FCC rules will ensure the new arrivals will play nice with PCS.

Well, that was quick! Just last December the FCC proposed to “unleash” H Block spectrum for commercial licensing (as we reported here) and six months later, it’s a done deal . . . almost.

In case you’ve forgotten, the H Block consists of the 1915-1920 MHz and 1995-2000 MHz bands. Congress directed the Commission to license this spectrum using competitive bidding as long as the H Block spectrum could be used without causing harmful interference to the neighboring PCS downlink band (1930-1995 MHz).

The folks at the Commission have decided that the H Block kids can indeed play nice with their PCS neighbors. Of course, the parental units at the FCC have also adopted a set of rules, including appropriate power and out-of-band emission limits, for the H Block kids to help ensure that they don’t cause any trouble. According to the FCC, the rules are intended to prevent only “harmful interference” but not necessarily all “detectable interference.” Parents can only do so much to protect their kids, right?

The “Service Rules” for this band follow for the most part the by now familiar drill – i.e., renewal, buildout, and discontinuance policies that have been applied to other new services. Here are a few highlights from the Commission’s recent H Block Report and Order:

  • H Block licenses will be licensed on an Economic Area basis using a system of competitive bidding (auction schedule yet to be announced).
  • Since the H Block is adjacent to the broadband PCS band, it would be possible for a single entity to obtain licenses for both bands in the same area and “seek to deploy a wider channel bandwidth in that area across both bands.” The Commission is okay with that, as long as the combined operations adhere to the more restrictive set of rules in situations where interference or technical rules for the two bands should differ. Sprint, the holder of the adjacent PCS band, is the only potential beneficiary of this rule.
  • License terms and renewal terms will be for ten years. But licensees failing to meet interim buildout requirements (by offering service to at least 40% of the population within four years) will have their “Final Buildout Requirement . . . accelerated by two years” – which is the Commission’s fancy way of saying that failure to meet the interim buildout requirements at the four-year mark will result in shrinkage of the entire license term from ten to eight years.
  • The Spectrum Act prohibits “a person who has been, for reasons of national security, barred by any agency of the Federal Government from bidding on a contract, participating in an auction, or receiving a grant” from participating in competitive bidding. Accordingly, the Commission will require potential H Block auction bidders to submit an additional “national security certification” in order to participate in the competitive bidding process.  (Edward Snowden probably shouldn’t bother applying.)

While the FCC has adopted the new rules, they won’t take effect immediately. Since they create new “information collections” subject to the hilariously named Paperwork Reduction Act, those new collections will have to be run through the standard PRA review process, which normally takes several months.  The remainder of the rules will take effect 30 days after they’re published in the Federal Register. Check back here for updates on that front.

And for all you film enthusiasts. In his separate concurring statement, Commission Pai – whose excellent cinematic taste has previously been noted here – has this to say about the Twilight series of movies: “[T]hankfully, we’re done with them all.” Ouch. This might be a good time for some judicious pruning of your Netflix queue.