FCC Sets Proceeding to Speed 5G Spectrum Usage

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on May 10 approved a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that could supply more spectrum to commercial carriers to provide 5G wireless services.

The NPRM would change the way that spectrum in the 2.5 gigahertz band–which is now classified for use for Educational Broadband Services (EBS)–can be allocated among local entities, Native American tribal groups, and commercial users.

The EBS band spectrum was originally set aside for educational institutions to deliver instructional television services to sites within school districts and higher education campuses. As the widespread adoption of wireless communications and broadband technologies over the past two decades has continued unabated, commercial service providers have been clamoring for more spectrum to provide those services, and the Federal government largely has been accommodating.

The FCC will seek comment under the NPRM on a plan to allow three “windows” of applications for EBS spectrum: the first would allow existing licensees to expand service in their local counties; the second would allow tribal groups located in rural areas to acquire licenses; and the third would allow educational entities that don’t hold EBS licenses to acquire them.

Any EBS spectrum left over after those application processes would be put up for sale for commercial use through an auction process.

In approving the NPRM, the FCC said that about half of the EBS spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band is unused currently, mostly in rural areas of the United States, and that current licensees are subject to “outdated regulations.”

Its proposed rulemaking, the agency said, would provide “flexibility” to current and future users of the spectrum, and allow commercial entities “to obtain unused 2.5 GHz spectrum or facilitate improved access to next generation wireless broadband, including 5G.”

The FCC will seek public comment on the NPRM, a process that typically takes a few months.

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