The FCC Thursday took another step closer to holding its first auction of mid-band spectrum for 5G services. The Commissioners voted to seek comment on proposed application and bidding procedures for the auction of Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the 3550-3650 MHz portion of the 3.5 GHz Band. But the vote was not without drama as Commissioners clashed over whether the auction rules really allow for innovation and different use of the band.
Bidding in what is designated as Auction 105, is slated to start on June 25, 2020. After yesterday’s vote, CTIA President/CEO Meredith Atwell Baker called scheduling the first mid-band spectrum auction “a key milestone” in maintaining the country’s 5G leadership.
“Hallelujah,” proclaimed Commissioner Michael O’Rielly during the vote. “This item provides interested parties not only the opportunity to comment on the proposed auction structure, but also necessary heads up so that they can formulate their bidding strategies and business plans to actively participate in the auction.”
O’Rielly also said the agency still needs to free up more mid-band spectrum for NextGen wireless. “In fact, I look forward to the Commission’s action on 3.5 and 2.7 GHz in the coming months. Let’s get C-band done!”
Chairman Ajit Pai agreed, saying: “I’m optimistic that later this fall we will vote on an order to make a significant amount of spectrum available in the C-band for 5G.”
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, however, interjected concern. She wishes the 3.5 GHz auction would be held this year, saying that while the U.S. focused on auctioning high and low-band spectrum, the rest of the world has either designated mid-band spectrum for 5G or held auctions for that spectrum. “This delay in the United States has consequences. The rest of the world has left us behind,” Rosenworcel said.
She also said the final notice actually moves the agency backward and complicates the auction rules.
Pai replied that the agency has already held two high-band auctions this year. Auction 105, “will be the largest spectrum auction in American history with 3400 MHz available. A key Commission priority under this administration has been to free up more mid-band spectrum. With almost 200 MHz, this is the largest contiguous band of terrestrial flexible use spectrum below 3 GHz in the United States.”
Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, meanwhile, has a more pragmatic concern. Starks says when he travels, he consistently hears how hard it is to take part in FCC auctions because they’re so complicated. He shares Rosenworcel’s worry about whether the new rules will allow for new entrants onto the band. “The notice seeks comment on a proposal to permit bidding for blocks within the counties in the top 305 markets. But, I want to avoid unintended consequences. Will county level bidders be able to compete with Cellular Market Areas (CMA) level bidders for blocks and counties within the same CMA as a large city? ” he asked rhetorically.
The FCC proposes to offer seven PALs in each county-based license area, for a total of 22,631 PALs nationwide. Each PAL will consist of a 10 MHz unpaired channel assigned by automated frequency coordinators, called Spectrum Access Systems. Priority Access Licensees would be permitted to aggregate up to four PALs in any license area.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
September 27, 2019
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