Public-Safety, Industry Weigh in on State Leasing Framework for 4.9 GHz Band
Tuesday, January 19, 2021 | Comments
In comments on the FCC’s decision to allow commercial use in the 4.9 GHz band, public-safety entities continued to oppose the decision and push the FCC to vacate, while other industry organizations showed support for the effort but said strong FCC oversight is needed for the new rules to succeed.

In September, the FCC approved a report and order (R&O) allowing states to lease excess spectrum in the band to commercial and other entities. Previously, the band was allocated to public-safety use. Over the past several years, the FCC had argued that the band was underused and looked at ways to promote more use of the band.

In addition to the R&O, the FCC also released a further notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that proposed a framework for how states could lease the band. Under the framework, the FCC proposed a state lessor, which would be responsible for leasing the spectrum to different entities. The FCC also proposed a state band manager that would be responsible for managing the band and working to limit interference to incumbents.

Three public-safety organizations have filed petitions for reconsideration of the FCC’s order, and in their comments, many public-safety organizations continued to press the FCC to vacate its order and find a different solutions to increasing usage of the band. Meanwhile, other entities supported the leasing of the band to commercial entities but offered suggestions on how to ensure the state leasing framework works effectively.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) said that it thinks the band should be open to commercial use in order to promote investment in an underused band but public-safety users in the band should not be harmed by those commercial operations.

WISPA noted in its comments that one of the main reasons for the current underutilization of the band is a lack of equipment and the costs of deploying the equipment that is available for the band.

“As WISPA has consistently advocated, the solution to this challenge is to make the band available for commercial use on a shared basis with public-safety users,” the organization said in its comments. “WISPA continues to believe that expanding the universe of entities eligible to share the 4.9 GHz band with public-safety entities will create a new business model for equipment manufacturers to develop technology available to a wider pool of users.”

WISPA argued that the commercial use of the band would trigger investment in the band and promote public-safety use of it. WISPs already use the 5 GHz band for both point-to-multipoint broadband services and point to point connectivity, which makes the nearby 4.9 GHz band attractive to them, the organization said.

“Moreover, the proximity of the 4.9 GHz band to the 5 GHz U-NII bands, along with the bands’ similar propagation characteristics, would further encourage development of an equipment ecosystem if the rules for these bands are in close alignment, and would also allow equipment to be seamlessly deployed across either or both of the 4.9 GHz and 5 GHz bands without extensive engineering cost.”

WISPA argued that the 4.9 GHz band has commercial value to wireless internet service providers (WISPs) even if it is not 5G spectrum.

“For evidence, the commission need look no further than the nearby 5 GHz U-NII bands, where commercial investment and deployment have flourished because the commission’s rules do not dictate particular standards, uses or users,” WISPA said in its comments.

WISPA said that the 50 megahertz spectrum in the band could be useful to WISPs that need more spectrum to serve rural areas of the country but do not need 5G to provide those services. Nokia, which has been developing technology for the sharing ecosystems in the 6 GHz and Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) bands, said it supports allowing flexible use fixed and mobile services without restrictions on the type of organizations that can deploy there in the 4.9 GHz band.

The company said that sharing policies can help provide spectrum in crowded low- and mid-band spectrum to continue powering innovation. Nokia noted that the band has been globally recognized as 5G band and that allowing other uses in the band would decrease barriers toward and spur innovation toward 5G.

“One key to successful sharing of the band is that the services currently deployed and envisioned by the incumbent licensees appear compatible with commercial 4G and 5G,” Nokia said. “The commission highlights video streaming, communications systems backhaul and data connections, as well as robotics and the internet of things (IoT). These are all use cases conducive to coexistence.”

Nokia said that as the FCC moves forward with the state licensing rules it needs to be aware of cross-jurisdictional issues between states.

“While we believe that the band could be useful for small-scale enterprise deployments, certain critical infrastructure providers, such as railroads and utilities, and carriers could span multiple states,” Nokia said. “It would therefore be desirable for such an entity to obtain a lease covering multiple states to incorporate the 4.9 GHz band.”

Nokia said that it believes that states should be able to decide on which type of frequency sharing they want to use within the band.

“Considering all the incumbent use cases, it would not appear prudent to impose a single sharing model on all state licensees,” Nokia said. “As such, pending additional consideration, Nokia would not support making any particular sharing system mandatory.”

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) said that all public-safety licensees should be grandfathered into the new system.

“Forcing agencies to discontinue use of the 4.9 GHz band would be extremely detrimental to public-safety operations and extremely costly to replace,” the DHSES’s filing said. “… Public-safety entities that have area licenses and temporary base permissions should be able to continue to deploy and use equipment within their scope of license, as many have made significant investments in 4.9 GHz equipment and network design based on the pre-sixth order framework.”

The department said that a public-safety entity should be involved in the band management procedures for each state.

