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The next-generation of wireless technologies – known as 5G – is here.  Not only is it expected to offer network speeds that are up to 100 times faster than 4G LTE and reduce latency to nearly zero, it will allow networks to handle 100 times the number of connected devices, revolutionizing business and consumer connectivity and enabling the “Internet of Things.”  Leading policymakers – federal regulators and legislators – are making it a top priority to ensure that the wireless industry has the tools it needs to maintain U.S. leadership in commercial 5G deployments.  This blog provides monthly updates on FCC actions and Congressional efforts to win the race to 5G.

Regulatory Actions and Initiatives

Mid-Band Spectrum

  • The FCC accepts additional applications by, and grants additional waivers to, Tribal entities for spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band.
    • On July 20, 2021, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) released a Public Notice announcing that an additional six applications filed in the Rural Tribal Priority Window for licenses in the 2.5 GHz band have been accepted for filing.  The list of applications sorted by file number is available here, and the list of the same applications sorted by applicant name is available here.  Interested parties may petition to deny the applications by August 19, 2021. 
    • On July 26, 2021, the WTB released an Order granting a waiver request submitted by Blue Lake Rancheria regarding the definition of eligible Tribal lands for purposes of the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window.  Grant of the waiver will allow the Tribe to provide service on certain lands contiguous to its reservation that are held in trust for the Tribe and one area of non-Tribally owned land.  In addition, the WTB released an Order granting a waiver to the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians for non-Tribal land adjacent to its reservation on the northwest edge of the Salton Sea in Thermal, California.
  • The FCC provides additional guidance as it prepares for its next auction of mid-band spectrum in the 3.45 GHz band.
    • On July 20, 2021, the FCC released a Public Notice with additional guidance on its rule prohibiting certain communications for its upcoming auction of spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz (“3.45 GHz”) band.  It suggests that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) and the Department of Defense (“DoD”) (which is the existing user of the spectrum) may continue to communicate with all parties regarding uniformly applicable coordination requirements.  However, the Public Notice observes that applicants must exercise caution in communicating non-public information to, or receiving non-public information from, NTIA and DoD to ensure against violation of the prohibited communication rules.
  • The FCC grants additional applications to use mid-band spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band for commercial wireless services and waives certain requirements for the National Football League.
    • On July 9, 2021, the WTB released an Order granting a request by the National Football League (“NFL”) for a waiver of the FCC’s rule that otherwise requires that commercial wireless services in the 3.5 GHz band – known as the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (“CBRS”) – be coordinated and authorized through a Spectrum Access System (“SAS”).  The Order grants a waiver for coach-to-coach communications in the event of a localized Internet outage throughout the 2021-22 NFL season, subject to certain conditions.  And operations are only permitted in the General Authorized Access section of the 3.5 GHz band, which means there will be no impact on Federal or licensed operations in the band. 
    • On July 12, 2021, the WTB released a Public Notice announcing the grant of an additional two applications for licenses in the 3.5 GHz band – one filed by Simple Wireless LLC and the other filed by White Cloud Communications.
  • The FCC grants licenses for C-band spectrum and continues to address relocation issues as it transitions the spectrum from satellite services to commercial 5G services.
    • On July 23, 2021, the FCC’s WTB released a Public Notice granting applications for licenses in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, or C-band.  The list of applications granted by applicant name is available here, and the list of applications granted by market is available here
      • According to the FCC’s News Release, grant of the licenses “keeps the transition of this band to flexible use on track, paving the way for carriers to use this spectrum to provide 5G and other advanced wireless service,” and Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel noted that “[w]ith these licenses in hand, more carriers can deploy mid-band 5G, which means faster speeds over much wider coverage areas and more robust competition.”
      • FCC Commissioner Carr separately released a statement on the grant of licenses, noting that “[t]he Commission’s 2020 decision to free up 280 megahertz of prime, mid-band spectrum notched an important win for U.S. leadership in 5G,” but also suggested that “we must do more than implement the tough spectrum decisions the FCC made over the last few years if we are going to extend U.S. leadership in 5G” and should “move forward with a number of new spectrum proceedings too.”
    • The FCC also released an Order denying petitions filed by DISH urging the FCC to deny the applications of T-Mobile and Verizon for C-band licenses because, according to DISH, granting the licenses would cause T-Mobile and Verizon to exceed the FCC’s spectrum aggregation screen in certain markets.  The FCC found that grant of the licenses to T-Mobile and Verizon “will facilitate access to spectrum in a manner that promotes competition.” 
    • Finally, the FCC released a Public Notice providing notice to certain C-band earth station operators identified by the relocation coordinator RSM US LLP (“RSM”) as no longer receiving service from a C-band satellite (but still listed as active in the FCC’s database) that they have until October 21, 2021, to notify the FCC whether they are active and intend to participate in the C-band transition.  Those that do not will have their authorizations automatically terminated and removed from the incumbent earth station list.  The list of affected earth stations is available here.

