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Spectrum as Infrastructure – Connecting Rural and Underserved Areas

Spectrum as Infrastructure – Connecting Rural and Underserved Areas

Panel discussion at the 8th Annual SHLB Conference.

Panel Description: More than 15 million Americans in rural and tribal areas still lack access to 25/3 broadband, and a disproportionate number of rural schools and libraries lack high-capacity broadband connections. Wireless services may provide cost-effective solutions to address this rural broadband gap. Fixed wireless access can provide broadband at high capacity (100/10 Mbps or better), or over long distances to remote locations, at a fraction of the cost of trenching fiber. This panel will describe three pending FCC rulemakings that could open access to a large new supply of both unlicensed and lightly-licensed shared spectrum.

Featured Speakers in Highlights: Melissa Slawson (GeoLinks) Andrew Clegg (Google), Moderator: Michael Calabrese (New America OTI)

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Five Crucial Steps Needed To Close The U.S. Digital Divide

Five Crucial Steps Needed To Close The U.S. Digital Divide

POST WRITTEN BY Skyler Ditchfield

CEO of GeoLinks, the Fastest Growing WISP in America named 2018 “Most Disruptive Technology” for its ClearFiber™ Network.

Shutterstock

If you were to google “how to close the digital divide,” you would not come up empty-handed. As a quick precursor, for those of you who may be unfamiliar, the digital divide refers to the inequalities in finances, education and social status faced by those without computers and access to the internet versus those who do. Because having equal access to digital technology is at the core of the divide, broadband availability, or the lack thereof, has become a highly publicized and debated topic between politicians and telecommunications companies (telcos) alike. Nevertheless, the divide still remains and arguably will continue to remain unless the following five steps are taken.

Step 1: Redirect Federal Funding Distribution

The federal government has allocated and continues to allocate ample funding toward closing the digital divide. Consequently, over the past 20 years, we’ve been able to raise broadband standards considerably, at least in urban and suburban markets. Unfortunately, however, the majority of these funds are awarded to major telcos and incumbent providers, and without a guaranteed long-term revenue case in rural America, they have minimal incentive to invest in new infrastructure or to improve current infrastructure. While this may make sense for their personal bottom lines, it does not benefit the American public. So, if large telcos can’t or won’t service rural America, who will?

First, if you have an option to buy from a small local provider, do so — you will consequently be supporting your local economy. However, the problem with totally relying on the little guys is that they are, in fact, the little guys, and often don’t have access to or the power to access the spectrum of state-of-the-art equipment or fiber assets that enable other providers to offer competitive, cost-effective and high-bandwidth solutions.

Another option is the middle road between mom-and-pop and the incumbent providers — the mid-sized internet service provider. As it currently stands, mid-sized ISPs do not have the financial resources of big telcos to build out low-cost products with long return on investment, thus making them less competitive for consumers. However, if granted adequate funding to build out infrastructure, these mid-sized telcos have the opportunity to give the mega-ISPs true competition, ultimately keeping the market honest, fair and favored toward the public’s best interest.

Step 2: Open The Airwaves, Fairly 

As it currently stands, today’s major cellular companies hold the vast majority of wireless spectrum allotted by the FCC to resolve the digital divide. These services, while important, do not currently deliver the entire bandwidth necessary to meet the needs of all unconnected Americans. However, the United States still has ample wireless spectrum available. If the FCC and Capitol Hill can appropriate these assets to companies that truly support the public’s best interest, and said companies utilize and deploy intelligently, the utopian idea of one day delivering one-gigabit speeds to every home in America is possible. 

Step 3: Implement A True Accountability Structure

On February 12, 2018, the White House released the Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America. The outline, which acknowledges the horrific state of the nation’s current infrastructure, demonstrates the new administration’s framework, meant to build a better future for all Americans. To its credit, there is a handful of positive action items presented in the outline. From empowering individual state decision-making, to establishing true accountability structures, to expediting and streamlining overall permitting and federal agency processes, at its core, the outline perceivably serves in the general best interest of the American public.

However, it can also be argued that there are inherent and massive flaws in the outline that will ultimately prevent these goals from reaching fruition. For example, past the inadequate division of funding, there is not a clear timeline of when all legislation changes must take effect. Therefore, even though once these changes are enacted there is a 24-month timeline, there isn’t a clear delineation of an official launch date. To paint an extreme example, this outline could have us all sitting here in five or 10 years still spewing on initiatives that could be and could make a better future. Thus, the administration needs to follow up its outline with immediate deadlines in order to formalize proposed accountability structures.

