America is on the cusp of leading the charge in telecommunications and technological innovation across the globe. But solidifying this position requires timely, smart action by the Federal Communications Commission to bring long-standing regulations governing the 12 GHz spectrum band in line with today’s realities. Spectrum is a finite, precious resource — one that cannot simply be created to match growing demand. Fortunately, it can and should be maximized where possible. That is why the 12 GHz band — a key piece of mid-band spectrum — is crucial to American 5G leadership. It is unencumbered. It can be put to use immediately. It truly is the goldilocks of spectrum.
This band offers opportunity — for everyone — at a time when connecting families and increasing our technological capabilities have never been more important. Congress should be commended for its efforts to meet these objectives through recent bold legislation and funding for critical telecommunications services. In the CARES Act, Congress directed funding to the Rural Health Care Program, which helped patients access telehealth, particularly in the pandemic. Additionally, CARES included provisions to support virtual learning for students, connect more rural communities, improve telehealth services for veterans and offer loan forgiveness for small businesses that could use those funds to stay connected.
As the pandemic continued and Americans struggled to connect to much-needed virtual services, Congress took additional action, passing the American Rescue Plan Act. The Rescue Plan directed $7.17 billion in funding for the Emergency Connectivity Fund, a program that will enhance access for students, teachers and library patrons by assisting schools and libraries in purchasing more devices and home broadband connectivity, and tackles head-on the broadband deployment needs by allocating $10 billion specifically for broadband infrastructure investment by the states. It also permits states and localities to use the State and Local Recovery Funds for broadband infrastructure, among other projects. Congress also created subsidies to help low-income, unserved families across the nation access broadband through the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.
Now, as policymakers implement these programs and continue their commitment to bring broadband to all Americans, we also need to maximize all our national spectrum assets to reach every American with competitive 5G service.
This is where spectrum sharing in the 12 GHz band for 5G wireless technology is critical. By tapping into the power of 12 GHz for 5G, regulators can swiftly ensure the intended purpose of these programs and funding becomes a reality, bringing much-needed relief to the American people now. This is how government should work. By modernizing its rules to permit spectrum sharing, the FCC can capitalize on the robust action Congress and the administration has taken, accelerating competitive broadband networks offering 5G capabilities for all Americans.
At the same time, U.S. leaders have an opportunity to catapult the United States into a 5G leadership position, protecting national security interests, spurring competition and boosting the economy, and they can do so immediately — without directing any additional funding to the effort. By modernizing spectrum regulations to open up the 12 GHz band for 5G services, American leaders can meet increasing demand and drive next-era technological innovation that benefits everyone.
The best part: 12 GHz is shareable, allowing services to coexist with almost no interference. In fact, an engineering study showed expanding the 12 GHz spectrum band for 5G results in 99 percent of terminals using non-geostationary orbit satellite service experiencing no interference. At the same time, deploying the 12 GHz band for 5G offers overwhelming economic and consumer benefits estimated at between $264 billion and $1 trillion, according to a recent Brattle Report. This is a win-win — for U.S. leadership and consumer choice, for service providers of all sorts and for leaders on both sides of the aisle.
Some argue that the 12GHz band, despite its multiple allocations, should be used for only one purpose. But this position is not based on science or facts. Any operator who would suggest — despite the data clearly showing coexistence is possible — that the 12 GHz band should not be expanded, is anti-5G and undermining American leadership.
The research is clear: Unlocking the 12 GHz band for 5G is feasible, it can be done while protecting existing services and it offers enormous benefits to the public. The time is now for the FCC to update spectrum-sharing rules for the American people.
Chip Pickering is the co-chair of the 5Gfor12GHz Coalition and CEO of INCOMPAS.
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