Acting FCC Chairwoman Unveils Plans for 4.9 GHz Band

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By Paul Barbagallo  

The Federal Communications Commission is seeking to make better use of the 4.9 gigahertz band. The FCC last June proposed rules designed to encourage greater commercial use of the band, which has been allocated for exclusive mobile uses by public safety entities since 2002, but so far has been underutilized, acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said in a speech at the UTC Critical Infrastructure Communications Policy Summit June 20.

According to FCC staff, only about 2,400 of the 87,500 local governmental jurisdictions in the United States hold licenses in the 4.9 GHz band.

As part of the rulemaking effort, the FCC is considering whether expanding eligibility to commercial enterprises would promote more efficient usage of the band and whether eligibility for such users should be on a secondary basis, subject to a “shutdown feature” to allow public safety priority access.

“When the commission first allocated 50 MHz of spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band for fixed and mobile services, it intended to provide the public safety community with the opportunity to develop and leverage the benefits of emerging broadband technologies,” Clyburn said. “The agency anticipated that this band would support new broadband applications, such as high-speed digital technologies, for on-the-scene incident management and dispatch operations.”

The FCC is now examining whether and to what extent critical infrastructure industries, such as utility companies, should be able to hold these licenses and if so, how the agency can best accommodate a variety of uses in the band by reevaluating existing coordination procedures, spectrum sharing mechanisms, and technical specifications, she added.

“There is a wide range of bands and services that have been actively used by utilities or that we expect could be useful, to meet the industry's varied needs--whether on a licensed or leased basis,” Clyburn noted. “Moreover, many of these bands are allocated on a primary basis, incorporate frequency coordination procedures, or have other characteristics that allow for high quality of service more appropriate for critical infrastructure and routine communications needs. The FCC staff has historically worked with utilities to find appropriate ways to address these needs.”

Incentive Auction Still on Track

Chairwoman Clyburn also told the gathering that the Commission is still on track to hold its first incentive auctions of spectrum next year.

The FCC is hoping to vote on final rules this year and conduct the auction in 2014--a deadline many in the communications sector say is unrealistic, if not impossible, given the complexities involved. But Clyburn underscored in her speech that “there is no higher organizational priority than incentive auctions.”

“Spectrum is finite, so we have to make sure we are maximizing the value of this limited resource,” Clyburn said of the FCC's work to free up spectrum for mobile broadband uses.