Step 4: Expedite The Use Of Federal Lands

As touched upon above, the idea of expediting processes has been proposed. However, even if we could ensure grant winners would build out as planned, the fact remains that 28% of the U.S. is federally owned, and many of these sites are in areas we need to get through or use for broadcast areas. It’s imperative we support operators’ build times by expediting permitting the use of federal lands sooner than later, and preferably now.

Step 5: Adopt A Technology-Agnostic Hybrid Approach 

While states and communities across the country continue to request fiber optic networks, the reality is that building out fiber infrastructure to every location in America is both cost- and time-prohibitive. Therefore, fiber is not the complete solution if we’re aiming to close the divide in a timely manner. The solution, rather, lies in adapting and building out technology-agnostic hybrid networks. From fiber, to fixed wireless, to 4G and 5G LTE, all of these technologies have their time and place in closing the divide. While there are pros and cons to each method, when used together, they have the ability to create a complete solution that can deliver gigabit and multi-gigabit bandwidth to both urban and ultra-rural communities.

So, If We Know How, Why Is There Still A Divide?

The answer is simple: lack of action. We know the course; now we need to implement. Therefore, to all of those reading this who feel inspired or compelled to truly take part in closing the divide, reach out to your local and state municipalities, and demand action.

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Amendment of Part 90 of the Commission’s Rules

Before the

Federal Communications Commission

Washington, DC  20554

 

COMMENTS OF CALIFORNIA INTERNET, L.P. DBA GEOLINKS

California Internet, L.P. DBA GeoLinks (“GeoLinks” or the “Company”) submits these comments in response to the Commission’s Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the above-captioned proceeding.[1]

 

  1. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

GeoLinks is proud to service the largest coverage area of any single fixed wireless Internet service provider in the state the California.  The Company’s fixed wireless technology platform depends on access to spectrum resources sufficient to support enterprise-level broadband connections.  However, to date, access to dedicated spectrum resources has been difficult for small and mid-sized companies, such as GeoLinks.  In addition to other bands for which GeoLinks has advocated spectrum policies that would allow fixed wireless broadband providers to obtain spectrum, GeoLinks believes that the 4.9 GHz band offers a means to allow providers to access this vital resource in a way that also protects incumbent public safety users.

 

  1. DISCUSSION
  2. The Commission Should Allow Sharing of the 4.9 GHz Band on a Licensed or Light-Licensed Basis

In the FNPRM, the Commission seeks comment on ways to “stimulate expanded use of and investment in the 4.9 GHz band” and proposes to implement a sharing mechanism to “promote more opportunistic use of the 4.9 GHz band without compromising the integrity and security of public safety operations.”[2]  GeoLinks believes that allowing commercial users to share the band on a secondary basis to public safety licensees would be the most appropriate and most effective use of the band to reach the Commission’s goal.  Specifically, GeoLinks asserts that such sharing should be allowed on a licensed or light-licensed basis.

As GeoLinks has explained in numerous filings, point-to-multipoint (“P2MP”) service options are ideal because they allow a wireless service provider to provide high-speed broadband connections to several end-users (i.e. several households throughout a community) from one location, requiring fewer towers and less equipment than point-to-point (“P2P”) connections.  If sufficient spectrum is available, providers can use P2MP technology to deliver gigabit and near-gigabit speeds to customers.  In addition, because P2MP services are wireless, use of this technology eliminates the need for costly, time-consuming and disruptive construction that is generally associated with fiber buildouts.  This is especially beneficial in rural and high-cost areas and can provide much-needed competition to incumbent providers in urban and suburban areas.

Uncertainty regarding how and where and when spectrum will be used by other users makes it difficult to efficiently manage P2MP connections over longer distances, requiring providers to utilize shorter P2P connections to avoid interference, which are less efficient and more expensive to deploy.  This is especially true in unlicensed bands.  However, under a licensed or lightly-licensed sharing regime with the appropriate frequency coordination in place, commercial users, such as fixed wireless providers, can utilize available spectrum to provide these high-quality, P2MP broadband connections without the risk of causing or receiving harmful interference.  GeoLinks believes that this approach should be applied to the 4.9 GHz band.

