The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released the text of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on a new regulatory framework authorizing individuals and entities to operate "consumer signal boosters." Consumer signal boosters are any type of amplifier that is operated by consumers on spectrum being used for subscriber-based services to amplify signals between a device and the network.

The FCC also seeks comment on revisions to its rules regarding Private Land Mobile Radio (PLMR) service signal boosters. Comments are due 45 days after Federal Register publication, which has not yet occurred, with reply comments due 75 days after Federal Register publication.

If adopted, the FCC's proposals would create a process by which individuals and enterprise consumers would be able to install signal boosters without needing consent of the wireless carrier, as is currently required under the FCC's rules. Authorized signal boosters would need to comply with certain technical requirements designed to prevent and control interference. While consent from a wireless carrier would not be required, the FCC does seek comment on whether consumers should be required to at least contact wireless carriers so that carriers will be aware of who is operating boosters in their areas and be able to quickly resolve any interference issues that arise.

While the FCC proposes to allow the use of signal boosters without carrier consent, there are various proposals that could make it more burdensome for consumers to operate signal boosters, such as requiring consumers to register their devices with a national clearinghouse and coordinate frequency selection and power levels with carriers for fixed signal boosters. The FCC also seeks comment on whether to grandfather or sunset existing non-conforming boosters.

Consumer Signal Boosters

The FCC recognizes that the use of well-designed signal boosters that do not interfere with wireless networks is in the public interest because consumers would benefit from expanded mobile voice and data coverage in rural areas and added reliability in urban areas that are difficult to serve.

The FCC proposes to allow individuals and entities to operate consumer signal boosters, defined as a device that automatically receives, amplifies, and retransmits on a bi- or uni-directional basis, the signals received from base, fixed, mobile, or portable stations, with no change in frequency or authorized bandwidth. Use of consumer signal boosters would be allowed in spectrum being used to provide subscriber-based services under Part 22 (Public Mobile Service), Part 24 (Personal Communications Service), Part 27 (Wireless Communications Service), and Part 90 (Private Land Mobile Radio Service), provided the devices fully comply with (1) all applicable technical and radiofrequency (RF) exposure rules, and (2) a set of parameters designed to prevent and control interference and rapidly resolve interference should it occur.

Specifically, for consumer signal boosters, the FCC proposes to create a new Signal Booster Radio Service under Part 95 of the FCC's rules (Personal Radio Services) and define it as a Citizens Band Radio Service. Although these rules would apply to Part 90 subscriber-based services, the FCC does not propose that these rules would apply to Part 90 Private Land Mobile Radio (PLMR) services.

Signal Boosters for Part 90 PLMR Operations

Under the FCC's current rules, PLMR licensees authorized under Part 90 of the FCC's rules in frequency bands above 150 MHz may employ signal boosters at fixed locations in accordance with applicable power and emission limits and other technical requirements. Section 90.219 defines two classes of signal boosters – Class A, where the booster amplifies only those discrete frequencies intended to be retransmitted, and – Class B, where all signals within the passband of the signal booster filter are amplified.

A copy of the FCC's NPRM can be found here.