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.