FCC Launches Proceeding to Explore Changes to Spectrum Leasing, Partitioning and Disaggregation Rules

In compliance with Congressional mandate, the FCC voted last Friday to launch proceedings to explore changes to existing rules on wireless spectrum leasing, partitioning and disaggregation and how such changes might advance the FCC’s goal of closing the digital divide, particularly in rural areas. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was approved unanimously during the FCC’s monthly open meeting.

Current FCC rules, which permit the leasing, partitioning and disaggregation of wireless spectrum, are intended to provide licensees with the flexibility to determine the geographic area they will serve and the amount of spectrum they will occupy while providing other users with access to their spectrum. Fulfilling requirements of the MOBILE NOW Act, which was signed into law last year, the NPRM seeks to develop a record on the extent to which current FCC rules have succeeded and whether those rules should be modified to promote FCC and Congressional objectives to close the digital divide by boosting the ability of small carriers to access spectrum in rural areas. As such, the NPRM solicits stakeholder comment on whether a program should be established—or whether existing programs should be modified—to promote leasing, partitioning and disaggregation of spectrum as a means of increasing the availability of broadband and other advanced telecommunications services in rural areas and the ability of small carriers to access wireless spectrum. Stakeholders are also asked to address: (1) incentives for encouraging licensees to lease or sell spectrum to small or unaffiliated carriers that intend to serve rural areas, (2) how impediments to transfers of spectrum to small carriers could be eliminated, and (3) whether reduced performance requirements which currently apply to partitioned and disaggregated licenses would promote spectrum availability for small carriers and the availability of advanced telecommunications services in rural areas. The NPRM also seeks comment on whether spectrum that has been partitioned or disaggregated on the secondary market may be re-aggregated up to the size of the licensee’s original market area. 

Comments are due 60 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register. Lamenting that, “far too often, small and rural providers have limited spectrum access because licensed spectrum lies fallow in rural America,” Claude Aiken, the president of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, praised the FCC for “seeking comment on how to spur secondary markets for spectrum.”