The Federal Communications Commission had until Sunday, under a schedule proposed by President Clinton, to issue proposed rules that would set aside new airwaves, or spectrum, for next-generation, or 3G, services such as wireless high-speed Internet access. It missed that date because of the holidays, FCC officials said, but action is expected "imminently."
The proposed rules "should be released as early as this week," said FCC Wireless Bureau spokesman Mark Rubin.
New spectrum is needed to handle the heavy bandwidth demands of advanced wireless services, industry and government officials agree. Finding available spectrum has been difficult, however, as some spectrum users have proven reluctant to share.
In an interim report issued by the FCC last fall, the commission examined the 2500- to 2690-MHz band, one of the bands proposed last year by the World Radio Conference as best suited for 3G. Several U.S. government agencies are using that and other key spectrum, in particular the Defense Department.
The military makes extensive use of much of the spectrum identified by the WRC, for everything from ground-to-plane communications to satellite transmissions, and Pentagon officials have said air space covering major markets such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco would have to be reserved for the military.
Meanwhile, Sprint and WorldCom spent more than a billion dollars acquiring licenses in the same 2500- to 2690-MHz band. Educators such as schools and public broadcasters also use the spectrum for distance learning.
The FCC plans to release a final study March 1 on how 3G services can be applied to the targeted spectrum given that it is already occupied. One possibility is having "to reallocate spectrum for incumbent services," the FCC interim report said, something that would draw vehement objections from those incumbents.
Clinton last October outlined an aggressive schedule for the FCC, the Commerce Department and other government agencies to follow to ensure development of 3G services. The proposed rules the FCC will announce this week must, after public comment and appropriate modification, be adopted by July. Clinton's goal is to have auctions for the 3G spectrum no later than Sept. 30, 2002.
Wireless issues abound
Along with new rules on opening up spectrum, the FCC is expected as early as this week to release its biennial review of the Wireless Bureau as mandated by the 1996 Telecom Act. As part of that review, the FCC examined the rule that limits how much spectrum a given wireless provider can control in a particular market.
The rule was implemented two years ago to promote competition. But now that some markets have as many as seven wireless providers, some at the FCC believe competition has arrived. A further argument for modifying or removing the cap, given by several congressmen, is that major carriers will need more spectrum to provide 3G services.
Finally, the FCC will be resuming its auction of PCS spectrum on Friday. That auction, when the commission recessed for the holidays, had already raised a record $9.3 billion. Verizon Wireless was the leading bidder, with $3.47 billion. Salmon PCS, a partner of Cingular Wireless, was second, with $1.4 billion, while AT&T Wireless partner Alaska Native Wireless was third, with $1.3 billion. Nextel Communications dropped out, saying it had sufficient spectrum to expand operations.