What will the FCC be tackling at the March 15, 2019 Open Meeting?
Chairman Pai’s theme for the March meeting is “Behold the Ides of March,” a play on the famous Shakespearean warning to “beware the ides of March.” This year, Chairman Pai is looking forward to the day saying that the FCC will “aim to make progress on many of the issues core to the FCC’s mission: promoting U.S. leadership on 5G, closing the digital divide, advancing public safety, modernizing our media rules, helping rural consumers, and more. I hope that over the next few weeks, friends, Americans, countrymen, that you’ll lend the FCC your ears (and your eyes, as we’ll be publishing all of these draft orders and proposals tomorrow)!”
In furtherance of these goals, the FCC will consider various “Spectrum Horizon” issues, address the digital divide by exploring the partitioning or disaggregation of spectrum licenses and spectrum leasing, address wireless location accuracy for 911 call purposes, and adopt service quality standards for intermediate providers. So, let's take a closer look, moving from wireline to wireless.
Intermediate Carrier Service Quality: This will be the second order issued in response to the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2017. That Act directs the FCC to establish an intermediate provider registry and prohibits covered providers from using unregistered intermediate providers to transmit voice communications. The Act also directs the FCC to establish service quality standards for the transmission of covered voice communications by intermediate providers and requires intermediate providers to comply with such standards. The first order, issued in August 2018 but not yet fully implemented, dealt with the registry requirements. This second order would address the service quality requirements.
Specifically, the Order would:
- Impose on intermediate providers a general duty to complete calls. Intermediate providers would be required to take steps reasonably calculated to ensure that any calls they handle are in fact completed. If an intermediate provider knows, or should know, that calls are not being completed to certain areas, the intermediate provider may be in violation of this general duty if it allows these conditions to persist. This requirement would apply to all covered communications regardless of their destination (rural or urban).
- Require that, when routing calls to rural areas, intermediate providers actively monitor the performance of any directly contracted downstream intermediate provider and, based on the results of such monitoring, take steps to address any identified performance issues with that provider.
- Require intermediate providers to ensure that any additional intermediate providers to which they hand off calls are registered with the FCC.
- Provide an exception to the new service quality standards for intermediate providers that qualify for the covered provider safe harbor in the FCC’s existing rules.
The new service quality standards would go into effect six months from the date that the order is released or 30 days after publication of a summary of the order in the Federal Register, whichever is later. The order would transition to the new service quality standards by sunsetting the existing call data recording and retention rules one year after the new standards become effective.
The order would not require carriers to comply with particular ATIS best practices but would encourage them to do so. As such, compliance with the Best Practices would be treated as a safe harbor demonstrating compliance with the service quality standards and the intermediate provider monitoring requirements.
Wireless E911 Location Accuracy Requirement: This item builds on the FCC’s ongoing efforts to improve its wireless E911 location accuracy rules. It is intended to allow 911 call centers and first responders to more accurately identify the floor level for most wireless 911 calls made from multi-story buildings. The Further Notice would:
- Specify a vertical location accuracy metric (z-axis) of plus or minus 3 meters for 80% of indoor wireless E911 calls.
- Tentatively find that a z-axis metric of 3 meters would be sufficiently accurate to identify the caller’s floor level in most cases, and technically feasible within the timeframes specified in the rules.
- Tentatively find that the 5-meter metric proposed by the nationwide wireless providers would not be sufficiently precise to meet public safety needs.
The new requirements would be implemented as follows:
- By April 3, 2021, nationwide CMRS providers would have to deploy in each of the top 25 Cellular Market Areas either dispatchable location or z-axis technology in compliance with the 3-meter metric.
- By April 3, 2023, the requirements would be expanded to cover each of the top 50 Cellular Market Areas.
- Non-nationwide CMRS providers that serve any of the top 25 or 50 Cellular Market Areas would have an additional year to meet each of the above benchmarks in the relevant Cellular Market Area.
Airwaves above 95 GHz have long been considered at or beyond the outermost edge of usable spectrum and the FCC has no rules to permit licensed or unlicensed communications in this region of the spectrum, other than by amateur operators or on an experimental basis. The FCC has been studying ways to promote the deployment of new services and devices in this spectrum and keep the U.S. at the forefront of wireless innovation.
The order would, therefore, create a new category of experimental licenses for the 95 GHz to 3 THz range (a Spectrum Horizons License). These licenses would offer increased flexibility compared to conventional experimental licenses by providing for longer license terms, license transferability, and the ability to sell equipment during the experimental term. The order would also make 21.2 gigahertz of spectrum available for unlicensed use in several band segments (116-123 GHz, 174.8-182 GHz, 185-190 GHz, and 244-246 GHz). The rules for unlicensed use would be based on those currently in place for unlicensed use of the 57-71 GHz band.
Review of the Commission’s Rules Governing the 900 MHz Band
The 900 MHz band (896-901/935-940 MHz) is currently designated for narrowband private land mobile radio communications, with deployed systems used primarily for two-way communication by land transportation, utility, manufacturing, and petrochemical companies. In 2017, the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry seeking input on ways to potentially increase use of the band
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes to reconfiguration the 900 MHz band to facilitate the use of wireless broadband by a variety of businesses, including those providing critical infrastructure, by creating a paired 3/3 megahertz broadband segment in the band, while reserving two separate segments for continued narrowband operations. The FCC proposes to license the broadband segment on a geographic basis and authorize a market-driven, voluntary exchange process that would allow existing licensees to agree voluntarily on a plan for relocating incumbents and transitioning the band for broadband use.
The order also seeks comment on other methods of transitioning the band to broadband use —an auction of overlay licenses and an incentive auction—as potential additional tools for repurposing this spectrum.
Partitioning, Disaggregation, and Leasing of Spectrum
The FCC has adopted partitioning and disaggregation rules on a service-by-service basis to provide covered geographic licensees flexibility to determine the amount of spectrum they will occupy and the geographic area they will serve. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking explores how potential changes to those rules might help the FCC close the digital divide and increase access to spectrum by small and rural carriers. The Notice also satisfies the requirement under the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless Act (MOBILE NOW Act) that the FCC initiate a rulemaking to consider specific questions related to the partitioning or disaggregation of spectrum licenses and spectrum leasing as a potential means to increase the availability of advanced telecommunications services in rural areas and spectrum access by small carriers.
The Notice seeks comment on three considerations delineated in the MOBILE NOW what conditions may be needed to eliminate impediments to transfers of spectrum to small carriers to allow them to build out in a reasonable time and what incentives may encourage licensees to lease or sell spectrum to small carriers or unaffiliated carriers that will serve rural areas.
Indeed, an agenda to behold!