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What’s New in Wireless - April 2024

The wireless industry has revolutionized the way we connect, from facilitating teleworking, distance learning, and telemedicine to allowing the American public to interact virtually in almost all other aspects of their daily lives.  Leading policymakers – federal regulators and legislators – are making it a top priority to ensure that the wireless industry has the tools and resources it needs to keep pace with this evolving landscape.  This blog provides monthly updates on actions by federal regulatory bodies responsible for communications policy and Congressional efforts to support wireless connectivity.  And this month we highlight the release by the National Telecommunications Information Administration (“NTIA”) of the long-awaited National Spectrum Strategy Implementation Plan.

Regulatory Actions and Initiatives 

NTIA Unveils its Implementation Plan for its National Spectrum Strategy.  On March 12, 2024, NTIA released its National Spectrum Strategy Implementation Plan, consistent with the recent Presidential Memorandum on Modernizing United States Spectrum Policy and Establishing a National Spectrum Strategy. The Implementation Plan principally provides a roadmap for future spectrum planning and assigns Outcomes to each Strategic Objective included in NTIA’s National Spectrum Strategy.  The Implementation Plan identifies the agencies involved and the estimated start and completion dates for all the identified Outcomes.  Of particular interest to the wireless industry, the Implementation Plan notes that studies for the lower 3 GHz and 7/8 GHz bands were due to start in March and be completed in October 2026, which will be the last of the bands being studied.  NTIA has explained that it intends for the Implementation Plan to be a “living document,” and NTIA anticipates that it will “seek private-sector input throughout the process.” 

Wireless Funding

FCC Circulates Rules to Make $9 Billion Available for 5G Mobile Broadband.  On March 20, 2024, FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel issued a News Release announcing that she has circulated proposed rules to her fellow Commissioners for consideration that would, if adopted, make up to $9 billion available in federal funding – through what is known as the 5G Fund – to bring voice and 5G mobile broadband service to rural areas.  Funding would be disbursed through a multi-round reverse auction and be made available based on the FCC’s new and improved broadband coverage map, which shows that more than 14 million homes and businesses lack mobile 5G coverage.  The 5G Fund would also include up to $900 million in incentives for parties to incorporate Open Radio Access Network technology in 5G Fund-supported networks.  Chairwoman Rosenworcel commented that “[f]or the first time in our history of supporting wireless networks through the universal service system, this agency has comprehensive data about where service is and is not all across the country.”  She added that “[t]his will be the foundation of our plan to expand the 5G service in rural America to where it is needed most—where people live, work and travel.” 

Wireless Spectrum

The FCC Initiates a Proceeding to Make Available its Spectrum Inventory.  Just a few days before the one-year anniversary of the lapse of the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) released a Public Notice seeking comment on how the WTB can use its existing regulatory tools to provide the public with access to spectrum that would otherwise lie fallow while the FCC waits for Congress to restore its authority.  Along with the Public Notice, FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel issued this News Release noting that “in light of the reality the agency has faced for almost a year, we are now compelled to ask what we can do with our current unassigned spectrum in order to keep innovation moving ahead in a global market for wireless that is not slowing down.” She added that she “remains hopeful that the FCC’s auction authority will be restored quickly so that this important program is once again able to produce results for consumers and the economy.” Comments and reply comments on the Public Notice are due April 8 and April 22, respectively. 

The FCC Grants Relief to Various Tribes Seeking Access to 2.5 GHz Band Spectrum. The WTB released a Memorandum Opinion and Order on March 13, 2024, granting waiver requests submitted by the Burns Paiute Tribe and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (the “Tribes”) of the definition of eligible Tribal Lands contained in the FCC’s rules that govern the 2.5 GHz band.  The Tribes seek authority to use 2.5 GHz band spectrum for off-reservation trust and non-Tribal lands and requested waivers for those areas.  The WTB granted both waiver requests and directed staff to grant their pending applications for the spectrum. In a separate Memorandum Opinion and Order, the WTB granted similar waiver requests submitted by the Chickahominy Consortium, the Monacan Indian Nation, the Nansemond Indian Tribe, the Virginia Tribal Consortium, the Narragansett Indian Tribe, the Kiowa Tribe, and Osni Ponca, LLC.  In addition, the WTB released a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting similar waiver requests submitted by the Klamath Tribes, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Round Valley Indian Tribes, and the Shoalwater Bay Tribe of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Reservation.

The FCC Makes Minor Adjustments to Areas Requiring Protection from 3.45 GHz Band Operations.  The FCC’s WTB and the Office of Engineering and Technology released an Order on March 11, 2024, deleting the Norfolk, Virginia Cooperative Planning Area (“CPA”) from the list of CPAs and Periodic Use Areas (“PUAs”) where prior coordination between federal incumbents is required before commercial wireless operations may commence in the 3.45 GHz band. The Bureau and Office noted that the Norfolk CPA is entirely encompassed within the larger Newport News, Virginia CPA/PUA and, therefore, renamed the Newport News CPA/PUA as the “Newport News-Norfolk CPA/PUA,” consistent with the recommendations of the Department of Defense.

The FCC Maintains its Rules for the 5.9 GHz Band to Support Wireless Innovation in the Automotive Industry.  On March 18, 2024, the FCC released an Order on Reconsideration, rejecting a Petition for Reconsideration and a Petition for Partial Reconsideration of the First Report and Order in the 5.9 GHz proceeding filed by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (“Auto Innovators”) and the 5G Automotive Association (“5GAA”), respectively.  In its Petition, the Auto Innovators asked the FCC to reconsider its designation of the lower 45 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed uses and restore that portion of the 5.9 GHz band for intelligent transportation system (“ITS”).  In its Petition, 5GAA asked the FCC to reduce the out-of-band emissions (“OOBE”) limits permitted in the upper 30 megahertz designated for ITS services from indoor unlicensed access points, subordinate devices, and client devices operating in the lower 45 megahertz.  The FCC affirmed its decision to repurpose the lower 45 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use, such as Wi-Fi, and to transition the upper 30 megahertz for ITS use to improve automotive safety, particularly through what are known as Cellular Vehicle-To-Everything, or C-V2X, technologies. The FCC also rejected the call to reconsider its OOBE limits, finding that the OOBE limits it adopted will sufficiently protect C-V2X communications in the upper 30 megahertz from harmful interference.

