What's New in Wireless - February 2024
Monday, February 5, 2024

The wireless industry has revolutionized the way we connect, from facilitating teleworking, distance learning, and telemedicine to allowing the American public to interact virtually in almost all other aspects of their daily lives. Leading policymakers – federal regulators and legislators – are making it a top priority to ensure that the wireless industry has the tools and resources it needs to keep pace with this evolving landscape. This blog provides monthly updates on actions by federal regulatory bodies responsible for communications policy and Congressional efforts to support wireless connectivity. And this month we highlight the spectrum symposium held by NTIA on the recently released National Spectrum Strategy.

Regulatory Actions and Initiatives 

NTIA Holds its 2024 Spectrum Policy Symposium. On February 1, 2024, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) held its 2024 Spectrum Symposium at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. This year’s symposium focused on implementing the National Spectrum Strategy, which the White House released on November 13, 2023. Speakers at the event included policymakers from the White House, Department of Commerce, and the FCC. During her remarks, FCC Commissioner Gomez – the newest member of the Commission – emphasized the importance of a collaborative framework to identify additional spectrum for new uses, the need to consider all models of spectrum management, including spectrum sharing, and the value of fostering international relationships. She noted: “The National Spectrum Strategy is a critical blueprint for continuing to create more access to spectrum, advance innovation in spectrum management and use, and maintain our global leadership in wireless innovation.” 

Wireless Spectrum 

The FCC Grants Additional 2.5 GHz Band Licenses. On January 16, 2024, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) released a Public Notice granting the applications for spectrum licenses in the 2.5 GHz band filed by three parties: Northern Valley Communications, LLC, Paladin Wireless LLC, and SkyPacket Networks Inc. The auction for the licenses (Auction 108) concluded in August 2022, but the lapse of the FCC’s spectrum auction authority in March 2023 prevented the FCC from granting all of the licenses won. Although the FCC still lacks general spectrum auction authority, Congress, as we previously reported, passed the 5G Spectrum Authority Licensing Enforcement Act (“5G SALE Act”) authorizing the FCC to process any remaining licenses won in Auction 108 within 90 days of enactment – i.e., by March 18, 2024. A list of the licenses granted, sorted by licensee, is available here, and a list of the licenses granted, sorted by market, is available here. The WTB released a second Public Notice on February 1, 2024, granting three additional applications filed by the entities above for 16 2.5 GHz band licenses. A list of the licenses granted, sorted by licensee, is available here, and a list of the licenses granted, sorted by market, is available here. The FCC has not yet granted the 2.5 GHz band licenses won by T-Mobile, which was the largest winning bidder in Auction 108. Relatedly, on February 5, 2024, the WTB released a Public Notice announcing that the Numbering Resource Utilization and Forecast (“NRUF”) reports and carrier-specific local number portability (“LNP”) data for all wireless telecommunications carriers for January 2022 through December 2022 are being placed in the record for T-Mobile’s long-form application, subject to the provisions of a protective order. The WTB will use the information contained in the reports in connection with its review of T-Mobile’s long-form application. Parties have until February 15, 2024 to oppose the limited disclosure of their NRUF and LNP data pursuant to the protective order.

The FCC Takes Action in the 70/80/90 GHz Bands to Support Wireless Backhaul. On January 25, 2024, the FCC adopted at its open meeting a Report and Order establishing new rules and updating preexisting rules for the 70/80/90 GHz bands. The new rules authorize the operation of certain point-to-point links to endpoints on aircraft and ships in motion in the 70 GHz and 80 GHz bands, permit the use of smaller and lower-cost antennas to facilitate the provision of backhaul service in the 70 GHz and 80 GHz bands, and change the link registration process in the 70/80/90 GHz bands to require certification of construction of registered links. In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking accompanying the Report and Order, the FCC seeks comment on the potential inclusion of Fixed Satellite Service earth stations in the third-party database registration regime in the 70 GHz and 80 GHz bands. Comments and reply comments on the Further Notice are due 30 days and 60 days, respectively, after Federal Register publication. 

Comment Dates Announced in the Proceeding to Promote Wireless Services in the 24 GHz Band. The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on emissions limits in the 24 GHz band was published in the Federal Register on January 29, 2024, making comments and replies due February 28, 2024 and March 14, 2024, respectively.

The FCC Grants Licenses for 900 MHz Broadband Spectrum. On February 1, 2024, the WTB released a Public Notice announcing the grant of three 900 MHz broadband segment license applications to PDV Spectrum Holding Company, LLC. The spectrum was made available in 2021 after the FCC realigned the 900 MHz band so that six megahertz of the spectrum could be made available for the development of critical wireless broadband technologies and services. 

The FCC Reminds 700 MHz and 220 MHz Licensees of Annual Reporting Requirement. The WTB released a Public Notice on January 25, 2024, reminding 700 MHz Guard Band Licensees and 220 MHz Band Managers of their obligation to file an annual spectrum utilization report, which is due March 1, 2024. 

