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The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday officially proposed tweaks to regulations governing select licenses for the 3.5 GHz band.

The agency approved a notice of proposed rulemaking that would increase license terms, enable license renewal, and expand the geographic footprint of Priority Access Licenses (PAL), the second of three service tiers on the band. The proposal would also modify the terms of license auctions and secondary market transactions.

The agency suggested that the new rules would ease the development of next-generation 5G wireless networks since the 3.5 GHz band "will be a core component" of that technology.

Proponents, such as T-Mobile, have argued that changes to licensing and technical guidelines would spur investment and network deployment, as well as encourage more efficient use of spectrum.

Robert McDowell, a former FCC commissioner and the chief public policy advisor at industry group Mobile Future, told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that the measure would ensure "there's plenty of spectrum for everybody, regardless of size."

Critics countered that modified license terms would ensure that only large carriers could access that band, and that larger geographical areas would continue to leave many rural areas with insufficient wireless connections.

In a statement about the decision the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) said the FCC vote is a step backward for rural broadband.

"While we applaud the efforts of Commissioner Clyburn to achieve a more balanced NRPM, we are very disappointed that, once again, the FCC has prioritized the ‘wants’ of the mobile industry over the ‘needs’ of rural Americans,” Chuck Hogg, chairman of WISPA’s Board of Directors, commented. “Using census tracts for Priority Access License sizes allows all interested bidders to compete and lets the market determine the highest and best use of this unique public resource. Shifting to larger geographic areas such as Partial Economic Areas would create an artificial restriction that inherently benefits mobile carriers to the detriment of all other use cases.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Brendan Carr approved the measure, while Commissioner Mignon Clyburn concurred. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel dissented.
 

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