“We believe that the state band manager should be a public-safety entity in the state, or under the control of a state public-safety entity,” the filing said. “Requiring the involvement of a state public-safety entity would ensure the protection of existing and future public-safety users of the band. Public-safety users, now and in the future, should have priority use of the spectrum.”

The DHSES said that each state should have discretion to select their state band manager to suit their specific needs and capabilities. The states should also be free to use dynamic spectrum sharing if they feel that it fits their needs, the decision should be left to the states and not made by the commission.

Like Nokia, the department said that the FCC needs to determine how the leasing framework will work across state borders but said it does not believe the current regional planning committees are the right way to do it.

“The commission should lay a foundation of technical requirements for jurisdiction boundary coordination, such as specific technical requirements or the requirement to use outside frequency coordination within a specified distance from the border,” the department said. “Within the state, the state should have control over the best use and coordination, as demonstrated by the model for the 700 MHz state license channels.”

Federated Wireless, which is a spectrum access system (SAS) provider in the CBRS band, said that using SAS technology in the band could help expand 4.9 GHz use and make sharing more efficient and effective.

“Federated Wireless notes that, as is the case in the CBRS, the 4.9 GHz band currently supports operations by disparate users, including radio astronomy, naval training operations, public-safety and critical infrastructure operations,” Federated Wireless said in its filing. “Additionally, as the commission expands access to the band to include non-public-safety, flexible use lessees, the number of users will continue to grow. The 4.9 GHz band, conceptually very similar to the CBRS structure, would also benefit from the leveraging SAS technology to enable spectrum sharing or to assist in managing access to the band.”

Federated Wireless said that success in the band will likely depend on a common framework among states and that a SAS can facilitate such a framework.

“Federated Wireless is concerned that the commission’s present approach, which includes individual state-wide lessors, may reduce commercial viability of the band if additional steps are not taken to address a patchwork of leasing and access frameworks across the country,” the Federated Wireless said in its filing. “The mid-band spectrum at 4.9 GHz is particularly scarce and valuable, underscoring the importance of standardizing the regulatory framework granting access to the band to maximize its efficient use. The SAS could both assist in managing access to the band, by using the cloud-based dynamic spectrum access technology that has already been developed for CBRS, as well as by automating leasing transactions.”

The Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) said it supports the FCC’s efforts to bring more users into the 4.9 GHz band, but because of the nature of the state spectrum management plan, the FCC will need to provide strong oversight to make the effort successful.

“… EWA believes that FCC oversight of the process generally, thereby ensuring that it is managed fairly and effectively within the states, and specifically measuring the level of lease activity will be essential in achieving the public interest objective of ensuring robust utilization of this band,” EWA’s filing said.

EWA said it supports the FCC’s proposal that each state would determine if it needs a state band manager to facilitate more intensive use of the band and to help solve interference issues.

“Different states undoubtedly will reach different conclusions, presumably influenced, among other factors, by the level of 4.9 GHz public-safety incumbency and anticipated future use within each state,” the EWA filing said. “While the band manager approach worked reasonably well in certain bands, it has been replaced, for the most part, by spectrum leasing arrangements. Re-introducing it for 4.9 GHz public-safety facilities would eliminate whatever time and cost would otherwise be involved in having those entities secure FCC approval of what nonetheless are effectively lease arrangements.”

Both the state lessor and any state band manager should be actively overseen by the FCC, EWA said.

“EWA strongly believes that continued FCC oversight will be required,” the filing said. “Virtually all FCC licenses come with an obligation to place the spectrum into operation within a defined period and to a prescribed level of utilization. Those metrics enable the FCC to determine whether the spectrum is being used to serve the public interest and, if not, rules that allow its recovery and reassignment. No such provisions are included in the new 4.9 GHz rules.”

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which currently holds three 4.9 GHz licenses, said that the FCC’s decision to freeze incumbent licenses as it considers the changes to band is disruptive to incumbent users.

“To address this issue, Caltrans recommends that the Commission suspend the freeze for at least 180 days to provide incumbent entities the opportunity to submit applications to expand their 4.9 GHz facilities,” Caltrans’ filing said. “The spectrum has been designated for public safety use, and suspension of the freeze as recommended would simply provide the opportunity for additional public safety use in the band, furthering the Commission’s goal to ensure the band is more heavily used.”

Caltrans also expressed concern that while incumbents are grandfathered into the band under the proposed rules, there is so far no specific protections against interference. There need to be more protections included at no additional cost to incumbents, Caltrans said. Additionally, Caltrans asked for clarification on what would happen if interference issues were not properly addressed at the state level.

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International, which has filed a petition for reconsideration of the commission’s decision on 4.9 GHz, argued that the proposed rules for the band are unlikely to promote public-safety use of the band or meet the commission’s spectrum use goals.

