By a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted on May 9, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) sought comment on whether it should open the 1675-1680 MHz band for non-federal government mobile use. This marks the very plodding next step in a process that began back in 2012 when Ligado (then still known as Light Squared) petitioned the FCC to reallocate this channel. Ligado leases the adjacent 1670-1675 MHz from Crown Castle on a long term basis. It makes no bones about its intent to pair this 5 MHz with its existing 5 MHz holding to create a more useful broadband channel group.
The wrench in the works here is that the band now being looked at is actively used by the federal government for a number of weather data gathering and distributing services, including the “radiosondes” ─ balloons which are launched daily to gather meteorological data. Users of these services have naturally balked at constraining or limiting the ability of the existing networks to continue to deliver the needed weather data. Conversely, proponents of the proposal suggest that such uses can be relocated into the upper adjacent bands, and ground stations could be geographically protected from conflicting non-federal uses.
This kind of quandary often leads to the kind of ponderously slow movement we’ve seen in this proceeding. However, the FCC’s new motto seems to be “all 5G, all the time.” Any proposal that promises to move the country ahead in the race to worldwide 5G supremacy wins rapid FCC approval. Although the 5 MHz at issue here is a relatively paltry snack to feed the 5G beast, it can be combined with other channels as planned by Ligado (or even with other bands not necessarily adjacent to the band) to form a useful 5G bandwidth. So the FCC has stirred itself to push the proposal forward to concrete consideration. It remains to be seen whether the legitimate needs of the weather data community can be reconciled with general terrestrial usage of the band by private operators, but the FCC seems to think it’s possible.
Comments in Docket 19-116 will be due on June 21. Let us know if you need any more information on this proceeding or want to file comments.