In a Report and Order (R&O) adopted on Monday, the FCC approved what it described as “fundamental, sweeping reforms” to its cellular licensing rules that the agency hopes will enable wireless operators to benefit “from greater flexibility to modify their systems quickly in response to market demands.”
Anticipating that the new rules will promote “a vastly streamlined” regime for cellular licensing, the FCC explained that the R&O responds to views that many elements of the agency’s existing licensing model “have become unnecessary or even detrimental to system improvements that depend on deployment of the latest digital technology.” The FCC further noted that the R&O achieves regulatory reform goals articulated by the FCC Staff Working Group Report on FCC Process Reform.
Specifically, the R&O prescribes a geographic licensing scheme which is based on Cellular Geographic Service Area (CGGA) boundaries and which provides licensees “with significant new flexibility to improve their systems through modifications within those boundaries.” Incumbent licensees will be allowed to expand their CGSAs into unlicensed areas and serve—indefinitely and on a secondary basis—unserved area parcels that do not exceed 50 contiguous square miles. The revised rules also reduce administrative burdens by eliminating “a wide range of regulatory filings,” deleting “obsolete provisions,” and eliminating “routine submission of 16 exhibits and other technical information currently required with new system and major modification applications in the Cellular Service.”
As part of a related further rulemaking proposal, the FCC is soliciting input on additional reforms of the cellular licensing model. Among other things, the proposed reforms include: (1) revisions to the service discontinuance rule that would define permanent discontinuance in terms of the licensed geographic service area instead of by individual cell sites, (2) the establishment of frequency coordinators that would review requests for CGSA expansion and new system filings before they are submitted to the FCC, and (3) enactment of a power spectral density model for the cellular service that would facilitate deployment of next-generation wireless broadband networks. Comments are due at the FCC 30 days after the further rulemaking notice is published in the Federal Register.