The FCC’s Wireless Bureau has issued a long-promised Public Notice clarifying when and how Broadband Radio Service (BRS) and Educational Broadband Service (EBS) licensees must demonstrate that they have been providing “substantial service” during their most recent license term. 

Of key interest here are the all important deadlines by which these demonstrations must be made. The Bureau declared May 16, 2011 to be the deadline by which non-renewal-related showings by EBS licensees and BRS BTA licensees must be filed. This was a mild surprise to some observers since the pertinent rule (Section 27.14(o)) requires that BRS/EBS licensees “make a showing” of substantial service no later than May 1, 2011.  One might well have interpreted that language as requiring the showing to actually be submitted by that date, but the Bureau has now given us a more generous interpretation of the rule with which few members of the industry will want to quibble.  The Bureau has also confirmed that BRS incumbents whose licenses expire on May 1, 2011 must file their showings no later than May 2, 2011 as part of their renewal applications.

The Public Notice also summarizes the safe harbors available for BRS licensees to guarantee that the service they have been providing qualifies as “substantial.”   These harbors consist of: (1) providing six fixed point-to-point links per million of population; (2) providing coverage to 30% of the population for mobile or point-to-multipoint services; (3) providing highly specialized services that do not require broad coverage to benefit consumers; and (4) providing service to otherwise unserved niche markets. 

For EBS licensees, the safe harbor consists of using the spectrum to provide educational services, providing services that further the educational mission of accredited schools, and/or providing a level of service that exceeds the minimum usage requirements specified by the rules. There are slightly more liberal safe harbors for service providers in rural areas. Nothing new here, but a reminder never hurts.

The Bureau then helpfully walks the prospective filer through the exact process of filing these showings in the FCC’s ULS system. It also details some new and crucial bits of information that must be included in the showings. For point-to-point operations, the filer must include the actual coordinates of its links, the uses to which the links are being put, and the bandwidth involved, as well as a calculation of the population of the GSA being served. For mobile or point-to-multipoint operations, the filer must submit a map of the GSA, the coverage within the GSA and the percentage of population served, as well as the signal level used as a threshold for reliable coverage and the percentage of time such a signal level is available. This information is important, since licensees could have started making showings as early as February 1, but the FCC did not propound these new requirements until Feb. 25.

Finally, the Bureau reminded licensees that they need to modify their licenses to reflect the new band plans in all markets that have been transitioned.

As increasingly panicky BRS and EBS licensees hit the home stretch of the run up to the May 1 deadline, this Public Notice will serve as a useful lodestar.