The FCC is giving Part 90 licensees in the 3650-3700 MHz band more time to transition their operations to Part 96 Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). The agency said the extension won’t affect the June auction of Priority Access Licensees in the 3.5 GHz Band.
Part 90 operations are used to provide high-speed broadband, utility communications, and other essential wireless services. The move involves changing out equipment on towers. The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau issued an order Thursday granting a six-month extension for the transition. The prior deadline of April 17, has been pushed ahead to October 17.
“Granting this temporary extension will enable Part 90 licensees to focus on continuing to provide high-speed broadband and other critical services during this national state of emergency,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “This is a logical delay of the transition during the pandemic to ensure that current licensees, like WISPs and electric utilities, can keep their eyes on the ball when it comes to helping consumers. We can allow this flexibility while still maintaining a reasonable timeline for this transition. I’m also pleased we could find a way to grant this relief without impacting this summer’s important 5G auction.”
The Wireless Internet Providers Association (WISPA) sought the waiver, saying it gives providers more time to update their networks, and for now, prevents thousands of rural customers from losing service. WISPA VP Policy Louis Peraertz said the waiver, “will help customers – many of whom reside in unserved and underserved rural areas – stay connected, while also allowing a more reasonable glide path for WISPs to transition equipment and services to the standards of the CBRS band.”
When the FCC created rules for shared commercial use of the CBRS band in 2015, 3.65 GHz operators were given five years to comply with new rules that require CBRS-certified equipment. But the complexity and several year delay of certifying, developing and integrating numerous interdependent parts to make the CBRS band a reality threw the overall transition process off schedule, according to WISPA.
The CBRS band only recently saw full commercial deployment, two years behind what was anticipated. This had a cascading effect on the rest of the process, with the hardware, software and services ecosystem just now coming online. Further, WISPs recently learned that some popular pieces of equipment they employ in the 3.65 GHz band will never become CBRS compliant.
The COVID-19 crisis has added to these challenges, limiting the supply of CBRS-compliant gear. On the whole, the delays and supply-chain issues have pushed much of the transition work – which entails changing out tower and CPE equipment – into inhospitable winter months, and making the initial transition date impossible for many WISPs to reasonably achieve, according to the association.
“The waiver will minimize the adverse effects of the CBRS band’s requirements on those presently operating 3.65 GHz services without compromising the public interest benefits of new CBRS service,” Peraertz added. “Providers may more readily become CBRS-compliant; their customers won’t be dropped off the network; and new CBRS deployment will not be hampered by lingering 3.65 GHz transition issues.”
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