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'Low-Hanging Fruit'

Benton Joins 12 GHz Coalition; Members Hope for Next Steps Soon

As advocates of FCC action reallocating the 12 GHz band hope they’re nearing the finishing line, officials with the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition told us Monday the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society joined that group, adding to the push for FCC action. Members of the group said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel appears to be waiting for the Senate to confirm Gigi Sohn as the third Democrat on the FCC, but if that doesn’t happen soon, they hope the agency will act with the current 2-2 split.

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Proponents note the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology received engineering studies showing the band can be used for 5G without interfering with other uses. Industry experts said a likely next step is OET asking for technical information on specific issues with coexistence. Opponents of reallocating the band and the FCC didn’t comment Monday.

The more spectrum we get for wireless, the better,” Benton Senior Counselor Andy Schwartzman told us. “If we can’t agree on anything across the board,” we can agree “certainly on that,” he said. The FCC has put a lot of focus on rural coverage and precision agriculture, he said.

What we’re talking about here is a greenfield” and most of the 12 GHz will likely be used for open radio access network deployments, Schwartzman said. “The more we can get going with ORAN, the more equipment that’s being bought, the more sort of regional deployments that’s done, the more it’s going to lower costs and make it easier for other existing wireless operations to start converting over to ORAN,” he said: “As a policy thing, that’s a major development. It reduces costs, increases flexibility, improves competition in the equipment sector.”

Schwartzman said he plans to contact the FCC on 12 GHz on behalf of Benton. “It is my impression … that the action at this point is in OET and OET has engineering I’s to dot and T’s to cross before it can be finalized,” he said. “I think that it is measured in a few months, rather than many months and certainly not years, before this can be ready to go, and I don’t think that this has to be partisan.”

There’s a growing recognition that the FCC should move forward on authorizing the 12 GHz band for 5G,” said Jeff Blum, Dish Network executive vice president-external and legislative affairs. “It’s a bipartisan issue,” he said. The fight with the FAA over the C band “highlighted the need for spectrum opportunities without any government stakeholders,” he said. “It’s 500 MHz of mid-band spectrum, low-hanging fruit, for the FCC to update 20-year-old rules to allow higher-power, two-way” communications “for 5G, while protecting satellite operators, he said.

There’s an appetite for bringing on more mid-band spectrum” with 2.5 GHz “basically all that’s left,” Blum said. A 3.1-3.45 GHz auction is years away, he said. “You have a rulemaking that’s been going on for over a year,” he said: “The record is very robust. You see broad support for opening up the band for 5G … with 35 members of the coalition.” Blum said he welcomed Benton’s involvement: Its “knowledge of our telecom technology policy is unparalleled.” As Dish is building out its ORAN-based 5G network it wants to incorporate 12 GHz, he said. “As the new guy, it would really help from a fixed, mobile and backhaul perspective to make us more competitive,” he said.

We have told the commission the record suggests that coexistence between terrestrial broadband and incumbent satellite use is clearly feasible,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at New America. “Clearly more widespread use of this 500 MHz is feasible,” he said: “But because the only significant technical studies have come from the companies advocating expanded sharing for 5G, the commission should either move ahead to a framework order that asks for further input on the details of implementation, or it should at a minimum release a public notice describing what further technical information it needs to make a decision.”

We’re working with various groups to demonstrate what the availability of this spectrum means to users around the U.S., in particular those that might be underserved,” said Stephen Hon, Xiber president-chief technology officer.

It appears we are still in a holding pattern,” said Digital Progress Institute President Joel Thayer. The “good news” is Commissioner Brendan Carr seems “to be in favor of a shared arrangement for the band in the event [FCC] engineers give that sign-off, which resolves a lot of the political barriers,” he said: “It also helps that there's ample evidence that sharing is possible.” Thayer said the FCC should be able to move forward regardless of when it gets a full slate of commissioners.

Lindsee Gentry, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission director-external affairs, who has been leading outreach for the coalition, said the FCC has all the data it needs to act. “All of our members have been regularly engaging with the FCC, the different commissioners’ offices, OET, the guys actually working on the proceeding,” Gentry said: “The positive feedback that we’ve gotten from them is you have submitted exactly what you needed to into the record.” The administration needs “a win” on spectrum, she said. “From our perspective, the timing is now,” she said.