US refarms 2.5 GHz band from education to 5G

The US telecoms regulator has decided to redirect the 2.5 GHz band away from its current educational use to create more 5G spectrum.

The Federal Communications Commission is positioning this as a move to modernize the outdated regulatory framework for the 2.5 GHz band, which is apparently the single largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3 GHz. The band had been set aside for educational TV use and the FCC move removes any restrictions on who can use it and how. It had previously been made available for free but now the government gets to cash in on yet another auction.

At long last, we remove the burdensome restrictions on this band, allowing incumbents greater flexibility in their use of the spectrum, and introduce a spectrum auction that will ensure that this public resource is finally devoted to its highest-valued use,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “These groundbreaking reforms will result in more efficient and effective use of these airwaves and represent the latest step in advancing U.S. leadership in 5G.”

According to Pai, most educational users of this spectrum ended up leasing it out for commercial use anyway, which he seems to consider justification enough alone to take it off them. His full statement makes several oblique references to dissent among the FCC commissioners. The motion was opposed by two Commissioners and Pai infers that their obstruction could result in the US falling behind in the 5G race.

One of those dissenters was Jessica Rosenworcel, who often disagrees with Pai. Here’s her tweet on the matter.

“This order turns its back on the schools and educational institutions that have made the 2.5 GHz band their home since 1962,” said Rosenworcel in her statement.  “Today the FCC takes the innovative effort to infuse this band with learning opportunities—an initiative that dates back to the Kennedy Administration—and reverts to uninspired and stale commercial spectrum policy.

“This is a shame. Instead of using these airwaves in creative ways, we take the 2.5 GHz band, cut education from its mission and collapse this spectrum into an overlay auction system that structurally advantages a single nationwide carrier.” She then went on at considerable length about how important education is.

Commissioner Starks was the other dissenter and wrote an essay on the importance of the education sector having access to this spectrum that it made Rosenworcel’s efforts look like a memo. With boring inevitability the two dissenters are both affiliated to the republican party and the three in favour are all republicans, which makes you wonder whether there is any principle involved at all.

As Light Reading informs us, this spectrum is likely to be used largely for rural coverage and especially for fixed wireless access. The US is a big country and there are still plenty of coverage gaps to fill. The education sector is apparently bemoaning the decision but if it has been largely reselling the spectrum maybe it’s the revenue that it will miss the most.