What will the FCC be tackling next?
Chairman Pai’s theme for the February 28, 2020 Open Meeting is “Save the Date” but he also dubbed February as “Spectrum Month,” reflecting the spectrum-heavy agenda the FCC will be considering. His blog mentions three dates in particular: December 8, 2020, the date he proposes to start an auction of 280 megahertz of spectrum in the so-called C-band; June 25, 2020, the date the FCC intends to start the bidding in its auction of 70 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band; and October 22, 2020, the date on which he proposes to start bidding in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction. Rounding out the agenda are items that would address sharing of outage information with state commissions, further media regulation initiatives and new opportunities to use unlicensed white space devices. Let’s take a closer look starting with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
Rural Digital Opportunity Fund
At its January 2020, Open Meeting, the FCC adopted the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which is set to provide up to $20.4 billion over the next decade through a reverse auction, with $16 billion available in Phase I to support the deployment of broadband networks connecting up to six million unserved rural homes and businesses. The text of that order was just released on Friday of last week. At the February meeting, the FCC will consider a Public Notice seeking comment on the procedures for that auction, which will be similar to those used in the CAF Phase II auction, with certain targeted improvements. First and foremost, the Notice proposes October 22, 2020, as the start date for bidding in Phase 1 of the auction. It also:
- Seeks comment on the appropriate minimum area for bidding
- Proposes pre and post-auction application requirements for auction participants, including: “short-form” application information (e.g., applicant ownership information and other information about the applicant’s operational and financial capabilities); and post-auction “long-form” application information from winning bidders and
- Seeks comment on procedures for bidding in the auction and assigning support to ensure that the fastest networks reach the most Americans and for the lowest cost feasible
Sharing of Outage Information With State and Federal Agencies
One way the FCC supports our country’s incident preparedness and emergency response efforts is by providing accurate and timely communications outage and infrastructure status information via its Network Outage Reporting System (NORS) and Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS). This Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would propose a framework to provide state and federal agencies with access to outage information to improve their situational awareness, enhance their ability to respond more quickly to outages impacting their communities, and help save lives, while also preserving the confidentiality of this data.
To this end, the notice proposes to: (1) provide direct, read-only access to NORS and DIRS filings to qualified agencies of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Tribal nations, territories, and federal government; and (2) allow these agencies to share NORS and DIRS information with other public safety officials that reasonably require NORS and DIRS information to prepare for and respond to disasters. Participating agencies would be allowed to publicly disclose NORS or DIRS filing information that is aggregated and anonymized across at least four service providers. Access to NORS and DIRS information would be conditioned on the agency agreeing to treat the filings as confidential and not disclose them absent a finding by the FCC allowing them to do so.
C-Band Rules and Auction (Auction 107)
The C-band is a 500-megahertz segment of spectrum from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz, which is now mostly used by satellite companies to beam content to video and audio broadcasters, cable systems, and other content distributors. The Report and Order would reform the use of the C-band and make most of it available for 5G, the next generation of wireless technology. Among other things, the Order would:
- Clear the lower 280 megahertz of the C-band (3.7-3.98 GHz) in the contiguous United States and make it available for flexible use, including 5G, via a public auction
- Set a deadline of September 2025 for clearing, and give satellite operators the opportunity to clear the lower portion of the C-band on an accelerated timeline in exchange for accelerated relocation payments
- Require incumbent fixed service licensees in the contiguous United States to relocate their point-to-point links to other bands by September 30, 2023
- Cover reasonable relocation costs of the C-band’s current users through reimbursement by the winning bidders in the C-band auction
- Establish a Relocation Payment Clearinghouse to manage the intake, payout, and auditing of relocation funds and a Relocation Coordinator to coordinate the transition between satellite operators and incumbent earth stations
- Adopt service and technical rules for flexible-use licensees in the 280 megahertz of spectrum designated for transition to flexible-use
The Auction Public Notice proposes application and bidding procedures for the C-Band Auction 107. The FCC expects the bidding to commence on December 8, 2020. The auction would offer fourteen 20-megahertz blocks of spectrum licensed by Partial Economic Area (PEA) service area. Among other things the Notice proposes:
- Specific upfront payment and minimum opening bid amounts;
- To establish two categories of generic blocks in each PEA—Category A would consist of blocks in the lower 100 megahertz (3.7–3.8 GHz), and Category BC would consist of blocks in the remaining 180 megahertz (3.8–3.98 GHz)
- Bidding procedures for the clock and assignment phases of the auction, which are largely consistent with the procedures used in Auctions 102 and 103 and
- Bidding credit caps of $25 million for small businesses and $10 million for rural service providers, as well as a $10 million cap on the overall amount of bidding credits that a small business bidder may apply to winning licenses in smaller markets.
