One Year From Now: Full Speed Ahead With Innovation

At its monthly open meeting tomorrow, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on an order setting the stage for the next generation of wireless services. The order – part of the “Spectrum Frontiers” proceeding – will make expansive amounts of high band spectrum available for wireless services, including next-generation 5G service. This vote will come just nine months after the FCC issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on this matter.

That’s an admirably fast track, particularly given the scope of the proceeding. To get here, the FCC had to evaluate numerous new spectrum bands for expanded wireless operations – a total of more than 10 GHz of new spectrum – and consider appropriate service rules authorizing mobile operations in those bands. These rules include a combination of licensed use, a commercial-to-commercial shared access regime, and unlicensed use, as well as provisions to protect incumbent federal government uses in some bands.

NAB commends the Commission for moving with such speed to lay the groundwork for the next generation of wireless services. We hope the Commission will move at least as quickly when it comes to the next generation of television service. In fact, the Next Generation TV proceeding should be much easier; the Commission does not need to authorize new spectrum sharing regimes or provide broadcasters with additional spectrum.

The key lesson from the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding that should guide the Commission in the Next Gen TV proceeding is that flexibility is key. The Commission’s approach has been to “promote a flexible regulatory environment for the next generation of wireless services.”[1] The FCC stated that its goal was “to develop flexible rules that will accommodate a wide variety of current and future technologies.”[2] The FCC should take a similar approach towards Next Gen TV service.

The Next Gen TV proposal before the Commission asks it to approve only a new transmission standard. This will ensure that broadcast television licensees have the flexibility to offer services and features the market demands, and will avoid bogging the Commission down while additional layers of the service are defined. In the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding, the Commission noted that it did “not intend to define what qualifies as ‘5G’,” and that standards bodies were still developing requirements.[3]

5G’s nascent status has not prevented the Commission from moving forward in the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding, and it shouldn’t stop the Commission from moving forward with authorizing Next Gen TV. In fact, the Commission emphatically rejected calls for delay until more was known about how or whether mobile services would develop in higher bands, stating that such “delays could affect the United States’ leadership in mobile communications and hurt consumers.”[4] Similarly, delays in approving voluntary use of a new television transmission standard could affect U.S. leadership in broadcast television and deprive consumers of new features and services.

NAB and individual broadcasters have asked the FCC to issue an NPRM by October 1 proposing rules for the voluntary use of the Next Gen TV transmission standard. If the Commission can meet that goal, and there is no reason it would be unable to do so, a nine-month benchmark would have the Commission issuing final rules allowing broadcasters to transmit using the new standard no later than July 2017 – a fitting anniversary of the 5G action the FCC will take tomorrow. Just one year from now, the Commission should be in the admirable position of having laid the foundation for the future of both the wireless and television industries.

[1] Use of Spectrum Bands Above 24 GHz For Mobile Radio Services, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, FCC 15-138, ¶ 1 (Oct. 23, 2015).

[2] Id. at ¶ 3.

[3] Id. at ¶ 1, n.1.

[4] Id. at ¶ 24.