Nearly two years ago, U.S. regulators proposed opening up 100 MHz chunk of federal airwaves for commercial use, creating a shared spectrum band between the government, mobile carriers and the ordinary public. The proposal languished as carriers weren’t too hot on the idea of sharing the airwaves, but the Federal Communications Commission seems to be making it a renewed priority under new chairman Tom Wheeler.
The FCC on Wednesday approved a new notice for proposed rulemaking to establish how the 3.5 GHz spectrum could be used. The main difference between this proposal and the last is that the FCC wants to expand the shared band to 150 MHz, good news for companies like Google and Microsoft who are eyeing the band for possible wireless broadband use.
The rules would basically create a three-tier plan for prioritizing access to the airwaves, favoring incumbent government and military users first, then hospitals and public safety groups, and finally everyone else. That “everyone else” includes the carriers who are considering using the spectrum to power new small cell deployments to supplement increased capacity for their 3G and 4G networks.
In other business, the FCC approved T-Mobile’s purchase of Verizon’s spare 700 MHz spectrum, giving it the low-band spectrum T-Mo has promised to use to improve its LTE coverage outside of cities. The FCC also voted to shift $9 billion over the next five years from traditional telephone subsidies to programs that would help pay for rural broadband access.