIA on what these alternative requirements should entail. Commissioners approved the program in July (see 2207140055) but asked questions about potential changes. Comments were due Monday, in docket 19-38, and posted Tuesday. The order was approved in response to provisions in the Mobile Now Act, enacted in 2018 (see 2203310036).

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The record supports alternative construction and renewal requirements, CTIA said, “however, the Commission should avoid adopting unrealistic metrics that would go beyond its existing construction requirements and undermine the flexibility they offer -- the very purpose and benefit of adopting alternative metrics." “Continue to carefully consider the requirements” of a proposed “use or offer to share” proposal, the group said: “If the Commission ultimately adopts that proposal, it should refrain from requiring licensees to make unrealistic and burdensome demonstrations to satisfy the adopted requirements.”

CTIA “proposes two alternate construction requirements, neither of which would achieve the Commission’s aims,” the Rural Wireless Association said. CTIA'S proposed licensees could satisfy their construction and renewal requirements through an alternative metric based on a “Rural Safe Harbor,” RWA said. “A licensee providing mobile wireless services would be permitted to demonstrate substantial service if it provides coverage to at least 75 percent of the geographic area of at least 20 percent of the ‘rural areas’ within its licensed area, and a licensee providing fixed wireless service would be permitted to construct at least one end of a permanent link in at least 20 percent of the number of rural areas within its licensed area,” the group said.

CTIA also suggests the FCC “consider adopting an alternative construction requirement that permits a licensee to meet its construction obligation if it covers at least three ‘critical locations’ (e.g., hospitals, schools, government buildings) anywhere in its license area,” RWA said: “Neither of these proposals would facilitate the Commission’s goals of increasing availability of advanced wireless services in rural areas and not allowing spectrum to lie fallow.”

NTCA agreed with RWA that the CTIA proposals aren’t aggressive enough. NTCA said it supports a safe harbor, but questioned the three “critical locations” proposal. “While the approach is innovative, this would permit spectrum holders to retain valuable spectrum while rural homes and businesses remain unserved,” the group said: “The Commission should instead use every opportunity to encourage license holders to use or part with spectrum, not create safe harbors that could put large swaths of territory in wireless purgatory to the detriment of rural homes and businesses.”

Utilities Weigh In

Other comments supported a proposal in the FNPRM to include wireless ISPs and other providers not classified as common carriers (see 2210210039).

Expand ECIP to include utilities that provide broadband services and companies offering private wireless networks, the Utilities Technology Council said. “Utilities need access to spectrum to meet their increasing communications demands to support utilities’ electric, gas and water services in a safe, reliable, efficient and secure manner,” UTC said: “Utilities and other private wireless entities need access to spectrum to improve the reliability and coverage of communications into remote areas, where commercial systems may be unavailable or insufficient.”

The Edison Electric Institute agreed the rules should include private networks. “Electric companies are among the nation’s largest users of communications services and operate some of the largest private communications networks to meet their increasingly complex communications requirements,” EEI said: “Grid modernization and security implementation requires communications with intelligent devices across the electric grid and with personnel throughout large and often remote service territories. Not only does this require broader communications coverage with a proliferation of devices, critical assets, and personnel, but it also means an exponential increase in data transmission that requires higher capacity, low latency communications networks.”

The American Petroleum Institute said eligibility shouldn’t be restricted to companies filing FCC Form 477 or as part of the broadband data collection or requiring service to a combined 300,000 subscribers. Supervisory control and data acquisition systems “often rely on data speeds below 200 Mbps and are thus not subject to the Form 477, even regardless of whether provided by a private, network or by a third party,” API commented: “Expansion of ECIP eligibility should be inclusive of all service types with an exclusion for large carriers consistent with the intent of the MOBILE NOW Act.”