3.5GHz Band Auction (Auction 105)
This Public Notice would adopt application and bidding procedures for Auction 105, an auction of Citizens Broadband Radio Service licenses in the 3550-3650 MHz band. Auction 105 will assign up to seven Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in each county-based license area, for a total of 22,631 PALs nationwide. Each PAL will consist of a 10-megahertz unpaired channel. PALs are 10-year renewable licenses. Bidding is scheduled to commence on June 25, 2020. Among other things, the Public Notice would:
- Adopt an ascending clock auction format similar to that used in Auctions 102 and 103, in which bidders indicate their demands for generic license blocks in specific counties
- Permit bidding on a county-by-county basis, but not adopt Cellular Market Area (CMA)-level bidding
- Adopt bidding credit caps of $25 million for small businesses and $10 million for rural service providers, as well as a $10 million cap on the overall amount of bidding credits that a small business bidder may apply to winning licenses in smaller markets
Unlicensed White Spaces Device Operations
Unlicensed white space devices can be used to provide a variety of wireless services, including broadband data. The FCC’s Part 15 rules allow unlicensed white space devices to operate at locations where frequencies are not in use by licensed services or protected entities. In response to a petition filed by Microsoft Corporation, this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would propose targeted changes to the white space device rules in the TV bands (channels 2-35) to provide improved broadband coverage in rural and underserved areas. Specifically, the FCC proposes to:
- Increase the maximum permissible power for fixed white space devices operating in “less congested” (e.g., rural) areas in the TV bands from 10 watts to 16 watts EIRP
- Increase the maximum permissible antenna height above average terrain (HAAT) for fixed white space devices from 250 meters to 500 meters, subject to a coordination/notification procedure with TV broadcasters
- Adopt minimum required separation distances from protected services in the TV bands
- Allow higher power mobile operations within defined “geo-fenced” areas and
- Propose rules for narrowband white space devices used in IoT applications
Media Modernization Proposals
Rounding out the agenda are two more items aimed at modernizing the FCC’s media rules. The first would qualified low power television (LPTV) and noncommercial education (NCE) translator stations to send notices to MVPDs by e-mail when changing their carriage election status. These small broadcasters would be required to e-mail an election notice to MVPDs in 2020 even if they are not changing their election. The item would also permit MVPDs with carriage-related questions to rely on the contact information provided by small broadcasters in the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS) and require small broadcasters to respond as soon as reasonably possible to any questions. The Order would also affirm that open video system (OVS) operators must abide by the same rules as cable companies, by posting contact information to the Cable Operations and Licensing System (COALS), accepting e-mailed election change notices, and responding as soon as reasonably possible to carriage-related questions from broadcasters.
The second item seeks comment on whether §76.1710 of the FCC’s rules (which requires that cable operators maintain certain records in their online public inspection files) remains useful or relevant given marketplace and regulatory changes. The item also seeks comment on other potential sources of this information and other methods of disclosing this information that would be more efficient or less burdensome for cable operators.
A lot of dates to save indeed!!