The Federal Communications Commission approved a proposal that would open up underutilized midband spectrum that was initially intended for educational institutions.
Notably, the May 10 meeting was the first since the exit of Mignon Clyburn, who announced in April she would be stepping down from her seat at the commission. Clyburn, a Democrat, had served at the commission since 2009. In the wake of her departure, the five-seat commission is down to four sitting commissioners, including three Republicans and one Democrat.
At its monthly open meeting, the commission voted 4-0 on a notice of proposed rulemaking that would allow a more efficient use of the Educational Broadband Service spectrum in 2.5 GHz band, spectrum that was initially used for delivering instructional television to schools and other facilities. Over the years, licensees have had difficulty making full use of their spectrum and as a result, significant portions of the band currently lie fallow across approximately one-half of the U.S., mostly in rural areas. Moreover, the FCC has not granted new access to spectrum in this band for more than 20 years.
The FCC's new proposal seeks to offer current licensees more flexibility to use and transfer their spectrum. It would also create new opportunities for educational entities and Tribal Nations to gain access to this spectrum in places where they have a local presence. And the agency would open up the remaining 2.5 GHz spectrum for auction to anyone, including commercial entities, on a flexible-use basis.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, encouraged her colleagues at the agency to think creatively about how to best use this spectrum to help teachers and students. "What if we repurposed the Educational Broadband Service through an incentive auction?" she said. "And what if we took the revenue from this effort and used it to support new initiatives to bridge the homework gap to ensure every child has the internet access they need for school work? This would be a win for students and a win for wireless service."
Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican, also indicated he would support an incentive auction, but did not comment on how he thought the proceeds of such an auction should be used. But he said an auction would "allow the market to determine the band's highest and best use," which could include "next-generation mobile operations, including 5G."
Beyond the EBS licenses, a major player in the band is Sprint Corp., which holds 150 MHz of nationwide 2.5 GHz spectrum. In an emailed statement, Sprint spokeswoman Lisa Belot said the company fully supports the FCC's comprehensive review of proposals that would license pockets of 2.5 GHz Educational Broadband Service spectrum.
"The public will greatly benefit from expanding spectrum opportunities for existing EBS licensees and potentially new EBS entrants. Adoption of new licensing opportunities for EBS licensees will further strengthen Sprint's existing 4G LTE and future 5G deployments, benefiting customers as well as Sprint's EBS partners," she said.
Notably, Sprint and T-Mobile US Inc. agreed on April 29 to merge; the combined company would have a total implied enterprise value of approximately $146 billion.
Also at the meeting, the FCC unanimously voted on a proposal seeking comment on whether to eliminate rules that require broadcasters to physically display their broadcast licenses and related information in specific locations. As most of this information is available online, Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said, "I truly believe this proceeding will confirm that this rule should be set into the appropriate waste bin."
The proposal is part of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's larger "modernization of media regulation" initiative, which aims to review and streamline the FCC's media rules.
The FCC also unanimously approved a proposal that seeks to streamline rules relating to interference caused by FM translators. Translator stations simultaneously rebroadcast the signal of a primary AM or FM station on a different frequency, providing supplementary service to areas that would otherwise get poor reception. The FCC is also looking at expediting the translator complaint resolution process.
On the enforcement front, the FCC voted to impose a $120 million fine against Adrian Abramovich of Miami, Fla., who allegedly made 96 million spoofed robocalls in violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act. The Truth in Caller ID Act prohibits callers from deliberately falsifying caller ID information with the intent to harm or defraud consumers or unlawfully obtain something of value.
While the FCC had initially proposed the fine in 2017, Abramovich objected and claimed that he had no intent to cause harm. The FCC, however, determined the evidence did not support these claims and kept the $120 million fine as is, the largest forfeiture ever imposed by the agency.