Wheeler Offers Update on Spectrum Policy

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  June 01, 2016

FCC (News - Alert) Chairman Tom Wheeler in late March delivered an address touching on wireless spectrum to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Here’s an excerpt of his comments.

Next week, the FCC will make history when it launches the world’s first Incentive Auction…. Our key goal is to repurpose as much spectrum for mobile broadband as the market demands to meet growing consumer needs, and that means deploying networks using these frequencies in a timely manner. To ensure preservation of service for broadcast viewers and timely network deployment, we have been focused on post-auction planning for over a year, including the release of the draft relocation reimbursement form and a reimbursement cost catalog, and we’ve already begun to pivot and to accelerate our planning for the post-auction transition.

I recognize that getting the transition right is as important as getting the auction itself right. Like the auction, the transition will be a complex, multi-disciplinary effort that will span several years. The task force approach has served us well in designing and implementing the auction, and I believe it is the appropriate structure for ensuring that the transition has the focus and attention it requires.  I therefore intend to maintain the task force when the auction is complete; as we move forward, its mission will evolve from auction to transition.

Just as bipartisan support helped enable the incentive auction, there is growing bipartisan interest in the next big thing in spectrum policy: 5G. With very fast speeds, scale to support billions of sensors, and reduced latency, 5G will allow us to realize the full potential of so many promising, yet nascent broadband-enabled breakthroughs. It won’t just improve existing commercial and government uses, but also applications still on the horizon, like Internet of Things and connected cars.

Fundamentally, we’re approaching 5G as we have with previous generations of wireless by adopting a flexible use policy and assuring that spectrum is available to be deployed when the private sector has arrived at the requisite technical standards and network architectures. This approach made us successful as global leaders in 4G LTE (News - Alert). 

At this point, none of us knows exactly what 5G will be, but we can be certain that the spectrum requirements will be dynamic and ever-changing. Accordingly, our spectrum policy must be equally dynamic to address a wireless reality that is still evolving. We must continue to employ flexible use policies that encourage private-sector innovation and investment, while increasing our commitment to spectrum sharing, opening new bands for broadband, and establishing smart approaches to wireless infrastructure.  

We can also facilitate investment in 5G technology by removing barriers to infrastructure deployment. Commissioner Pai has been a strong advocate for eliminating barriers to wireless infrastructure deployment, and I look forward to working with him and the other commissioners on this important issue moving forward. Rest assured that spurring 5G innovation and deployment is one of the commission’s highest priorities.

In fact, the commission launched what we call our Spectrum (News - Alert) Frontiers rulemaking to explore the use of millimeter wave spectrum – the airwaves at 24GHz and above – for 5G. I was disappointed that one of the bands the FCC identified for possible 5G use – 28GHz – was rejected for study by the International Telecommunication Union at last year’s World Radio Conference in Geneva. While international coordination is preferable, I believe we should move forward with exploration of the 28GHz band, and we plan to act on the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding this summer.

Edited by Maurice Nagle