New Wireless Band Plays For Bigger Broadband

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

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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