The FCC Solicits Membership for the World Radiocommunication Conference Advisory Committee. On January 25, 2024, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing its intent to recharter the World Radiocommunication Conference Advisory Committee (“WAC-27”) and soliciting applications for membership. Applications for WAC-27 are due by February 12, 2024. 

The GAO Releases a Report on Regulating Emerging Technologies. On January 25, 2024, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) released a Report evaluating how federal agencies – specifically the FCC, Department of Transportation, and Food and Drug Administration – regulate emerging technologies, including the challenges and opportunities they face, their efforts to collaborate, and the lessons they can learn from other governments’ experiences. Among other things, the GAO notes that while the FCC and NTIA have worked to improve collaboration and coordinate spectrum management to support next-generation wireless networks, the FCC and NTIA still have not yet coordinated to define common outcomes for managing spectrum demands associated with 5G deployment. The GAO reiterates its past recommendation that the Chairwoman develop, in coordination with NTIA and other relevant stakeholders, specific and measurable performance goals – with related strategies and measures – to manage spectrum demands associated with 5G deployment. The GAO also states that the FCC may continue to face challenges coordinating with other federal agencies to reach a unified position at World Radiocommunication Conferences that could help support the growth of next-generation wireless networks. The GAO recommends that the Chairwoman and the heads of collaborating agencies take the actions the GAO recommended in 2021 to improve their joint efforts.

Wireless Networks and Infrastructure

The FCC Updates its Wireless 911 Routing Requirements. In addition to the 70/80/90 GHz item discussed above, the FCC adopted at its January open meeting a Report and Order requiring wireless providers to implement location-based routing – transitioning from legacy tower-based routing – for wireless calls and real-time texts to 911 on their Internet Protocol (“IP”)-based networks (i.e., 4G LTE, 5G, and subsequent generations of IP-based networks) in order to reduce the number of 911 calls that are misrouted and improve emergency response times. The FCC, however, deferred consideration of proposals that would require wireless providers and covered text providers to implement location-based routing for Short Message Service texts to 911 as well as issues related to the IP-formatted delivery of wireless 911 voice calls, texts, and associated routing information to Next-Generation 911 networks. 

The FCC Revises its Wireless Outage Reporting Requirements. The FCC also adopted at its open meeting a Report and Order addressing outage reporting requirements for, among others, wireless service providers. In particular, the Report and Order makes Disaster Information Reporting System (“DIRS”) reporting mandatory rather than optional. It also codifies the suspension of Network Outage Reporting System (“NORS”) reporting requirements when DIRS is active. The Report and Order further requires a final DIRS summary report within 24 hours of DIRS deactivation following an emergency. A Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking accompanying the Report and Order proposes to extend reporting requirements to satellite and broadband internet access service providers, as well as broadcasters. It also seeks comment on whether FirstNet should be subject to NORS and DIRS reporting. Additionally, it seeks comment on requiring providers to provide location information for mobile recovery assets as part of their reporting, and if they should be required to file conclusive status reports within 24 hours of DIRS deactivation. Comments and reply comments on the Further Notice are due 30 days and 60 days, respectively, after Federal Register publication.

The FCC Reports on the Status of Rip-and-Replace and Addresses Other Issues. The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (“WCB”) took several actions this month related to the Secure and Trusted Networks Reimbursement Program (“Reimbursement Program”) established to reimburse service providers for removing and replacing certain equipment and services that pose a national security risk.

  • First, the WCB released its third Report required by Congress on the status of the program. Based on the latest updates submitted by Reimbursement Program funding recipients, the Report notes that:
    • The Fund Administrator and Bureau have received 12,983 reimbursement claims across 122 of 126 applications; however, four recipients with approved applications failed to file at least one reimbursement claim by the July 17, 2023 deadline, making them ineligible for funding.
    • Approved reimbursement claims now total $396.53 million, leaving approximately $1.5 billion of the $1.9 billion in appropriated funds left for reimbursement.
    • Five Reimbursement Program funding recipients have filed their final rip-and-replace certifications.
    • Approximately 90 percent of recipients have made some rip-and-replace progress but are not finished.
    • Reimbursement Program funding recipients continue to indicate they are experiencing challenges to their rip-and-replace efforts, including challenges related to a lack of funding, supply chain delays, labor shortages, weather impacts, and extended review times in processing claims for reimbursement.
    • Approximately 93 percent of recipients indicated they have fully complied with, or are in the process of complying with, the rip-and-replace timeline submitted with their applications. 
  • Second, the WCB release a Public Notice reminding Reimbursement Program support recipients that they must file their next spending report in the FCC’s online portal by February 12, 2024. Reimbursement Program funding recipients’ next status update will be due April 8, 2024. The WCB’s next report is due to Congress by July 8, 2024.
  • Third, the WCB released an Order on January 16, 2024, denying a Petition for Reconsideration filed by PTA-FLA, Inc. (“PTA-FLA”) seeking reconsideration of a denial of its Application Request for Funding Allocation (“Application”) from the Reimbursement Program. The Bureau denied PTA-FLA’s Petition and upheld its decision to deny PTA-FLA’s Application because the Bureau found that PTA-FLA is not a provider of advanced communications services and, therefore, is not eligible to participate in the Reimbursement Program.
  • Fourth, the WCB released an Order on January 18, 2024, denying a request by NE Colorado Cellular Inc. dba Viaero Wireless (“Viaero”) that the Bureau reconsider its decision to deny reimbursement claims filed by Viaero for certain “interim” equipment. Notably, while Viaero asserted that funding these reimbursement claims would not impact its total funding allocation, the Bureau explained that recipients’ funding allocations are the maximum amount that can be reimbursed and are only available for costs reasonably incurred.
  • Fifth, the WCB released a Public Notice on January 31, 2024, announcing that it has published additional User Guides for the Reimbursement Program. These new User Guides (as well as existing User Guides and other information) are available on the FCC’s website at https://www.fcc.gov/supplychain/reimbursement.
  • Finally, the WCB released a Public Notice granting additional requests for extension of the rip-and-replace deadline for four entities: Mediacom Communications Corporation, NfinityLink Communications, Vitelcom Cellular, and Country Wireless. Interested parties have until March 1, 2024, to file a petition for reconsideration of the WCB’s decision. The WCB notes that, in order to further speed the disposition of petitions seeking extension of the rip-and-replace deadline, while at the same time fulfilling its obligation to thoroughly review the record, the WCB will issue a Public Notice monthly to dispose of pending petitions that do not involve complicated and/or controversial issues. 

