On May 13, the FCC adopted rules to provide six MHz broadband licenses in the 900 MHz band for a range of wireless broadband deployments. The new 15-year broadband licenses (897.5-900.5/936.5-939.5 MHz) will be available on a county-by-county basis. Possible uses for the spectrum include private LTE systems, as well as utility and industrial broadband applications including IoT, drones, smart-grids, and advanced metering.
Currently, the 900 MHz band is occupied by a vast number of narrowband licensees, but FCC rules did not permit those licensees to engage in broadband operations. The FCC's order will split the 900 MHz band into two separate segments, with six MHz for broadband and four MHz for narrowband operations.
Negotiated Relocation of Incumbents. To facilitate transition of the spectrum for broadband use, the FCC requires the prospective broadband licensee to reach privately negotiated arrangements for the acquisition, relocation, or interference protection of narrowband incumbents. After issuance of the license, however, the FCC will permit mandatory relocation of an incumbent licensee under certain circumstances so long as the broadband licensee pays all reasonable costs of relocation.
License Eligibility Requirements. An applicant for a 900 MHz broadband license must meet a two-prong eligibility test. First, the applicant must hold licenses for more than 50% of the total 10 MHz in the relevant county. Second, the applicant must hold licenses for at least 90% of the six MHz broadband segment (or have reached acquisition or relocation agreements with incumbents collectively holding such licenses), or it must provide interference protection for at least 90% of affected incumbent licensees.
Anti-Windfall Payments. Broadband license applicants will not be required to make FCC auction payments. An applicant must, however, return to the FCC any narrowband 900 MHz licensed spectrum it holds. Further, to address the concern that a broadband applicant may reap a spectrum “windfall” when it receives a 6 MHz broadband license and returns a lesser amount of narrowband spectrum or has no narrowband spectrum at all, the FCC requires the applicant to make an anti-windfall payment. This payment is determined by the amount of the applicant's spectrum “windfall” and the value of such spectrum as reflected in the winning bids of the FCC's recent 600 MHz license auction.