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BEAD Implications

Leaders of 12 GHz for 5G Coalition Anticipate FCC Order in First Quarter 2024

Leaders of the 12 GHz for 5G Coalition told us they expect an order opening use of the lower 12 GHz band for fixed-wireless in Q1 2024. The group's leaders had hoped for action by the end of this year, after commissioners approved a Further NPRM in May examining the band's future (see 2309110061).

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Officials said that during a recent meeting on Dish Network's November report on interference to satellite operations by fixed use of the band, FCC staffers asked detailed questions that reflected their technical analysis was far along and appeared nearly complete. Dish, RKF Engineering Solutions and RS Access participated in the meeting, according to a filing in docket 20-443.

We as a coalition believe this is really the only near-term spectrum opportunity that the commission can act upon,” said Jeff Blum, Dish executive vice president-external and legislative affairs. Blum noted that the rules are 20 years old and that the FCC can act without congressional approval of spectrum auction authority. All the bands in the national spectrum strategy would take at least two years to get into play, he said.

We are hopeful that the commission moves forward early next year, hopefully in Q1,” Blum said. The FCC was concerned that interference was difficult to control with a mobile service, he said. “With fixed, we know where everyone is going to be on an anonymous basis,” he said: “Fixed to fixed coordination is very doable. … We want to share the band. We see the band has great potential to advance connectivity in the United States.”

This is an important time in American broadband history,” said Incompas President Chip Pickering. Broadband, equity, access and deployment (BEAD) program funding means networks are deployed “at historic levels,” he said. Fixed wireless technology continues to advance and fixed wireless is “the best, highest use” of the 12 GHz band, he said. Pickering said the FCC could act “early in the new year.”

Added Blum: “There’s still time” to use 12 GHz as part of BEAD deployments, “but there is urgency.” He said, "The FCC has the data they need in order to make the decision. We’ve had constructive conversations with the FCC." He added, "They’re interested in it. They have a lot of people working on it. We’re here to answer any questions that they have.”

DirectTV Fires Back

DirectTV this week slammed the Dish analysis. “We are nearly three years into a proceeding in which the Commission said from the beginning that it would not authorize additional terrestrial operations in the 12 GHz band unless such services demonstrably would not cause harmful interference to incumbent satellite services,” DirecTV said in a filing at the FCC. “Only now has a terrestrial proponent … finally submitted a report that at least purports to assess interference to Direct Broadcast Satellite systems and subscribers,” the company said: “Unfortunately, that report is so flawed by unjustifiable omissions, assumptions, and methodology that it is completely unreliable.”

We feel as though the heavy lifting and the engineering” have “been accomplished,” said RS Access CEO Noah Campbell, a coalition member. “The proposal for fixed wireless is very straightforward” and demand for fixed-access spectrum is “huge right now,” he said. “That market is very attractive, and it needs more capacity,” Campbell added.

The FCC could act in Q1, but resistance will continue, Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld predicted. “Dish has stressed the need to get a yes or no in time to compete for BEAD money, and I believe the FCC is sympathetic to that request,” he said. “At the same time, we should expect the satellite providers to use the usual array of tactics to delay things such as demanding new tests and submitting new engineering studies when the commission appears close to a decision,” he said.

There is hope that we are closer to getting a decision now that we have a fully slated bench at the commission, which should give” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel “some political ease,” Digital Progress Institute President Joel Thayer wrote in an email. “Candidly, the commission needs to move on this, because this spectrum is too valuable to be underutilized,” he added. The recent World Radiocommunication Conference showed “we need to put out as much mid-band as we can muster to stay competitive internationally,” he said.

Unlike mobile broadband, we expect the commission will soon conclude that fixed wireless broadband can coexist with Starlink and DBS satellite downlink by relying on a geolocation database,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at New America. “Technically this is not much different than what the FCC has approved for Wi-Fi coexistence with fixed link incumbents in the 6 GHz band, which relies on an automated frequency coordination system to avoid interference,” he said.

Earlier this month, Sens. Ed Markey, D.-Mass, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., expressed bipartisan support for moving forward. “With the 12.2-12.7 GHz band, the Commission has a unique near-term opportunity to expand broadband access, improve the distribution of spectrum resources, and put our spectrum to its most efficient use, especially in rural areas of the country,” they said in a letter to Rosenworcel.