FCC Move Boosts Wireless Broadband

In a move expected to be a stimulant for the high-speed wireless market, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted an order to restructure frequencies within one of the several bands used for wireless broadband communication.

Industry insiders maintain that the order, adopted on June 10 and published for the first time last week, is a significant step toward making wireless broadband a “third pipe,” or an alternative to DSL and cable modem service, the two chief means of delivering fast Internet service today.

“The commission did some of the big things it needed to do to encourageinvestment and innovation in the spectrum so it can provide competitionto cable and DSL service or be deployed in areas where” those other services are not available, according to Stephen Coran, a telecommunications attorney with RiniCoran in Washington, D.C.

Competition for Baby Bells

“The FCC is being very proactive and very supportive” in making its rules easier to follow, added Jeff Thompson, chief operating officer of TowerStream, a wireless broadband provider located in Middletown, Rhode Island.

“There’s so much spectrum now, like the MDS spectrum, that’s not being used,” he told TechNewsWorld. “People are buying it, holding it and trying to resell it” for a profit.

“Companies like TowerStream,” he continued, “are taking frequencies and are able to deliver new broadband technology — the third pipe — to give competition to these RBOCs [Regional Bell Operating Companies, which provide DSL service].”

“In many instances,” he said, “we are the only true alternative to the Verizons and SBCs of the world.”

The FCC order creates more flexibility in what is referred to as the 2.5 GHz band. This band is currently used by wireless broadband providers of Multipoint Distribution Service (MDS), Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service (MMDS) and Instructional TelevisionFixed Service (ITFS).

“We are witnessing the dawn of a new era for wireless broadband,” FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell said in a statement.

Bigger Than WiFi

“Today’s decision does away with heavy-handed rules that have governedthe MDS/ITFS band for far too long,” he added.

“The magnitude of today’s ruling is apparent when one considers thatthis band is double the spectrum that sparked the WiFi explosion at 2.4GHz and equivalent to the entire spectrum devoted to terrestrial mobile,wireless services,” he noted.

Despite the size of the spectrum, it has failed to live up to itspotential. That’s partly due to the antiquated rules governing the band,according to FCC Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy.

“While many MMDS and ITFS licensees currently provide very valuableservices to the public, it appears that these services have not yetreached their full potential and some of the spectrum remainsunderutilized,” she said in a statement. “Licensees have repeatedly toldus that regulatory hurdles thwart their attempts to deploy the new,innovative services demanded by the market.”

Powell asserted that the FCC action would encourage the development anddeployment of those kinds of innovative services and systems.

“These systems will provide a competitive alternative to cable modem andDSL service and will transform the marketplace by expanding broadband in rural areas and decreasing the price of current broadband services,” hedeclared.

Sticking Point

Although the FCC incorporated into its order many of the recommendationsmade by the industry, one sticking point was the size of transitionareas.

Under the order, when a provider proposes to take advantage of the newallocated spectrum in an area, it must pay the transition costs of theexisting providers in the area. The greater the size of that transitionarea, the greater the potential cost to the provider.

The FCC’s order requires that the transition area be based on somethingcalled a Major Economic Area (MEA). The industry wanted the areas to bebased on something smaller.

“The transition area proposed by the industry was based on real worldengineering concerns,” Coran explained. “The FCC’s order expands thatarea, which could be a disincentive to transitioning.”

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