5G Networks and Infrastructure

  • The FCC holds an Open RAN Solutions Showcase.
    • On July 14 and July 15, 2021, the FCC conducted an Open RAN Solutions Showcase.  The agenda is available here and included “presentations from over 30 vendors whose interoperable, open interface, standards-based 5G network equipment and services will be ready and available for purchase and installation by January 1, 2022, if not sooner.”
    • At the Showcase, Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel announced that the FCC will help spur the development and deployment of Open RAN technology by establishing innovation zones and research testbeds for 5G and Open RAN.  A draft of the Public Notice that would establish these innovation zones in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Boston, Massachusetts, was released on July 14, 2021.  According to the FCC’s News Release, “[i]f approved by a vote of the full Commission at its August 5 Open Meeting, this proposal will allow Raleigh and Boston to join New York City and Salt Lake City at the forefront of wireless technology innovation.”
    • Commissioner Simington’s statement at the Showcase indicated that he believes that “ORAN holds forth the promise of more secure networks” and “as we are poised to transition many critical services to 5G networks, we must reduce every threat to wireless networks that we can.”
  • The FCC revises its rules for securing 5G communications networks.
    • On July 13, 2021, the FCC adopted an Order revising its rules for the program it established pursuant to the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act to reimburse providers of advanced communications services for the costs incurred to remove, replace, and dispose of equipment and services that pose a national security risk.  The Order implements changes included in the Consolidation Appropriations Act of 2021 by, among other things, increasing the eligibility cap for entities participating in the reimbursement program from those serving two million or fewer customers to those with ten million or fewer customers, establishing a prioritization scheme for funding, and clarifying other aspects of the program.  According to the FCC’s News Release, the Order “is another step in ongoing FCC action to protect the communications networks from those who would harm the United States.”
    • During the FCC’s open meeting and her remarks at the Open RAN Showcase (see above), Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel announced that the FCC is targeting October 29, 2021, as the date for opening the filing window for the reimbursement program and suggested that Open RAN could be a helpful solution for communications networks going forward.

Legislative Efforts

  • The House passes a bill that would direct NTIA to take certain actions to promote U.S. representation and leadership in communications standards-setting bodies.
    • On July 20, 2021, the House passed the Promoting United States Wireless Leadership Act of 2021.  The bill, introduced by Representatives Walberg, Dingell, Johnson, Kuster, and Cline, would direct NTIA to encourage American companies and relevant stakeholders to participate in standards-setting bodies, like the International Organization for Standardization and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).  It would also provide technical assistance to companies and stakeholders that elect to participate in developing standards for 5G networks.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee reports a bill that would close the loophole that currently allows carriers to use private funds to purchase and use equipment that pose a national security risk.
    • On July 21, 2021, the House Energy and Commerce Committee favorably reported the Secure Equipment Act of 2021, which would require the FCC to initiate a rulemaking proceeding to update its equipment authorization procedures.  Specifically, the bill would require the FCC to clarify that it will no longer approve equipment authorization applications for equipment produced by Huawei, ZTE, or other entities that pose an unacceptable risk to national security, even if the equipment was purchased by private funds.  FCC Commissioner Carr applauded the action, stating that the bill “would help ensure that insecure gear from companies like Huawei, ZTE, and others can no longer be inserted into America’s communications infrastructure.”  The companion bill was introduced in the Senate in May 2021.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee reports a bill that would require NTIA to discuss the benefits of Open RAN with small providers.
    • On July 21, 2021, the House Energy and Commerce Committee favorably reported the Open RAN Outreach Act, which would require NTIA to conduct outreach and provide technical assistance to small communications network providers to raise awareness about the benefits of Open RAN networks and other open network architectures. 
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee reports a bill that would require the FCC to begin planning for the next generation of wireless networks – 6G.
    • On July 21, 2021, the House Energy and Commerce Committee favorably reported the Future Uses of Technology Upholding Reliable and Enhanced (FUTURE) Networks Act.  If enacted, the bill would direct the FCC to establish a 6G Task Force.  The Task Force would be required to publish a report on the status of 6G standards setting, the supply chain and cybersecurity limitations of 6G, and how to best work with Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments to leverage 6G, including with respect to siting and deployment. 

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Authors

Russell H. Fox is a wireless communications attorney at Mintz. He guides clients through federal legislative, regulatory, and transactional matters. Russell also participates in FCC proceedings, negotiates spectrum agreements, and represents clients in spectrum auctions.

T. Scott Thompson

Member / Chair, Communications Infrastructure Litigation Practice

Scott serves as Chair of Mintz’s Communications Infrastructure Litigation Practice and represents clients in legal, regulatory, and policy matters involving telecommunications networks.

Angela Y. Kung

Member / Co-chair, Technology, Communications & Media Practice

Angela Y. Kung draws on significant knowledge of the wireless regulatory landscape and experience at the FCC to advise clients on FCC rules and procedures. With particular expertise on spectrum use policies and auction procedures, she has shepherded Mintz's clients through several FCC auctions related to next-generation 5G wireless technologies and routinely advocates on behalf of clients to help ensure that the agency’s rules align with their interests.
Daniel Reing is a Member in the Mintz Technology, Communications & Media Practice who provides strategic regulatory and litigation counsel to benefit companies in the communications industry. Clients in the cable, broadband, and wireless sectors rely on Dan’s counsel to help advance key projects and achieve their goals.
Christen B'anca Glenn is a Mintz attorney who advises communications and technology clients on regulatory and compliance matters before the FCC.