 

  1. Successful Sharing of the 4.9 GHz Band Requires Adequate and Accurate Information to Ensure Efficient Frequency Coordination

Sufficient frequency coordination paired with a licensed or light-licensed regime would allow secondary users to operate P2MP (or P2P) wireless connections in the band without the risk of interference to primary, public safety users.  As an initial matter, GeoLinks agrees that any changes made to use within the 4.9 GHz band should not force incumbent licensees to modify, abandon, or replace existing 4.9 GHz facilities.[3]  GeoLinks (as well as other wireless broadband providers) can coordinate its use of a frequency around any fixed point (i.e. the transmission path of a primary licensee) or around any primary use that may be necessary to avoid harmful interference.  However, in order to ensure successful coordination so that incumbent licensees are protected, additional users of the band must know where within the band incumbents are operating.  Therefore, GeoLinks agrees with the Commission’s proposal that incumbent licensees whose authorizations currently encompass the entire 4.9 GHZ band must certify the channels they actually use and input this information into a frequency coordination database (along with transmitter and receiver parameters).[4]

 

  1. The Commission Should Require Strict Buildout Requirements for Any New Users of the 4.9 GHz Band.

As GeoLinks has advocated in previous filings, any spectrum license should carry with it the requirement to serve the public interest – including for shared or light licensed spectrum.  Spectrum is, first and foremost, a public resource and should be allocated accordingly.  Similar to its recommendations for other bands, GeoLinks proposes that the Commission impose minimum buildout requirements for any commercial licensee utilizing the 4.9 GHz band.  Specifically, GeoLinks recommends that this minimum be set high enough to ensure that unserved areas (if applicable) within any license area are not left behind.  GeoLinks believes that these requirements will encourage use of the 4.9 GHz band by commercial users serious about deploying high-speed broadband services and alleviate any risk of spectrum warehousing.  In addition, GeoLinks urges the Commission to implement a reporting process to track whether buildout requirements are met (and met properly).

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  • CONCLUSION

Based on the foregoing, GeoLinks urges the Commission to allow for commercial use of the 4.9 GHz band on a secondary basis under a licensed or light-licensed sharing approach.

 

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

GEOLINKS, LLC

 

/s/ Skyler Ditchfield, Chief Executive Officer

/s/ Melissa Slawson, General Counsel/ V.P of Government Affairs and Education

 

July 6, 2018

[1] Amendment of Part 90 of the Commission’s Rules, Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, WP Docket No. 07-100, FCC 18-33 (rel. March 23, 2018) (“FNPRM”).
[2] FNPRM, at para 3.
[3] FNPRM at para 11
[4] Id.  Moreover, GeoLinks agrees that only those channels for which information has been supplied should be afforded protection.
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Use of Spectrum Bands Above 24 GHz For Mobile Radio Services

Before the

Federal Communications Commission

Washington, DC 20554

In the Matter of Use of Spectrum Bands Above 24 GHz For Mobile Radio Services

Establishing a More Flexible Framework to Facilitate Satellite Operations in the 27.5-28.35 GHz and 37.5-40 GHz Bands

Amendment of Parts 1, 22, 24, 27, 74, 80, 90, 95, and 101 To Establish Uniform License Renewal, Discontinuance of Operation, and Geographic Partitioning and Spectrum Disaggregation Rules and Policies for Certain Wireless Radio Services

Allocation and Designation of Spectrum for Fixed-Satellite Services in the 37.5-38.5 GHz, 40.5-41.5 GHz and 48.2-50.2 GHz Frequency Bands; Allocation of Spectrum to Upgrade Fixed and Mobile Allocations in the 40.5-42.5 GHz Frequency Band; Allocation of Spectrum in the 46.9-47.0 GHz Frequency Band for Wireless Services; and Allocation of Spectrum in the 37.0-38.0 GHz and 40.0-40.5 GHz for Government Operations

GN Docket No. 14-177

IB Docket No. 15-256

WT Docket No. 10-112

IB Docket No. 97-95

 

REPLY COMMENTS OF CALIFORNIA INTERNET, L.P. DBA GEOLINKS

California Internet, L.P. DBA GeoLinks (“GeoLinks” or the “Company”) submits these reply comments in response to the Spectrum Frontiers Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Frontiers Second FNPRM”).1