“Continuing with this ill-conceived model for fragmented state-by-state spectrum leasing would be a mistake,” APCO’s filing said. “… Several elements of the FNPRM demonstrate the ill-conceived nature of the order.”

APCO took issue with the proposal for state band managers to manage the spectrum in the band, noting that the proposal does not require state band managers to prioritize public-safety users.

“The commission even entertains the possibility that a state band manager could deny public-safety access or prioritize non-public-safety use of the band,” APCO said. “This could result in a framework that permits subjugation and effective elimination of public-safety use of 4.9 GHz, even for grandfathered licensees.”

APCO also took issue with the proposed rules’ lack of dynamic spectrum sharing, which could help limit interference to public safety. APCO again pressed the FCC to vacate the 4.9 GHz order and work with public-safety to develop more reasonable rules for the band.

“While an effective approach could include sharing spectrum with non-public-safety users, so long as any spectrum sharing solutions are proven to be effective before putting public safety at risk, the commission is off course,” the filing said. “Accordingly, as APCO argued in its petition for reconsideration, the commission must vacate the order and FNPRM and work with public safety representatives to chart a better path forward.”

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), which also filed a petition for reconsideration of the rules, argued that the FCC’s proposed rules offer little details on key factors impacting incumbents.

“Details on the implementation in the R&O are scarce,” NPSTC’s filing said. “For example, there is no information on the level of interference protection to which grandfathered incumbent licensees are provided. States and localities together have the responsibility to minimize interference, but the commission’s decision provides no guidance on how best to accomplish that if a state chooses to implement a leasing program. Numerous questions in the companion FNPRM appear to be ones that should have been answered prior to making the decisions in the R&O.”

NPSTC argued that because the band was originally allocated to public safety, the commission should ensure that any changes to band are compatible with public-safety use. NPSTC said that like APCO and other public-safety organizations, its position was that the FCC should vacate the order and find a better way to promote more use of the band.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) also expressed opposition to the FCC’s proposed 4.9 GHz rules, questioning whether the band was as underused by public safety as the FCC claimed.

“The IAFC respectfully continues to question the FCC’s assertion that the 4.9 GHz band is under- utilized,” IAFC’s filing said. “With the geographical licensing scheme, it can be hard to determine exactly how many users are specifically operating under a 4.9 GHz license. Considering that major cities including New York City and Los Angeles have licenses on the 4.9 GHz band along with states such as Oregon and Tennessee, it seems that there may be more users on this band than are currently being counted. The IAFC recommends that the FCC consider accounting for the number of actual users on the 4.9 GHz band before potentially diverting its use away from public-safety operations.”

Like many other public-safety organizations, the IAFC also expressed concern about allowing states to manage the band, noting that many states do not have the experience to effectively manage the spectrum.

“At minimum, the FCC must establish national interference protection standards and specifically lay out how public safety incumbents will be protected from interference,” the filing said.

Like other commenters, IAFC said that it is important the FCC implement rules that will ensure interoperable use across states.

“In many metropolitan areas, local public-safety networks rely on regional networks that can cross state lines,” IAFC’s filing said. “It is important that states consider these interstate public-safety communications networks as they consider plans to sublicense the 4.9 GHz band.”

Like Caltrans, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) said that it thinks the FCC’s 4.9 GHz freeze is disruptive to incumbents. Like Caltrans, AASHTO recommended that the FCC suspend the freeze for 180 days to allow incumbents to submit applications to expand their operations if necessary.

“Any resulting modified licenses granted by the Commission should also be grandfathered,” AASHTO’s filing said. “The spectrum has been designated for public-safety use, and suspension of the freeze as recommended would simply provide the opportunity for additional public-safety use in the band, furthering the commission’s policy goal to ensure the band is more heavily used.”

Caltrans and AASHTO both recommended that the FCC create a database of existing 4.9 GHz deployments by giving incumbents 180 days to submit information about their deployment. The organizations said that this could help states in their coordination activities.

Like many other commenters, AASHTO argued that the FCC must limit interference to incumbents.

“AASHTO agrees that there needs to be a nationwide standard for interference protection,” AASHTO’s filing said. “A system, regardless of the state in which it is located, should enjoy the same interference protection from other systems, whether in state or out of state. The FCC is the only authority that can impose such uniform specifications and should do so.”

As part of its order, the FCC included rules that would prevent any states that diverts 9-1-1 fees from participating in the 4.9 GHz leasing. AASHTO and others argued that efforts to prevent 9-1-1 fee diversion should be separate from the 4.9 GHz framework.

“Linking 9-1-1 fee diversion with the ability of a state to lease 4.9 GHz spectrum does not just penalize the subject state,” the filing said. “It also penalizes all the localities within the state. If the commission wishes to penalize a state for diversion of the 9-1-1 funding, leasing could be prohibited to any non-public safety entity and no lease fees allowed to be collected from public safety spectrum users.”

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