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FCC moves to open up ultra-high-band spectrum for experimentation

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted at its monthly open meeting on March 15 to open up a sizable amount of ultra-high-band spectrum for experimentation that has previously been considered unsuitable for wireless services.

Specifically, the commission voted unanimously to adopt an order that frees up 21.2 GHz of spectrum above 95 GHz for unlicensed use across four different frequency bands. It also creates a new category of experimental licenses for the 95 GHz to 3 THz range.

The FCC is auctioning millimeter-wave spectrum in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands for 5G wireless use. The high-band spectrum has shorter wavelengths, which means it has difficulty traveling both long distances and penetrating certain types of surfaces. The spectrum the FCC considered at its March 15 open meeting, which is in significantly higher bands, has long been considered to lie at the edge of usable radio spectrum. However, it is now believed by the commission to be increasingly well-suited for possible development and deployment of new active communications services and applications.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said at the open meeting that new applications, such as personal health monitoring systems and see-in-the-dark imaging, could be possible in the bands.

"These two steps will give innovators strong incentives to develop new technologies using these airwaves, while also protecting existing passive uses," added Pai.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks did express concerns, however, that the commission does not have sufficient resources to assure secure use of the bands.

"I have serious questions about the Enforcement Bureau's tools to detect interference in these and other high-frequency bands," said Starks in a prepared statement. "I am concerned that without dedicated and sufficient resources to developing 21st Century enforcement tools against interference, our efforts to promote 5G will be undermined."

The agency also voted unanimously to advance a notice of proposed rulemaking that would seek comment on whether the agency should change its rules for partitioning, disaggregating and leasing geographic area spectrum licenses. The intent behind this proposed rule is to explore ways to possibly increase the availability of advanced telecommunications services in rural areas and spectrum access from small carriers.

The commission is mandated by Congress to initiate a rulemaking to consider possible changes to spectrum leasing and partitioning or disaggregation of spectrum licenses as a way to close the digital divide.

Starks said at the open meeting that he supports the proposal because it explores how changes to the rules would boost small carriers' access to spectrum, expand the availability of rural broadband and advance the commission's goal of closing the digital divide.

Turning to broadcast, the commission unanimously approved an order that establishes rules for reimbursing lower-power broadcast stations and others impacted by the repacking of spectrum reallocated from broadcast to wireless use as part of the 600 MHz incentive auction.

The FCC is required by Congress to reimburse certain costs incurred by impacted low-power TV stations, TV translators and FM broadcast stations for auction-related expenses.

Congress set a deadline of March 23 for the agency to adopt an order addressing this issue.

Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said at the open meeting that the additional funding is "particularly important for rural and remote communities that rely on these stations for emergency alerts and information."

Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications at the National Association of Broadcasters, commended the commission's action shortly after the vote.

"NAB appreciates the efforts of FCC staff to expeditiously implement rules to protect viewers and listeners during the repack," said Wharton in a statement. "We are committed to working with the Commission to ensure that tens of millions of viewers and listeners do not lose radio and TV service as the repack continues."

Additionally, the commission adopted an order aimed at improving rural call completion and reliability by establishing service quality standards for voice carriers that route and deliver calls to local phone providers in rural areas.

Finally, the commission advanced a further notice of proposed rulemaking for an item that proposes increased specification of a vertical location accuracy metric for wireless 911 calls, which could improve the ability of emergency personnel to respond to calls from multistory buildings.

Earlier this week, the commission also voted to streamline rules for transferring TV satellite stations and advanced a proposal that would create a broadband segment in the 900 MHz band, which is used for narrowband private land mobile radio communications.