FCC Announced Changes To The Priority Access Licenses (PAL) Rules

October 23 not only marked the first day of the CBRS Alliance October 2018 All Members Meeting, but also the Federal Communications Commission’s October 2018 Open Commission Meeting where yet another shared spectrum milestone was reached.

The FCC adopted a Report and Order that modifies the rules governing CBRS in the 3.5 GHz band as a way to promote additional investment and encourage broader deployment in the band, ensure that the rules for this service keep up with technological advancements, and help to maintain U.S. leadership in the deployment of next-generation services, including 5G.

Three years ago, the FCC created rules to facilitate shared access between federal and non-federal use of the 3.5 GHz band, which outlined three tiers of users consisting of Incumbents, Priority Access Licenses (PALs), and General Authorized Access (GAA) users. PAL, in particular, has been one of the more polarizing debates within the CBRS discussion, creating several camps. There are those who want to license the PAL tier by census tracts, those who want to change the license size to a significantly larger geographic area called Partial Economic Areas, those who call for county-based licensing, and those who want a hybrid of these zones. You can’t please everyone, so the FCC took the middle ground with these recent changes, which encourage more efficient and intensive use of the band:

  • Changes the size of PAL license areas from census tracts to counties;
  • Extends the PAL license term to ten years and makes these licenses renewable;
  • Establishes end-of-term performance requirements;
  • Ensures seven PALs are available in each license area;
  • Allows the use of bidding credits for rural and Tribal entities;
  • Permits partitioning and disaggregation of PALs;
  • Updates information security requirements to protect registration information; and
  • Facilitates transmission over wider channels while maintaining protections for other services

The Commission worked hard to find a balanced compromise here. No one industry segment gets exactly what it wants, and the interests of all segments are taken into account. For example, WISPs were lobbying for license sizes to be census tracts, and MNOs wanted large metropolitan areas. The compromise of counties actually aligns with the fact that many rural services operate on county boundaries today.

The proposal also opens the opportunity for a fluid and vibrant secondary market for PALs, addressing the PAL needs of many enterprises. The PAL rules state that the licenses obtained within a county must be used, or they will revert to GAA use. This actually encourages PAL holders who aren’t using their licenses to lease them to property managers, building owners, campuses, and other enterprises, giving these properties a competitive edge in the market. There will be a streamlined electronic leasing system in place so that these transactions can happen quickly, and the Spectrum Controller will be part of the process of issuing these electronic PAL licenses.

We see this as good news, closing the final chapter on all outstanding regulatory work by the FCC on CBRS. The industry can now put regulatory concerns in the rear-view mirror and confidently move forward with commercialization. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

*Image: Federated Wireless CTO Kurt Schaubach addresses the CBRS Alliance membership at their quarterly member meeting in Chicago, announcing the FCC’s vote on PAL licensing rules.

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