As we have explained in prior advisories, the FCC is implementing its plans to make available 150 MHz of shared spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band (3550-3700 MHz) under a new service known as the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (“CBRS”). Providers utilizing CBRS 3.5 GHz spectrum will operate under a shared spectrum regime that provides access to the spectrum pursuant to a three tiered access system which prioritizes use by the following class of users: 1) incumbent users; 2) newly licensed users; and 3) general access (unlicensed) users.

However, before opening this spectrum band for full utilization, the Commission is taking additional steps to ensure incumbent users have sufficient protections from new entrants in this space. In a recent public notice, the Wireless Bureau outlined procedures for incumbent licensees operating in the 3650-3700 MHz band to file information necessary to establish “protection zones” for their incumbent operations. The deadline for incumbent licensees to file an application to be afforded protection will be open for four months, closing on August 7, 2017. Licensees who do not meet this deadline may continue to operate, but will not be afforded protection from interference caused by new CBRS operations.

Notably, incumbent licensees may pursue applications for these additional protections provided that they have already satisfied other prerequisites, specifically: (1) having registered the stations in the FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS) prior to April 17, 2015; and (2) having constructed and operated the stations (consistent with FCC rules) as of April 17, 2016. Incumbent licensees that satisfy those prerequisites may file applications asking the FCC to formally define their grandfathered protection zones. Applicants must:

1. Identify the relevant base stations that are registered in the ULS that will be used to define the Grandfathered Wireless Protection Zone; 2. Certify that the base stations were constructed, operational, and in compliance with FCC’s rules as of April 17, 2016; 3. Identify whether registered or unregistered customer premise equipment (“CPE”) is being used with a particular base station; 4. If registered CPE is being used – specify the distance to the nearest registered CPE

Additional information on application filing instructions and supplemental information needed may be found in the public notice. As noted above, the application window in which licensees may submit their applications will be open only until August 7, 2017.

Providers with incumbent licenses in this band should act expeditiously to prepare and file the necessary applications.