FCC Deletes 2,456 Fixed Microwave Licenses

Action follows licensee’s failure to pay $430,000 in filing fees when seeking an extension of the construction deadlines.

The FCC has denied reconsideration of an order that terminated 2,456 fixed point-to-point microwave licenses.

Metropolitan Area Networks (MAN), obtained the licenses between January 2008 and March 2009. FCC rules require a link to become operational within 18 months of the license grant, or the license automatically terminates. For MAN, the deadlines fell between July 2009 and September 2010. But before the earliest of those dates, in June 2009, MAN filed applications to extend all of the deadlines until March 2011. It explained that the microwave links were intended to support TV “white space” systems, and that delays in the FCC’s finalizing of the white space rules required the extension.

Ordinarily an application to extend a microwave construction deadline must be accompanied by a filing fee, which at that time was $175. The total filing fees for all of MAN’s applications works out to almost $430,000. Understandably, MAN filed a simultaneous request for a waiver of all but one of the filing fees. But the FCC’s rules state that, when a fee waiver is sought, the filing fees to be waived must accompany the waiver request; if the waiver is granted, the fees will then be refunded. MAN paid the fee for one application, but not the others.   In July 2009, the FCC dismissed all but one of the extension requests for failure to pay the fee.

MAN filed a timely Petition for Reconsideration of the dismissal. No one opposed. Eighteen months later, when the FCC had not yet acted, the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition asked it to delete the MAN licenses from the database, as they were hindering frequency coordination of other license applications. The FWCC argued that even if MAN prevailed on its reconsideration request, that would extend the construction date only through the preceding March, so that MAN would still be in default regardless of the outcome.

The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has now denied MAN’s petition for reconsideration, and ordered the removal of its licenses from the database. As to all but one of the licenses, the FCC found the extension applications to be defective for failure to pay the filing fee. As to the single application for which the fee in fact was paid, the FCC found that MAN had offered insufficient grounds for the extension.

MAN can still ask the full Commission to review the Bureau’s decision. Its problem, though, is that even a reversal of the Bureau, and a grant of the extension request, would carry the licenses only through March 2011 – now more than a year in the past. So far as we can tell, MAN has no procedural path by which it might keep the licenses in force until it is ready to use them. It can, however, reapply for the same licenses when that time comes, although other applications filed in the meantime may have made some of the paths unavailable.

The guidance here for other microwave applicants is clear: the FCC’s 18-month construction deadline has teeth. Applying for licenses too soon can turn out to have expensive consequences.

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