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A top Federal Communications Commission official said this week that the agency will ensure that new licensing rules for the 3.5 GHz band accommodate smaller and rural cellular carriers.

Nese Guendelsberger, the senior deputy chief of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, told a panel at the Competitive Carriers Association on Thursday that the FCC hopes that spectrum can accommodate all business models while fostering the innovation — and investment — needed to implement next-generation 5G networks.

The FCC earlier in the week approved a rulemaking notice that, in part, proposed lengthening the terms and broadening the geographical areas of Priority Access Licenses in the 3.5 GHz band.

Supporters of the changes argued that the current structure stifled innovation in the band. Steve Sharkey, a government affairs official with T-Mobile — one of the most vocal proponents of the changes — told the panel that companies were less likely to invest in infrastructure if their license only lasted three years.

But critics of the proposed 10-year terms worried that smaller or rural providers would be left out as larger carriers accrued more spectrum.

Guendelsberger said that the FCC understands "that we need to make additional spectrum available," but that it also wants the spectrum to be utilized by carriers as much as possible. She urged CCA members -- many of which serve rural areas -- to provide their input during their rule-making process, and said that all aspects of the proposal were "on the table."

"We will find the right balance," Guendelsberger said.

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