Wireless Networks and Infrastructure

The FCC Grants Rip-and-Replace Extension Requests.  On March 29, 2024, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (“WCB”) released a Public Notice announcing that it has granted six requests for extension of support recipients’ rip-and-replace deadlines.  The WTB’s grounds for granting the extension requests include manufacturing and shipping delays because of supply chain issues and a lack of full funding for the required work, which were similar reasons for its last grant

The FCC Reminds Rip-and-Replace Support Recipients of their Obligations and Provides Updated Guidance.  On March 8, 2024, the WCB released a Public Notice reminding participants in the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program (“Reimbursement Program”) that they must file their next status update on April 8, 2024.  In addition, the WCB released a Public Notice  announcing that it has published an updated version of the User Guide for Part G of Form 5640 (regarding reimbursement claim requests) and an updated version of the Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) document for the Reimbursement Program.  Both of these documents can also be found on the FCC’s website

The FCC Adopts an Order to Facilitate Supplemental Coverage from Space.  On March 14, 2024, the FCC voted to adopt its final Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking establishing rules that would facilitate the deployment of Supplemental Coverage from Space (“SCS”).  As we previously reported, the Order provides a framework and technical and service rules that would allow a terrestrial service provider to expand its coverage of wireless services through a lease agreement or arrangement with a satellite operator.  In a News Release accompanying the item, the FCC remarked that “[t]he world’s first supplemental coverage from space (SCS) framework leverages cutting-edge satellite technology to extend the reach of wireless networks to remote areas.  This will enable collaborations between wireless carriers and satellite operators to make sure smartphone users stay connected even in areas where there is no terrestrial mobile service.”  The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released with the Order seeks comment on whether the FCC should modify requirements for routing SCS 911 voice calls and text messages and on additional ways to improve the coexistence of radio astronomy and SCS.  Comments and reply comments on the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking are due 30 and 60 days, respectively, after publication in the Federal Register, which has not yet occurred. 

The FCC Adopts its Voluntary Cybersecurity Labeling Program.  The FCC also voted to adopt its final Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on establishing a voluntary Internet of Things (“IoT”) cybersecurity labeling program (“IoT Labeling Program”).  As we previously reported, the IoT Labeling Program would provide consumers with an easy-to-understand and quickly recognizable FCC IoT Label that would include a U.S. Cyber Trust Mark and a QR Code that directs consumers to a registry with specific information about the product.  The FCC explained in a News Release that the FCC IoT Label “will help consumers make informed purchasing decisions, differentiate trustworthy products in the marketplace, and create incentives for manufacturers to meet higher cybersecurity standards.”  The Further Notice accompanying the Order seeks public comment on additional potential disclosure requirements, including whether software or firmware for a product is developed or deployed by a company located in a country that presents national security concerns and whether customer data collected by the product will be sent to servers located in such a country. Comments and reply comments on the Further Notice are due April 24 and May 24, respectively. 

The FCC Announces the Effective Date of Certain Wireless 911 Rules.  The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau released a Public Notice on March 14, 2024, announcing that the rules to facilitate the implementation of location-based routing for wireless 911 voice calls and real-time text (“RTT”) communications to 911 call centers will take effect on May 13, 2024.  It further announced the following compliance deadlines:

  • By November 13, 2024, nationwide Commercial Mobile Radio Service (“CMRS”) providers must deploy a technology that supports location-based routing for wireless 911 voice calls on their Internet Protocol-based networks (4G LTE, 5G, and subsequent generations of Internet Protocol-based networks) nationwide. 
  • By May 13, 2026, non-nationwide CMRS providers must deploy a technology that supports location-based routing for wireless 911 voice calls on their Internet Protocol-based networks (4G LTE, 5G, and subsequent generations of Internet Protocol-based networks).
  • Also by May 13, 2026, CMRS providers must deploy a technology that supports location-based routing for RTT communications to 911 originating on their Internet Protocol-based networks.

Legislative Efforts

The Senate Introduces a Bill That Would Fully Fund the Rip-and-Replace Program. On March 21, 2024, Senator Daines introduced the Supporting National Security with Spectrum Act, which would, if enacted, appropriate $3.08 billion to the FCC to fully fund the rip-and-replace program, using proceeds from the re-auction of returned AWS-3 spectrum.  The bill is currently in committee.

The Senate Introduces a Bill That Would Restore the FCC’s Auction Authority and Create a Pipeline of Mid-Band Spectrum.  On March 12, 2024, Senators Cruz, Thune, and Blackburn introduced the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2024. If enacted, the bill would, among other things, renew the FCC’s auction authority through September 2027, require NTIA to identify at least 2,500 megahertz of mid-band spectrum between 1.3 GHz to 13.2 GHz for reallocation, and make at least 125 megahertz of mid-band spectrum available for unlicensed use.  Commissioner Simington expressed support for the bill, calling the bill a “commonsense approach to quickly identify and allocate spectrum for commercial use.” The bill is currently in committee.

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Angela Y. Kung

Member / 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.
Christen B'anca Glenn is a Mintz attorney who advises communications and technology clients on regulatory and compliance matters before the FCC.