FCC to Consider New Spectrum Rules, Votes to Shift Funds

Injured Piggy Bank WIth Crutches

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering adoption of new rules that could mean big changes for how spectrum is allocated in the US. The new rules will make more spectrum available for general consumer use, carrier-grade small cell deployments, fixed wireless broadband services, and other innovative uses, through the creation of a new Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The service was a recommendation of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which provided several recommendations on better broadband in America.

Government backed device fleets will also be able to take advantage of these new spectrum rules and purchase cheaper and more modern devices that have been available to retail consumers for some time.

The allowance will make spectrum available for commercial use which has typically been used by the federal government. That availability will rely on parts of the spectrum where government has no immediate need. The new model will also let the types of commercial use be flexible and include operations like LTE networks, or WiFi instead of forcing the choice between one or the other. Adopting these rules comes at a unique time for the FCC which is also simultaneously considering net neutrality (still) and facing complaints from the big providers who feel entitled to nearly all of the available spectrum as it becomes available. A public comment period will be open before final votes and adoption by the Commission.

Milo Medin, Vice President of Access Services, at Google published a blog post on Google’s Public Policy Blog yesterday that welcomed the rules change, pointing to their own spectrum database projects. “We believe spectrum sharing can unlock huge consumer benefits compared with traditional approaches of clearing existing users to make way for new ones, which can take as long as a decade to implement when it is possible at all,” Medin writes.

The FCC also voted to shift $9 billion over five years from traditional telephone subsidies to broadband subsidies, another $1.8 billion a year will be shifted from the rural telephone subsidies in the Universal Service Fund to the Connect America Fund. The Connect America Fund provides network vendors with federal dollars to expand broadband access throughout the US. Frontier Communications has been one of the early adopters of funds from this program for its expansion efforts throughout rural America.

The Fund is meant to subsidize the cost of expansion into rural America, although there is also a provision that would raise the rate floor for rural subscriptions from $14 to $20.46 a month in some rural areas. The increase would be phased in through 2017, and shouldn’t be a big surprise to broadband watchers as the big providers have been steadily beating the drum on the cost to expand in rural America, even while they continue to bring down their own capex and network buildouts even in urban areas.