I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

GeoLinks serves the largest coverage area of any single fixed wireless Internet service provider in California. The Company’s fixed wireless technology platform depends on access to spectrum resources sufficient to support enterprise-level broadband connections. As such, GeoLinks has advocated before this Commission on a number of spectrum matters over the last year. While the proceedings may differ, there are a few over-arching policy considerations that GeoLinks has repeatedly asserted are necessary to ensure robust competition within the broadband marketplace. These include ensuring spectrum resources are available on a competitive basis and ensuring policies do not favor one technology over others. GeoLinks urges the Commission to apply these same considerations to ensure that there is competitive access to the millimeter wave (“mmW”) bands and associated equipment ecosystem.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The Commission Should Retain Pre-Auction Review and Limitations on Spectrum Holdings

GeoLinks strongly agrees with Starry, Inc. (“Starry”) that the Commission must reaffirm competition policies that prevent over-aggregation of critical spectrum resources.2 In the Frontiers Second FNPRM, the Commission proposes to eliminate the pre-auction limit of 1250 Megahertz for the 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands.3 Limiting spectrum ownership is necessary to carry out the Commission’s mandate of “promoting economic opportunity and competition and ensuring new and innovative technologies are readily accessible to the American people by avoiding excessive concentration of licenses by disseminating licenses among a wide variety of applicants.”4 As Starry explains, spectrum holdings limitations have played an important role in the FCC’s competition policy for decades.5

GeoLinks agrees with Starry that establishing individual bidders’ limits in advance of an auction promotes transparency and provides all bidders with information necessary to facilitate rational bidding. 6 To the contrary, analyzing spectrum holdings after an auction will require winning bidders that exceed the threshold to divest excess spectrum after-the-fact. From a policy perspective, this creates a system where auction winners who have knowingly purchased more spectrum than they are allowed to have, get the opportunity to pick and choose the best spectrum and discard the rest. This creates the need for the FCC to reevaluate what spectrum will be left over after negotiating individual relinquishments and potentially create the need for an additional spectrum auction to license whatever remains in the band. The result is a system in which large incumbents with large amounts of capital are able to secure any spectrum they want with no need to account for what they already have.

Chairman Pai has stated that the Commission “ha[s] no business picking winners and losers in the marketplace.”7 However, creating a policy that allows large carriers to disregard spectrum limits would do just that. As Untied States Cellular Corporation explains, history has shown that unless large carriers are subject to reasonable spectrum acquisition restraints both pre and post-auction, they are likely to pursue mmW spectrum acquisition relentlessly, which will shut out smaller carriers who might otherwise bid on available spectrum.8 For these reasons, GeoLinks urges the Commission to retain pre-auction review and limitations on spectrum holdings.

B. The Commission Must Ensure a Robust Market for Equipment in the 24 GHz Band

In addition to ensuring that new and innovative technologies are capable of accessing spectrum resources, GeoLinks agrees with Starry that the Commission must also ensure “that all licensees in new spectrum bands have access to equipment ecosystems through effective operability requirements.”9 GeoLinks has previously advocated for spectrum policies that allow smaller service providers the ability to leverage market factors to drive down the cost of equipment. Unlike large incumbent carriers, smaller service providers lack the market power to ensure affordable equipment is available for all spectrum bands. As Starry explains, without operability requirements, these large carriers will be incentivized to inhibit competitive access to network equipment and devices. 10 This may result in underdevelopment of the band, a problem that the Commission has been dealing with in the 700 MHz band for years.11 For these reasons, GeoLinks urges the Commission establish operability requirements in the 24 GHz band.

C. The Commission Should Allow Sharing in the 37-37.6 GHz Band

In its opening comments, CTIA advocates for reconsideration of the Commission’s decision to allocate the 37-37.6 GHz Band on a coordinated basis.12 Specifically, CTIA urges the Commission to make this band available on a licensed basis claiming that an experimental sharing regime would be premature.13 However, GeoLinks believes that it is premature to suggest that the Commission close this band off to experimental use when mobile carriers themselves are not able to state explicitly how much spectrum them will need to roll out their 5G services.14 Instead, GeoLinks urges the Commission to finalize rules for shared access to the 37-37.6 GHz band to allow new technologies an opportunity to access these spectrum resources.

