New Wireless Band Plays For Bigger Broadband

By Roy Mark

June 10, 2004

FCC builds a new home for wireless last-mile broadband apps.

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to make more spectrum available for wireless broadband by revamping the 2495-2690 MHz band and allowing schools and religious groups to lease excess spectrum they control.

The new rules restructure the band currently used by Multipoint Distribution Services (MDS) -- commercial operators who send data and video programming -- and Instructional Television Fixed Services (ITFS) used by schools and other educational entities.

The FCC action creates a new band plan for the spectrum that eliminates the use of interleaved channels by MDS and ITFS licensees and creates three distinct band segments: high-power operations, such as one-way video transmission; low-power operations, such as two-way fixed services; and mobile broadband applications.

The FCC also expanded the original MDS-ITFS band by adding five megahertz of additional spectrum, bringing the total size of the band to 194 MHz.

In addition, the FCC renamed the MDS service the Broadband Radio Service (BRS), but maintained the ITFS label for ITFS licenses and operations. ITFS licensees are now allowed to lease spectrum to BRS providers, as long as they comply with educational content requirements.

"This approach preserves the ability of users to provide traditional video and other services, while also significantly promoting broadband deployment," FCC Commissioner Kevin J. Martin said. "Indeed, I am optimistic that this spectrum will provide a home for last-mile broadband applications, providing competition to telephone and cable lines."

The rules lift all non-statutory eligibility restrictions on BRS spectrum, including those applicable to cable operators. However, the cable/BRS cross-ownership restriction prohibiting cable operators from providing multi-channel video programming distribution services using BRS licenses, which is mandated by statute, will remain in effect.

"The magnitude of today's ruling is apparent when one considers that this band is double the spectrum that sparked the Wi-Fi explosion at 2.4GHz and equivalent to the entire spectrum devoted to terrestrial mobile, wireless services," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said.

In October 2002, the Wireless Communications Association International (WCA), the National ITFS Association and the Catholic Television Network submitted a proposal to the FCC seeking substantial changes in the rules governing the 2495-2690 band.

"This order responds directly to a proposal from the ITFS and MDS industries for major revisions of current regulations," Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said. "While we have not adopted the industry proposal in total, we have used it as a solid basis for many of the rules changes we adopt today."

Abernathy added, "While many MDS and ITFS licensees currently provide very valuable services to the public, it appears that these services have not yet reached their full potential and some of the spectrum remains underutilized."

WCA President Andrew Kreig said in a statement he was "thrilled that the Commission's decision to reform the rules for this premier band for advanced broadband services is largely based on our original proposal, and will thereby unlock the consumer and educational benefits of this spectrum."

Kreig said the FCC ruling "vindicates the specific arguments that we made on highly complex technical and policy issues, and also the consensus process that the stakeholders used."

The FCC says grouping high and low power users into separate portions of the band creates incentives for the development of "low-power, cellularized broadband operations," which were inhibited by the prior band plan.

"Under these new rules, licensees can choose to continue to deliver high-powered educational television, develop new instructional uses over the ITFS spectrum or lease excess capacity to fund alternative educational delivery methods," Powell said.

BRS and ITFS providers will have a three-year period during which they may propose transition plans for relocating existing facilities of all other licensees within the same Major Economic Area (MEA) to new spectrum assignments in the revised band plan.

Plan proponents must notify all licensees in the MEA and file their plans with the FCC, which will trigger a 90-day transition planning period during which licensees negotiate and coordinate their transition with other licensees in the MEA.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein endorsed the plan but expressed concern about the broad MEA approach.

"The BRS and ITFS devices are local services, and I believe broadband deployment for the foreseeable future will be rolled out on a relatively localized basis," he said. "I am concerned that the obligation to transition an entire MEA will make it exceedingly difficult for proponents to effectuate transitions in their particular market."



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