Another element of the FCC’s overhaul of the wireless backhaul system is now in place.

Looks like it’s full speed ahead for another aspect of the Commission’s overhaul of the wireless backhaul regime. As we reported two days ago, the effective date of the rule requiring registration of TV pickup licenses has just been announced (that would be April 1). And the FCC has followed up with a Federal Register announcement that the Rural Microwave Flexibility Policy adopted last August – another component of the backhaul overhaul – has now been approved by the Office of Management and Budget. As a result, the Policy is now in effect.

For those not up on the details of the Policy, here’s the scoop.  Ordinarily, the FCC requires that Fixed Service licenses be able to carry a minimum payload per megahertz of radio bandwidth. But the Commission will “favorably consider” requests for waiver of those requirements if the following criteria are satisfied:

  • The interference environment would allow the applicant to use a less stringent Category B antenna (although the applicant could still choose to use a higher performance Category A antenna);
  • The applicant specifically acknowledges its duty to upgrade to a Category A antenna and come into compliance with the applicable efficiency standard if necessary to resolve an interference conflict with a current or future microwave link;
  • The applicant uses equipment that is capable of readily being upgraded to comply with the applicable payload capacity requirement, and provide a certification in its application that its equipment complies with this requirement;
  • Each end of the link is located in a rural area (county or equivalent having population density of 100 persons per square mile or less);
  • Each end of the link is in a county with a low density of links in the 4, 6, 11, 18, and 23 GHz bands. The FCC has delegated authority to the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau to determine an appropriate measure of link density in a given county;
  • Neither end of the link is contained within a recognized antenna farm; and
  • The applicant describes its proposed service and explains how relief from the efficiency standards will facilitate providing that service (e.g., by eliminating the need for an intermediate hop) as well as the steps needed to come into compliance should an interference conflict emerge.

The FCC’s hope is that this looser approach to efficiency standards will allow longer path links, thereby eliminating the need for intermediate relay stations. The Policy could also lead to the use of less expensive transmitters and lower power. Ideally, according to the Commission, this could all translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings, and thereby spur deployment of broadband service in rural areas.

Oddly enough, the precise effective date of the Policy is not entirely clear. According to the Federal Register notice, the Policy became effective on January 7, 2013, the date that OMB signed off on it. But back in August, when the Commission first adopted the Policy, it said that the Policy “WILL BECOME EFFECTIVE after the Commission publishes a notice in the Federal Register announcing [OMB’s] approval and the relevant effective date.” (Those all caps are the FCC’s, not ours.) That would seem to indicate that the mere fact of OMB approval alone would not be enough to kick-start the Policy into full-tilt effectiveness. Rather, the real official effective date would happen only after the FCC clues us all in to the OMB approval through a Federal Register notice. So February 1, i.e., the date of the FCC’s Federal Register notice of the Policy’s effectiveness, would seem to be the actual effective date. Perhaps the Commission will clarify this in the days to come.