III. CONCLUSION

In conclusion, GeoLinks urges the Commission to ensure that there is competitive access to the mmW bands and associated equipment ecosystem by creating policies that ensure spectrum resources are available on a competitive basis without favoring one technology over others.

 

Respectfully submitted,

GEOLINKS, LLC

/s/ Skyler Ditchfield, Chief Executive Officer

/s/ Melissa Slawson, General Counsel/ V.P of Government Affairs and Education

February 22, 2018

 

1. Use of Spectrum Bands Above 24 GHz, et al., Second Report and Order, Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Order on Reconsideration, and Memorandum Opinion and Order, 32 FCC Rcd 10988 (2017) (“Frontiers Second FNPRM”).
2 See Comments of Starry, Inc., GN Docket No. 14-177, et al. (filed Jan. 23, 2018) (“Starry Comments”), at 2.
3 Frontiers Second FNPRM at para. 105
4 See Section 309(j) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.
5 See Starry Comments at 2.
6 See Starry Comments at 3.
7 See Ajit Pai, Chairman, FCC Remarks on Restoring Internet Freedom (Nov. 28, 2017) (“We have no business picking winners and losers in the marketplace”).
8 See Comments of United States Cellular Corporation, GN Docket No. 14-177, et al. (filed Jan. 23, 2018), at 8.
9 Starry Comments at 5.
10 See Starry Comments at 5.
11 See Id.
12 Comments of CTIA, GN Docket No. 14-177, et al. (filed Jan. 23, 2018), at 10.
13 See Id.
14 See Comments of Verizon, GN Docket No. 14-177, et al. (filed Jan. 23, 2018), at 5, “It is too early to know how much bandwidth operators will need to provide customers with innovative 5G services.”
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Promoting Investment in the 3550-3700 MHz Band

Before the

Federal Communications Commission

Washington, DC  20554

 

In the Matter of

Promoting Investment in the 3550-3700 MHz Band

GN Docket No. 17-258

 

COMMENTS OF CALIFORNIA INTERNET, L.P. DBA GEOLINKS

 

California Internet, L.P. DBA GeoLinks (“GeoLinks” or the “Company”) submits these reply comments in response to comments filed on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order Terminating Petitions (“Notice and Order”) issued October 24, 2017.

I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

As noted in its opening comments, GeoLinks understands that the 3.5 GHz Band is gaining traction as “one of the core mid-range bands for 5G network deployments throughout the world” and acknowledges that any rules the Commission develops for this band will be primarily for 5G mobile wireless use.[1]  However, this band has propagation characteristics that make it optimal for other wireless technologies that can be deployed quickly to start closing the digital divide.

Sparsely populated rural areas are not well suited for traditional, wired broadband service given the cost to build and deliver a cable/ fiber-based network.  However, fixed wireless broadband technology can provide high-speed broadband to consumers in these areas for a fraction of the cost.  For this reason, it is imperative that spectrum resources be allocated in ways that allow fixed wireless ISPs to deploy services to these regions.

Chairman Pai has stated that the Commission “ha[s] no business picking winners and losers in the marketplace.”[2]  Therefore, the Commission must be careful to avoid creating spectrum policies that favor some technologies over others.  Currently, mobile wireless carriers have ample spectrum resources available to them.  However, smaller providers struggle to acquire even a fraction of what these large carriers already have.  For these reasons, GeoLinks urges the Commission to develop rules for the 3.5 GHz Band that support 5G deployment without closing off the band to other uses, such as fixed wireless service.

II. DISCUSSION

A. PAL Allocation Should be Done in a Way that Promotes Efficient Spectrum Use in Both Urban and Rural Areas

GeoLinks has consistently urged the Commission to consider the unique characteristics of rural vs. more populated urban areas when determining how those areas should be licensed to ensure the most efficient use of the spectrum.  To achieve this goal, GeoLinks makes the following suggestions with respect to PAL license areas and license terms.

As an initial matter, in reviewing comments filed in this docket and assessing the unique characteristics of the license areas that GeoLinks would seek to apply for, the Company believes that PALs at the county-level may strike a balance between PEAs and census tracts.  As Open Technology Institute at New America and Public Knowledge (“OTI & PK”) explains, many PEAs include both major metropolitan markets and rural areas, that may include hundreds of small towns.[3]  For example, PEA 2 in California has a population of nearly 20,000 while PEA 192 has a population of just over 300,000.[4]  In these situations, it makes little sense to treat all PEAs the same for the purposes of allocating spectrum licenses.

