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The FCC is once again in the middle of a tug-of-war between industry and advocacy groups, this time battling over licensing rules for Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum.

A coalition of 14 non-profit advocacy groups on Monday urged the FCC to reject a request from wireless industry association CTIA to reshape the CBRS license framework, calling the proposal an “effort to backtrack on this unique achievement in forward-thinking spectrum policy.”

The current CBRS rules include small area, short-term licensing (known as Priority Access Licenses) as well as band-wide opportunistic access, open to anyone (dubbed General Authorized Access). But in a filing submitted on Friday, CTIA asked the Commission to launch a rulemaking proceeding to “make common sense changes to the Priority Access License framework.” Specifically, CTIA wants the Commission to change the priority license term from three years to ten, modify the license areas to consist of traditional Partial Economic Areas rather than census tracts, and alter the requirements for Spectrum Access System Administrators’ treatment of Citizens Broadband Radio Service Device registration information to reduce security risks to user identity information and to protect sensitive deployment information from disclosure to competitors.

CTIA argued the requested changes are designed specifically to incentivize investment in the 3.5 GHz band, and said swift action wouldn’t hinder deployments. The association also said 3.5 GHz is increasingly viewed as a prime band for 5G deployments around the world. The United States should provide investment certainty in the band with longer license terms if it wants to stay at the forefront of next generation deployments, CTIA added.

But advocacy groups including New America’s Open Technology Institute, Next Century Cities, Center for Rural Strategies, the American Library Association, the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition, and Public Knowledge asserted the opposite is true.

“Consumer advocates and public sector institutions, including signatories to this letter, are convinced that the more open, flexible, and localized approach to dynamic spectrum sharing represented by CBRS will be a boon to consumer welfare, rural broadband access, and to schools, libraries and many other venues that can deploy and customize their own private LTE networks,” the groups wrote in a letter to the FCC. “We believe that auctioning licenses with coverage areas larger than census tracts would undermine the purpose of this small cell innovation band. A traditional licensing scheme based on exclusive access to very large geographic areas for inherently small cell deployments would not allow the largest possible number of businesses, individuals, nonprofit institutions, and other entities the ability to self-provision capacity for mobile data offload, for neutral host LTE networks, or to customize highly-localized networks for machine-to-machine, smart city, and other connectivity needs.”

The groups pointed out the use of large license areas would be inefficient for indoor use cases, as well as small-cell, high-capacity use cases. Large licenses would also likely leave spectrum unused in low-density environments outside traffic centers, whereas the current model would allow open access for both operators and end users, the coalition said.

The coalition also said changing the rules now would introduce uncertainty and cast aside thousands of hours of standards development work done by companies in the Wireless Innovation Forum and CBRS Alliance.

“CTIA is once again trying to ensure that licenses are too large and too expensive for anyone but the big incumbent cellular carriers,” Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute, commented. “With consumers and so many other companies poised to benefit, it is deeply disappointing that the FCC might even consider such a fundamental change so obviously aimed at stifling wireless competition and innovation.”

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