Proposed Rules Would Remove Regulatory Burdens, Increase Innovation
On March 21, 2012, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry to “remove unnecessary barriers and meet rapidly growing demands for mobile broadband” by imposing a flexible use regime in 40 MHz of Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) spectrum in the 2 GHz band. According to a FCC press release about the NPRM and NOI, “This proposal would carry out a recommendation in the National Broadband Plan that [would] enable the provision of stand-alone terrestrial services in this spectrum.” The FCC also notes that the groundwork for full terrestrial use of MSS spectrum was laid last year in the 2 GHz Band Co-Allocation Order.
The NPRM seeks comment “on a number of parameters governing the licensing, use, and assignment of the spectrum, including their costs and benefits.” The FCC explains that “These proposed rules are designed for flexible use of this spectrum, to encourage innovation and investment in mobile broadband, and to provide a stable regulatory environment in which broadband could develop. Additionally, in our Notice of Inquiry, we seek comment on potential ways to free up additional valuable spectrum to address the Nation’s growing demand for mobile broadband spectrum.”
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski argued that the FCC “has pushed relentlessly to free up spectrum for broadband,” and the 40 MHz is “a significant amount.” Genachowski added, “Addressing the growing demand for spectrum use is hard work, and freeing up spectrum for broadband isn’t easy, and that is why we must pursue multiple strategies to unleash spectrum for broadband.” Commissioners Robert McDowell and Mignon Clyburn both approved the effort. McDowell commented that “The Commission has a checkered past of micromanaging spectrum use only to find years later that technical innovation and market demand have evolved past the government’s myopic view…Our notice of proposed rulemaking liberating the 2 GHz Band, rebranded today as ‘AWS-4,” for possible terrestrial broadband use is a step in the right direction.” Clyburn added that she supports “giving licenses the dexterity to adjust to market conditions.”
One direct beneficiary of the new rules for flexible use of MSS spectrum would be DISH Network, which just closed its acquisition of TerreStar Networks and DBSD North America and now controls spectrum in the 2 GHz band affected by this NPRM. Under the current rules, DISH’s mobile broadband deployment of this spectrum would be burdened by a requirement that handsets be compatible with satellite and terrestrial signals. DISH sought a waiver of this requirement, but the FCC opted to initiate an NPRM instead. The proposed rules would “enable the provision of terrestrial mobile broadband service in up to 40 megahertz of spectrum in the 2000-2020 MHz and 2180-2200 MHZ spectrum bands.” The spectrum would potentially fall under the Part 27 rules, subject to modification.
Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and will likely focus on the technical aspects of the NPRM including interference mitigation and band plans. On the public interest side, one could expect considerable support for the rules as they seek to achieve the laudable goals of removing regulatory burdens and making more spectrum available for mobile broadband.