March 27, 2015 - 3:51 pm
By Tom Wheeler | FCC Chairman

Five years ago, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a report identifying possible spectrum bands for reallocation for commercial uses. In the report, it identified the 3550-3650 MHz band as a potential opportunity for future commercial use. At the time, there was relatively little commercial interest in this band. But some saw an opportunity to promote new wireless technologies, new business ideas, and new spectrum management techniques to increase our nation’s broadband capacity. Today I circulated to my colleagues a draft Report and Order that will seize that opportunity by creating a new Citizens Broadband Radio Service.

The 3.5 GHz band is an innovation band. As a result of technological innovations and new focus on spectrum sharing, we can combine it with adjacent spectrum to create a 150 megahertz contiguous band previously unavailable for commercial uses. It provides an opportunity to try new innovations in spectrum licensing and access schemes to meet the needs of a multiplicity of users, simultaneously. And, crucially, we can do all of this in a way that does not harm important federal missions.

The draft Report and Order implements a three-tiered sharing paradigm, which we have explored in multiple rounds of notice and comment over the past two years. The lowest tier in the hierarchy, General Authorized Access (GAA), is open to anyone with an FCC-certified device. Much like unlicensed bands, GAA will provide for zero-cost access to the spectrum by commercial broadband users. In the Priority Access tier, users of the band can acquire at auction targeted, short-duration licenses that provide interference protection from GAA users. Finally, at the top of the hierarchy, incumbent federal and commercial radar, satellite, and other users will receive protection from all Citizens Broadband Service users.

This new tiered sharing paradigm will be enabled by a Spectrum Access System. The SAS takes an age-old role in spectrum management – the frequency coordinator – and updates it for the 21st century through the use of cloud computing technology. Long gone are the days of an engineer working with pencil and protractor (not to mention pocket protector) to coordinate users into a band.

Finally – a few words on protecting incumbent federal uses. America’s military uses this band for radar systems that perform vital national security missions. To protect these radars, previous reports suggested very large zones around the coasts within which commercial users could not operate. Thanks to an enormous amount of collaborative work with NTIA and the Department of Defense, these zones are now substantially smaller. More importantly, the draft Report and Order provides a roadmap, recommended by NTIA and DoD, for operations within any area around the coast through the use of new sensor technologies.

I look forward to my fellow Commissioners’ feedback on the draft Report and Order. I think it provides a peek of the future, and that future is very exciting indeed.