Schools, health care facilities, WorldCom Inc. and Sprint Corp. will get to keep a broad swath of airwaves they use, federal regulators said Monday, turning aside an attempt to shift the spectrum entirely to third generation wireless services.
Yet, the agency said it would expand the possible uses for the airwaves in the 2500-2690 megahertz (MHz) band – currently used for fixed wireless services like Internet access – to include a mobile component so that they could be used for 3G services such as high-speed Internet access, or music and video downloads.
“This action does not help to address the continuing need for additional spectrum for the most spectrum-constrained carriers,” said Tom Wheeler, President and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, the primary trade group for wireless operators.
The FCC and the Commerce Department are searching for airwave rights to sell to mobile telephone companies like Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless Services Inc. to allow them to offer 3G, but have been unable to find virgin airwaves to sell.
The agencies contemplated reallocating the 2500-2690 band, but because of the outcry against taking the airwaves from schools and other incumbent users, the FCC voted 5-0 against that plan.
“Although I would have preferred a decision sooner, our order resolves the lingering uncertainty for these licensees and allows the parties to move forward with their operations,” said FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy in a statement. “The specter of forced relocation slowed interest and investment.”
Plus, WorldCom and Sprint use the spectrum to offer Internet service from fixed transmitters, for example.
“Sprint agrees with the FCC’s decision to protect incumbents from interference, while allowing market forces to determine the feasibility of using this spectrum for additional services,” Spring said in a statement.
But a dispute among the commissioners arose over whether to add a mobile component to the band, with the two Democratic commissioners arguing that it would a rush to judgement and that there was not enough evidence that mobile services would not interfere with existing uses.
“Adding a mobile allocation for the 2500 MHz band is premature, unwise and contrary to the statute,” said FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Gloria Tristani. The vote was taken on Sept. 6, a day before Tristani resigned, but the results were not released until Monday.
The FCC said the flexible allocation would allow some portable data applications to be offered under existing service rules and could provide flexibility for offering other new advanced fixed and mobile services in the future.
The agency did acknowledge that it would have to explore service rules that would apply to allow mobile operations in the band in a separate proceeding in the future.