The FCC Seeks Comment on Proposed Changes to its SIM Swapping and Port-Out Fraud Rules. On January 19, 2024, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking comment on a Petition for Partial Reconsideration filed by CTIA on the FCC’s Report and Order adopting rules to combat subscriber identity module (“SIM”) swapping scams and port-out fraud, both of which are used to steal consumers’ cell phone accounts and data. The Petition asks the FCC to make targeted revisions to its rules to “ensure that providers have adequate time to develop the comprehensive systems and processes needed to implement the new rules and best serve the Commission’s and industry’s shared goals.” In particular, CTIA requests a 12-month extension to the FCC’s adopted compliance deadline. Oppositions to the Petition for Reconsideration must be filed within 15 days of the date the Public Notice is published in the Federal Register, which has not yet occurred, with replies due 10 days after that.

Other Agency Activities

NTIA Awards an Additional $80 Million in Grants to Support Wireless Networks. On January 10, 2024, NTIA announced in this press release that it awarded nearly $80 million in grants from the $1.5 billion Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund to support, among other things, building new testing and evaluation facilities. The funding was awarded to six projects across five states, including $50 million to DISH, which will collaborate with Mavenir and others “to create the Open RAN Center for Integration and Deployment (ORCID).” In its press statement, DISH notes that this is the largest award under the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund and explains that the “ORCID will allow participants to test and validate their hardware and software solutions (RU, DU and CU) against a complete commercial-grade Open RAN network deployed by DISH.” NTIA’s announcement follows an earlier press release in which NTIA reported that it awarded $13 million to support the research and development of new and improved testing methods for open and interoperable networks. Those funds were awarded to seven projects (principally run by universities) across six states, focusing on advancing security, promoting energy efficiency, automating the testing process, and leveraging artificial intelligence to improve network and software testing. Thus far, NTIA has awarded more than $98 million in grants from the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund.

The GAO Releases a Report on Regulating Emerging Technologies. On January 25, 2024, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) released a Report evaluating how federal agencies – specifically the FCC, Department of Transportation, and Food and Drug Administration – regulate emerging technologies, including the challenges and opportunities they face, their efforts to collaborate, and the lessons they can learn from other governments’ experiences. Among other things, the GAO notes that while the FCC and NTIA have worked to improve collaboration and coordinate spectrum management to support next-generation wireless networks, the FCC and NTIA still have not yet coordinated to define common outcomes for managing spectrum demands associated with 5G deployment. The GAO reiterates its past recommendation that the Chairwoman develop, in coordination with NTIA and other relevant stakeholders, specific and measurable performance goals – with related strategies and measures – to manage spectrum demands associated with 5G deployment. The GAO also states that the FCC may continue to face challenges coordinating with other federal agencies to reach a unified position at World Radiocommunication Conferences that could help support the growth of next-generation wireless networks. The GAO recommends that the Chairwoman and the heads of collaborating agencies take the actions the GAO recommended in 2021 to improve their joint efforts.

Legislative Efforts

The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Holds a Hearing on Leveraging Open RAN for U.S. Wireless Leadership. On January 17, 2024, the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing titled “Leveraging American Communications Leadership with Open Radio Access Networks (‘Open RAN’).” During the hearing, witnesses discussed the challenges experienced and lessons learned with deploying and introducing Open RAN into wireless networks. Subcommittee members also asked about the Open RAN standards and certifications that best promote interoperability and competition. In addition, they asked how Open RAN can help bolster U.S. 5G and 6G leadership.

 

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