View from the Top

Who Receives New Spectrum is a Pivotal Decision

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By Mark Crosby, President/CEO of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance

Let’s look at a spectrum issue that demonstrates the American values of fairness and competition at their best, and at their worst.  And, if you use or sell wireless devices, how this spectrum issue plays out is definitely going to affect you.

The last time we had a new allocation of spectrum for industrial/business licensees was in 1985. Reagan was president, the first dot-com was registered, and a gallon of gas was $1.07. So, current licensees have been waiting a long time for the eighty (80) potential 25 kHz exclusive use Expansion/Guard Band (EB/GB) channels to be released after “rebanding” has been completed in their market areas.

EWA has petitioned the FCC that the broader public interest would be served by limiting access for six months when these channels become available to allow access for incumbent licensees that are already operating systems, after which remaining channels would be available to all eligible applicants. These incumbents have invested heavily in 800 MHz since the 1980s and, for the most part, they are licensees of private, internal systems, companies like Anheuser Busch, Exxon, American Electric Company, Consolidated Edison, Fed Ex and others. They rely on wireless to provide services to promote business efficiency and public safety. Allowing them a limited opportunity to expand their 800 MHz systems will not compromise the FCC’s commitment to enhanced competition, but will allow these organizations to continue to use wireless technology to maintain their competitive edge, which we see as fair given their investment and their intentions.

There are those who would block this minimal six month window, and they have made their objections known at the FCC, citing diminished competition. They declare that it is actually fair to allow first access to this spectrum to nascent commercial providers which have purchased handfuls of narrowband channels, enabling them to “offer emerging information technologies to commercial, consumer and government entities. What is troubling to us is that there is strong evidence that these 800 MHz EB/GB applications have been promoted and secured as “investment opportunities,” which is an unlikely outcome of their deployment, considering that many of these channels are located in the most under-populated areas of the country. Further troubling is that some of these licensees have approached national commercial carriers and other organizations seeking help in selling their frequencies to wireless carriers that they mistakenly believe would want to purchase them.  

Objections have been filed with the FCC to the six-month window for incumbents via a campaign featuring a Chinese restaurant-like menu of five comment options. The comments from different parties are quite similar, and one party filed a copy of the “instructions for Filing Comments Against the LMCC Petition” along with his comments. Judging from the similarity of the comments and connecting the quite obvious dots of relationships among the filing entities, it appears that many of the parties that submitted these cookie-cutter comments are affiliated with the Smartcomm Enterprise. The Land Mobile Communications Council has filed comments about each of these “arguments.” One of the more egregious arguments was that Public Safety should not have even limited priority access to any 800 MHz EB/GB frequencies because of the emergence of LTE technology, failing to understand the very basic fact that LTE does not support mission-critical voice capability, still the most vital need of emergency responders.   

We welcome participation and comments by those with a solid understanding of the increasingly complex and resource-intensive wireless communications business and the wherewithal to build and operate the facilities it licenses. That’s a major driver for competition. We also do not object to the process of filing comments and stating opinions. 

A commitment to fairness is what makes America great. We hold a passionate regard for fairness and competition, but ours leads us to state that incumbents should be given the first opportunity to access this spectrum when it becomes available for purposes of expanding existing systems. You can read the LMCC’s comments for yourself and see if you agree.

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