Rise, Google and Dynamic Spectrum Alliance Identify Key Spark for Rural Broadband Growth – TR Daily

Panelists Make Case For Sharing 3.7-4.2 Ghz Band
As Key Spark For Rural Broadband

TR Daily
July 26, 2017

Allowing a new licensed, point-to-multipoint fixed wireless service to share the 3.7-4.2 gigahertz band would enable rural areas to receive more and better broadband options while demonstrating a quicker, more viable path to making spectrum available than clearing and auctioning frequencies, panelists at an event in Washington said today.

Speaking at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute event on “Closing the High-Speed Broadband Gap: Shared Spectrum as a Fiber Extension,” Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at OTI, said more than 23 million people living in rural areas lack “adequate” Internet access as defined by the FCC as 25 megabits per second downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.  “The lack of competition keeps prices high and speeds slower than they should be,” he said.

This need has prompted efforts to use wireless as a substitute for fiber where fiber it too expensive, he said.  “Why not use underutilized mid-band spectrum … and is there any?” he asked.

Today’s event included speakers from several parties involved in a Broadband Access Coalition petition filed with the FCC last month asking it to make available 500 megahertz of spectrum for the point-to-multipoint licensed wireless service (TR Daily, June 21).

The coalition includes OTI, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), Mimosa Networks, Inc., Cincinnati Bell Inc., the Consumer Federation of America, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, the American Library Association, JAB Wireless, Inc. (d/b/a Rise Broadband), Telrad Networks, and Public Knowledge.

The FCC is planning to consider a notice of inquiry at its Aug. 3 meeting on freeing up spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz and 6 GHz C-bands, as well as other spectrum between 3.7 GHz and 24 GHz (TR Daily, July 13).

“We don’t have enough spectrum that is protected spectrum in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world, for doing point to multipoint networks,” said Brian Hinman, chief executive officer and co-founder of Mimosa Networks.

That need is what prompted the petition targeting the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, along with the belief that incumbent fixed satellite service providers aren’t fully utilizing the frequencies.

Andrew Clegg, spectrum engineering lead at Google, Inc., said Google believes the band is “substantially underutilized by the satellite industry.”  Google is “doing studies to determine how it could be used more intensively,” he said.  “We think point to multipoint could be deployed very rapidly, even given the existing satellite services in the band.  We think there’s room to be a variety of applications in the band.”

“We don’t think you can allow 500 MHz of prime spectrum to be underutilized,” Mr. Clegg said.

Mr. Clegg also called for a “cleanup” of the database of satellite use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band to provide an “accurate picture of the database.”  He said an examination of each satellite location via Google Earth found that 29% of the registrations “did not actually exist.”  Either they were never built, have been removed, or are “not where they say they are,” Mr. Clegg said.  The 29% figure does not include  “sites where they may have left the dish there but it’s rusting or inactive,” he said.

“There’s no penalty for improperly registered sites or not having sites where they say they’re registered,” Mr. Clegg said, which should be part of the database clean-up process.

Jeff Kohler, co-founder of rural wireless Internet service provider Rise Broadband, said his company operates in a variety of bands and is “feeling the squeeze” of the need for more spectrum.  He estimated 70% of rural service providers are using 5 GHz spectrum, which is good for capacity and speed but has propagation characteristics that are “not the best” for getting through obstructions.

Adding spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band would be a “simple extension of what we’re doing” in the 3.65-3.7 GHz band, so getting equipment would be easy and propagation characteristics would be favorable, Mr. Kohler said.

“There is an ecosystem out there to solve the digital divide,” Mr. Kohler said.  “We have an equipment ecosystem.  We are currently providing up to 100 megabit service to a home who prior to us coming there didn’t have a choice.  This 3.7-4.2 GHz band would be a very powerful tool in our chest.

Ellen Satterwhite, policy fellow at the American Library Association, said the issue is also key to expanding rural broadband at libraries, which is important to the 77 million Americans who use public library Internet services.  She noted that one in five adults had specifically gone to a library to use the Internet in the last year.

While schools, libraries, and some health care providers have government programs designed to support their Internet access, small businesses “don’t have that support” and often run into problems with access to or prices for broadband services, Ms. Satterwhite said.  “Libraries are not alone.  Institutions in general are facing a broadband gap across the U.S.,” she said.

Kalpak Gude, president of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, said shared models need to be the focus going forward, rather than continued efforts to clear and auction available spectrum.  Mr. Gude noted that DSA has not signed on to the Broadband Access Coalition petition but it does support several aspects of it.

“The choice we have in front of us right now [is] how to make more spectrum available,” he said.  The most common approach by policy-makers has been to “figure out ways to clear that band so we can auction it,” he said.  “That is not the storyline that can continue in the future.

“We have to figure out ways to share the spectrum because the incumbents in the band are legitimately providing valuable services … but the spectrum can be used more intensely,” Mr. Gude said.

The Broadband Access Coalition is facing competition for the spectrum it wants.

An ad hoc coalition is seeking access to the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for licensed mobile services and access to the 6 GHz band for unlicensed usage.

Its members include Intel Corp., Verizon Communications, T-Mobile US, Inc., AT&T, Inc., Apple, Inc., Broadcom, Cisco Systems, Inc., CTIA, Comsearch, Ericsson, Google, Inc., Nokia, Samsung, the Information Technology Industry Council, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and the Wi-Fi Alliance.

– Brian Hammond