The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday approved rules to spur the long-stalled development of the 2.3 GHz Wireless Communications Service band by resolving interference issues between WCS and satellite radio services. The FCC noted that “most of the WCS licenses have gone unused for approximately 15 years,” since the licenses first were auctioned in 1997. 

The new rules largely ratify an agreement announced in June between AT&T and Sirius XM. Among other things, the rules bar mobile and portable transmitters from operating in the 5-megahertz WCS blocks surrounding the satellite radio spectrum, thus “provid[ing] added interference protection to [satellite radio] operations while advancing the Commission’s goal of making mobile broadband services over the WCS spectrum widely available.”  WCS operators also will be required to coordinate with satellite-radio operators to resolve interference issues that arise when WCS signals exceed specified thresholds on roadways.

WCS licensees offering point-to-multipoint service will have four years from the effective date of the rules to deploy service covering 40 percent of the population in their license area, and an additional two-and-a-half years for service to reach 75 percent of the population. Point-to-point fixed services will have to provide 15 point-to-point links per million persons in a license area by the first deadline and 30 such links by the second deadline. The FCC reaffirmed its rule that WCS licenses will terminate automatically if the licensee fails to meet the build-out requirements.

“With this order, we are freeing up 30 megahertz of WCS spectrum for broadband, which will help maintain our global leadership in 4G LTE and fuel U.S. competitiveness in the global bandwidth race,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wrote in a separate statement. “The WCS band is a long-troubled band that has evaded easy answers for 15 years. I am pleased that we are now solving it.”

The commissioners’ statements also highlighted the role of private-sector stakeholders. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted that “secondary market negotiations have led to this innovative fix for a longstanding conflict,” demonstrating the power of “[s]trong build-out requirements combined with a vigorous secondary market.”  Commissioner Ajit Pai called on the FCC to approve pending secondary market transactions involving WCS spectrum by Thanksgiving.