In the first of two key moves that the FCC expects will advance “ongoing efforts to make more spectrum available for flexible use wireless services, including mobile broadband,” the agency voted at its monthly open meeting on Monday to enact licensing, technical and other rules to govern usage of Advanced Wireless Service-3 (AWS-3) spectrum in the 1695-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz bands. Separately, the FCC also approved a Report and Order that removes limitations on the usage of 100 MHz of 5 GHz band spectrum for unlicensed Wi-Fi (see story below). Industry players anticipate that the FCC’s action will pave the way toward an auction of AWS-3 licenses later this year that could rank as the FCC’s largest auction event since 2008. Paving a middle road between large carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon, that favored large spectrum blocks, and smaller, regional carriers that advocated for small (e.g., 5 MHz) cellular market areas (CMAs), the FCC approved a compromise band plan that encompasses one paired 5 MHz license block in each of 734 CMAs, two paired 5 MHz license blocks in each of the larger 176 economic areas (EAs) and a single 10 MHz paired license block in each EA. (In its initial draft of the AWS-3 order, the FCC had originally proposed one paired 5 MHz license per CMA and two paired 10 MHz licenses per EA.) The order also calls for a single unpaired 5 MHz license and a single unpaired 10 MHz license in each EA. In addition to prescribing technical and service rules for the AWS-3 band, the order also establishes an interoperability requirement between the AWS-3 and AWS-1 bands and adopts a Department of Defense (DOD) proposal to open commercial access to the 1755-1780 MHz band by relocating certain DOD operations to 2025-2100 MHz band channels that are currently used by the broadcast auxiliary service. The FCC’s vote elicited a divided response from wireless carriers. Despite characterizing the compromise plan as “a significant improvement over the staff recommendation,” Competitive Carriers Association President Steve Berry termed the FCC’s decision to license only one paired 5 MHz block in each CMA as “certainly disappointing for most competitive carriers.” AT&T Vice President-Regulatory Joan Marsh, meanwhile, took issue with the FCC’s decision to pursue “carrier disaggregation” by dividing the originally proposed 10 MHz EA spectrum pair into two 5X5 MHz blocks, emphasizing that the results of the AWS-1 auction “demonstrated clearly that both auction demand and auction revenue flows first and most freely to larger blocks with larger license areas.” Endorsing the FCC’s approach, an official of T-Mobile US advised reporters that “this pro-competitive decision will provide carriers of all sizes an opportunity to win this valuable spectrum.”