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3.5 GHz: New Ideas in the “Innovation Band”

by: John Leibovitz, Deputy Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau & Special Advisor to the Chairman for Spectrum Policy

April 23, 2014

In a speech last month at the Brookings Institution, the Chairman issued a challenge – let’s confront change in spectrum policy and reorient our perspective from what was to what can be. Today, the Commission is leading by example. The Commission is issuing a detailed proposal for a new service in the 3.5 GHz Band- the Citizens Broadband Radio Service – representing a watershed for innovative spectrum sharing policies.

In July 2012 the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report suggesting that we could help meet the demand for spectrum by increasing civilian access to spectrum currently reserved for government use. In 2012, the Commission took the next step by proposing to implement a dynamic spectrum sharing scheme in up to 150 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz Band.

3.5 GHz is an ideal “innovation band.” Because the federal use in this band occurs primarily around the coasts, it is a great opportunity for intensive wireless broadband use on a shared basis. In 2010, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration proposed just that – broadband wireless could share the band with government incumbents. The use of innovative spectrum sharing technologies is the key to unlocking the potential of this band. But without a new approach to thinking about spectrum rights and responsibilities, we will not be able to expand access to new civilian uses.

If the Commission is successful in creating a regulatory environment that encourages the Citizens Broadband Radio Service to flourish, it will simultaneously meet the demands of myriad spectrum uses and users. “Old” spectrum policy drives towards a fragmented frequency chart, sliced into static divisions for different regulatory categories of users. A “new,” more dynamic, policy promises to encourage technological coexistence between many different uses and different users, and in a way that can freely evolve over time in response to changes in the marketplace.  The result: more spectrum, more bandwidth, and a path to even more in the future.

To be clear, we still have much work before us. The proposal is just that, a proposal. The Commission established a healthy comment cycle to allow for a spirited discussion of the many technical and policy details in the proposal. We are, however, reaching the end of this first chapter in the story of the 3.5 GHz Band. We hope that on the basis of this discussion in response to the proposal the Commission will be able to establish the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the rule books. Then the real work can begin, as the private sector invests in technology and networks that bring the service to life.

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