FCC takes action to free up underutilized spectrum

More spectrum will help pave the way for IoT and 5G


FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s announcement that he had circulated a draft order to approve Ligado Network’s application is a welcomed one. Granting Ligado’s application would modify its license to allow the company to deploy a low-power terrestrial network for 5G and IoT by leveraging its licensed frequencies within L-Band. The Commission’s draft order proffers a measured approach that balances both public and private incumbent interest (namely in GPS capabilities) in adjacent spectrum bands, while also allowing Ligado to add density to our mobile networks.

Access to spectrum is an essential feature in any working 5G plan. Frankly, one key barrier in opening up this vital resource is government’s stronghold on “beachfront” spectrum whether they own it or not. It is crucial for government stakeholders to work together and find opportunities to free up this critical resource where they can. Moreover, such measures are important to keep the United States competitive in 5G-IoT-enabled emerging markets.

Although more needs to be done to loosen government’s grip on spectrum, granting Ligado’s application serves as a necessary first step. This proceeding has been in regulatory limbo for several years due in large part to government stakeholders’ speculative interference claims regarding GPS-applications. If the main issue is L-Band’s location where it sits adjacent to various government entities’ use, then the FCC’s guardrails articulated in the order and Ligado’s previous amendments to its application that lowers its power levels appears to ameliorate that concern. Either way, the docket’s record is substantial and it is high-time for the Commission to make its final decision on this matter consistent with its draft order as written.

The FCC’s draft order in this proceeding provides enough protection for incumbents in adjacent bands, adds more competition into the 5G-IoT space, and allows consumers to have more access to broadband. Everybody wins.

Thayer is an Associate Attorney at Phillips Lytle LLP and previously worked as a law clerk at the FCC under then commissioner Ajit Pai.

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