FCC Urges Congress to Restore Auction Authority for 12 GHz

The FCC voted to expand use of over 1 GHz of mid-band spectrum in the 12 GHz band by ensuring stable spectrum access for current and next-generation satellite service while also empowering advanced terrestrial wireless services. The Commission adopted rules to preserve spectrum between 12.2-12.7 GHz for current and future satellite services. It also proposed policies that would position the 12.7-13.25 GHz band to support flexible terrestrial wireless use, including 6G wireless services.

In the 12.2 GHz band, the FCC says its action yesterday ensures the present and future for satellite services, by declining to authorize two-way, high-powered terrestrial mobile use due to what the agency says is a “significant risk of harmful interference” to existing and emergent services, particularly in the growing satellite broadband market. The Commission sought comment on other potential changes to expand the efficient use of the band, including for terrestrial fixed use or unlicensed use.

During the vote, FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington said the agency got the engineering right “by protecting incumbents who have engaged in significant investment in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band. While I am hopeful there is a way to allow satellite and two-way fixed service to exist in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band, I believe the FCC needs to make sure it is not putting the cart before the horse. That is why I agree with my colleagues’ inclusion of wording that allows tactical information including studies, preferably real-world studies that support these proposals.”  

The FCC proposed to repurpose some or all of the 12.7 GHz band for mobile broadband or other expanded use. The agency seeks comment on options for grandfathering, relocating, and/or repacking incumbent non-federal licensees. It would also like public input on alternative approaches that would use sharing methodologies among incumbents and new entrants.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr spoke of Low Earth Orbit satellites, 5G mobile, 6G and other new communications technologies vying for more spectrum. He believes the 12 GHz issue “reflects the fact that we have to take a balanced approach to make sure all of these technologies have the opportunity to succeed and thrive on their own merit. We have to continue to put the pedal down as far as we can to continue to free up spectrum for 5G and other use cases.”

His colleague, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said, “The best way to get the spectrum into the hands of users could very well be at auction. We certainly need our authority to hold one to be restored.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel agreed, once again, urging Congress to restore the agency’s auction authority, which lapsed in March. She noted “the scrum” for 6G is already underway, and we’re “seeing countries around the world launching programs, projects and alliances to ensure their foothold in the next generation of wireless technology.”

She said it’s true that fortune favors the bold. “Today we identify more than 1,000 MHz of prime mid-band spectrum for new and innovative use. These are airwaves in the 12.2-13.25 GHz band, which puts them right in the middle of the 7-16 GHz band we have already identified as the sweet spot for the 6G era. We are the first country in the world to identify these bands for new wireless use—and take action.”

Rosenworcel called spectrum auction authority “an investment in America’s wireless future and in this country’s leadership in 5G, 6G and beyond.” But “the ongoing lapse in the FCC’s auction authority,” Rosenworcel said, “has immediate consequences for 5G and could soon exact a toll on our 6G leadership.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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