FCC Advances Plan to Ease Rules For DISH Broadband Network

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FCC Proposes Allowing Flexible Use in 2 GHz Band  

Key Development: FCC would allow spectrum in the 2 GHz band—the blocks at 2000-2020 MHz and 2180-2200 MHz—to be used for mobile broadband networks. The spectrum is currently reserved for satellites.

Impact: DISH, which recently acquired 40 megahertz of nationwide 2 GHz spectrum from two bankrupt satellite providers and is the sole licensee in the band, would be able to roll out a new hybrid satellite-terrestrial mobile and fixed broadband network, or sell it to another company.

Next Steps: FCC will take comments on the proposal and probably finalize rules before year's end. Agency is not expected to take action before November elections, sources tell BNA.

By Paul Barbagallo  

The Federal Communications Commission took steps to remove a barrier to DISH Network Corp.'s proposed mobile high-speed data network, voting to begin writing new rules that would allow the company to use recently acquired airwaves for both satellite and “terrestrial” uses.

The commission advanced its plan in a 3-0 vote at its March 22 open meeting, with little opposition or debate.

Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the FCC, characterized the proposal as prudent and fair-minded, taking into account issues relating to radio interference, the licensing of spectrum, and infrastructure deployment for the entire 2 gigahertz band of spectrum—not just for DISH.

“Because of the international allocation for mobile broadband and the large blocks of contiguous spectrum in the 2 GHz band, the National Broadband Plan recommended that we remove regulatory barriers to flexible use in this band through a rulemaking,” Genachowski said. “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.”

DISH Settles for Consolation Prize.

DISH earlier this month completed the purchase of bankrupt satellite operators TerreStar Networks Inc. and DBSD North America Inc., giving it full ownership of licenses for 40 megahertz of nationwide 2 GHz spectrum. DISH plans either to use the spectrum for the rollout of a hybrid satellite-terrestrial mobile and fixed broadband network, or sell it to another company.

The company faced a minor setback when the FCC, also this month, denied DISH's request for waivers of the agency's mobile satellite service (MSS)/ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) rules, including the ATC “integrated service” rule that requires MSS licensees to deploy handsets that can operate with both satellite-based and ground-based signals. DISH had wanted the waiver to avoid delays, but the FCC said the issue would be better handled in a formal rulemaking proceeding.

If the rulemaking process proves favorable to DISH, several companies would emerge as likely buyers of its newly acquired spectrum, including AT&T Inc.

“The commission has a checkered past of micromanaging spectrum use only to find years later that technical innovation and market demands have evolved past the government's myopic view,” said FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, currently the lone Republican member of the agency. “Exploring ways to allow for dynamic uses of valuable frequencies while preventing harmful interference to other licensees and users is a laudable goal. 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.”

As part of the notice of proposed rulemaking, the FCC would apply its Part 27 “flexible use” wireless service rules to the 2 GHz band—the blocks at 2000-2020 MHz and 2180-2200 MHz, which the FCC already has begun referring to as “Advanced Wireless Services-4” (Spectrum known as AWS-1, AWS-2, and AWS-3 is allocated already for wireless communications). Going forward, the commission would maintain existing uplink and downlink configurations in 2 GHz, while adopting a geographic approach to licensing spectrum for new mobile broadband uses in paired 10 MHz blocks.

The notice of proposed rulemaking, the text of which is not yet publicly available, includes provisions designed to protect spectrum licensees in adjacent bands from harmful interference. Also, the rules provide for a “timely deployment schedule” of new infrastructure, FCC staff said, with “appropriate corrective actions” for noncompliance.

The FCC did not provide additional details about build-out requirements or interference protections, but noted that the terrestrial flexibility would apply to the entire 2 GHz band.

Protecting Incumbent Users from Interference.

Commenting on the issue of interference, FCC Wireless Bureau Chief Rick Kaplan said, “If we see it, we're going to identify it quickly and work as hard as we can to develop reasonable solutions because it's very important spectrum.”

“The opportunities are few and far between [for reallocating spectrum for mobile broadband] and we have to grab them all,”Kaplan said.

The issue of whether, and how, users of spectrum can co-exist is one of the most fundamental in the federal government's effort to nearly double the amount of spectrum available for mobile broadband within the next 10 years.

LightSquared Inc., another would-be entrant in the mobile broadband services market, has faced insurmountable challenges mitigating potential interference to GPS receivers. DISH is not expected to face as severe a pushback from incumbent interests, but the FCC will devote considerable time to studying the issue.

In addition to proposing new rules for the 2 GHz spectrum, the FCC issued a notice of inquiry on a proposed “2 GHz Extension Band Concept,” which would incorporate a recommendation from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to reallocate the 1695-1710 MHz band from federal to commercial use, and launched a separate rulemaking to determine whether interference in the 700 MHz band precludes device “interoperability.”