Some familiar faces take an alternative approach to trying to get the FCC to open up spectrum for wireless broadband.
Recently, we reported on bills introduced – actually, re-introduced, since proposals with the same language had died during the preceding Congressional session – by several reasonably high-profile Senators and Representatives. Their goal: requiring the FCC to study the possible use of the 5.9 GHz band for Wi-Fi use. Now the same crew is at it again, but they’re using a somewhat gentler approach. Rather than looking to require the Commission to do anything, this time they’re simply offering their support for the FCC’s efforts to “free up additional spectrum for wireless broadband use”. They don’t identify precisely which “efforts” they’re supporting, but they do happen to suggest that the Commission “explore potential sharing opportunities within the 10 GHz band”.
While the letter doesn’t say how this Congressional team happened to hit on the 10 GHz band, we’re guessing it wasn’t an accident.
As it turns out, back in May 2013, a company called Mimosa Networks filed a petition with the FCC asking it to start a rulemaking proceeding to make available additional spectrum for wireless broadband services. Where would that spectrum come from? Why, the 10.0-10.5 GHz band, of course. Mimosa suggested that additional spectrum is needed for wireless internet service providers (sometimes called “WISPs”) to provide long distance, high capacity links. These “backhaul” links form the middle portion of our internet connections, connecting points that collect “last mile” end user information to the Internet “backbone.” Backhaul is often transmitted over fiber (or legacy copper), but also it’s also transmitted wirelessly when the alternatives don’t make sense – for example, in rural areas, where wireless facilities are quicker and cheaper than fiber.
In its petition Mimosa asks for a fairly aggressive power level (55 dBW). That’s based on similar power levels (specified in Part 101 of the rules) for operations in the 10.7-11.7 GHz band. Mimosa also helpfully suggests ways to mitigate interference to radar uses – specifically, a method referred to as Dynamic Frequency Selection, which means that, before transmitting, the broadband system would have to first listen for the signals from other users.
The bad news for Mimosa is that the 10 GHz band is currently used by amateur radio (HAM) operators and amateur satellite services (amateur communications conducted via satellite). (It’s also used for both government and commercial radiolocation (a/k/a radar).) Longtime CommLawBlog readers will recall that amateur operators can be aggressive and persistent when it comes to protecting the spectrum turf they call home. Predictably, the amateurs opposed Mimosa’s proposal in full force. Whether or not as a result of that opposition, the Commission has taken no action on the proposal since the last comment was filed nine months ago.
Against that backdrop, what should arrive but the recent letter to Chairman Wheeler from six members of Congress, encouraging the FCC to be sure to check out the 10 GHz band as a possible means of “expanding Wi-Fi capabilities to bring Internet access to more Americans.” (For the record, the letter was signed by Senators Booker and Rubio and Representatives Matsui, Guthrie, Eshoo and Latta.) While their letter falls short of the considerably more aggressive approach that these Congresspeople took with respect to the 5.9 GHz band – i.e., introducing legislation that would require the FCC should to consider Wi-Fi sharing in that band – nonetheless a pattern appears to be emerging: when the private sectors says that more spectrum is needed for Wi-Fi, Congress will come knocking on the FCC’s door if the FCC doesn’t move quickly enough. It remains to be seen exactly how the Commission will react to this unsolicited advice from Congress. Check back here for updates.