FCC implements key provisions of AT&T’s 700 MHz interoperability proposal while extending interim construction deadline for 700 MHz A and B Block licensees until December 13, 2016.

In September we reported on a voluntary industry solution, proposed by AT&T and DISH Network, looking to bring interoperability to the 700 MHz block.  Since AT&T required, as a condition to its proposal, that the FCC adopt a number of rules to AT&T’s liking by December 31, 2013, we expressed some skepticism as to the FCC’s ability to meet that ambitious deadline. But lo and behold, the FCC has managed to do just that in record breaking time. 

In a "Report and Order and Order of Proposed Modification" released on October 29, the FCC, among other things, has modified: (a) certain technical requirements for the Lower 700 MHz D and E blocks; and (b) AT&T’s B and C Block licenses, as AT&T had requested as part of the voluntary industry interoperability solution.  The Commission also extended the interim construction benchmark deadline for all 700 MHz Lower A and B Block licensees until December 13, 2016, and issued a waiver of the interim construction benchmark for certain Lower 700 MHz A Block licensees that must limit their deployments in order to protect incumbent Channel 51 operations. 

What’s particularly noteworthy in the Order is the inclusion by the FCC of various escape valves AT&T provided for itself, which could delay the roll-out of 700 MHz interoperable devices for at least six months. It’s not clear what the FCC would do, if anything, to extend the interim construction deadlines for Lower A and B Block licensees should AT&T miss the deadline to begin the roll-out of interoperable devices.

In keeping with the breakneck speed with which the FCC seems to be dealing with AT&T’s proposal, the Order has been published in the Federal Register already. The amended rules are set to take effect on December 5, 2013, although the Order itself will technically be subject to judicial review until at least January 4, 2014 (and longer, if anyone seeks such review prior to that date).