Meanwhile, GeoLinks agrees with commenters that census tracts are too small for general PAL assignments.[5]  In part, this is because wireless network areas are difficult to limit to census tract boundaries in urban areas (where census tracts are smaller than in rural areas).  Many times, depending on specific engineering, a fixed wireless transmitter will have the capability to extend a wireless broadband signal several miles, often covering numerous census tracts, especially in urban areas.  Assignment of PALs at the census tract level in urban areas could lead to carrier interference between PAL license areas and the need for expensive management processes to avoid such interference.  As NCTA points out, by reducing the total license areas from 74,000 census tracts to approximately 3,150 counties, the Commission would significantly simplify license management burdens and border coordination issues.[6]  GeoLinks is inclined to agree that county-sized licenses would also support rural deployment better than PEAs.[7]

Many commenters assert that counties are still too large and that awarding PAL licenses on a county-basis will stifle the ability for smaller carriers to obtain PALs in the 3.5 GHz band and will not promote deployment to rural areas.  GeoLinks believes that if PALs are awarded at the county level, subject to strict buildout requirements (as discussed in further detail below), and if the FCC establishes robust relinquishment, partition and/ or disaggregation rules, large carriers only looking to serve a small portion of a county will either seek out other spectrum resources or engage in secondary market agreements quickly within PAL areas.

While GeoLinks supports the idea of PALs being issued at the county-level, generally, the Company still recognizes that counties may not present a perfect option for all parts of the country and urges the Commission to consider the unique characteristics of rural vs. more populated areas when determining final license areas.  Just as PEAs differ in size and population, so do some counties.  Especially in California, counties can consist of large metropolitan areas and vast stretches of rural areas.  In these counties, GeoLinks supports the adoption of a hybrid approach but agrees with NCTA that “the Commission should carefully evaluate prospective solutions to ensure that they would meet the Commission’s substantive goals.”[8]

In addition to allocation by county (or hybrid approach in rural areas), GeoLinks supports a longer PAL license term.  As explained in its opening comments, the Company believes that longer terms will allow license holders time to better utilize the spectrum.  Specifically, the expectation of extended use of a specific band of spectrum creates certainty that will allow PAL holders to work with equipment manufacturers to develop and produce new equipment at lower costs.  These lower costs will, in turn, allow license holders to invest more resources into their networks to promote higher speeds, additional roll out, etc.  Shorter license periods, however, will have the opposite effect.  As AT&T points out, the current three-year license term (paired with no right of renewal), creates the risk that PAL licensees will face stranded investments.[9]  As T-Mobile notes, a ten-year term “would afford each licensee sufficient time to design and acquire the necessary equipment and devices and to deploy facilities across the license area.”[10]

Rural Wireless Association (“RWA”) asserts that “lengthening the PAL license term to ten years will result in spectrum lying fallow in rural areas and further deprive small and rural providers of access to protected 3.5 GHz.”[11]  GeoLinks agrees that without the appropriate checks and balances, this could be a risk.  Specifically, GeoLinks agrees with NCTA that longer, renewable terms also require appropriate performance obligations.[12]  GeoLinks asserts that PAL licensees must be subject to strict build out and reporting requirements (as discussed in further detail below).  If a license holder fails to meet these robust buildout requirements, the remaining portion of the PAL area should be subject to relinquishment, partition and/ or disaggregation to allow another service operator the opportunity to utilize the PAL for the remainder of the PAL license term.  When the PAL license term expires, the secondary PAL license holder(s) should get the first right of renewal for the PAL areas held.

B. The Commission Should Ensure Adequate PAL Allocation Among Technology Types to Promote Competition

Section 309(j) of the Communications Act of 1934 directs the Commission to promote “the development and rapid deployment of new technologies, products, and services for the benefit of the public,” while “disseminating licenses among a wide variety of applicants” and “avoiding excessive concentration of licenses.”[13]  As Google explains, with the right rules, PAL spectrum can support both established wireless and new investors with novel business models.[14]  GeoLinks agrees that “opening PAL spectrum to a wider set of potential licensees advances greater overall intensity of use, supports additional economic activity, and avoids the hazards that follow when government auction rules artificially limit access to spectrum that otherwise would support many business models.”[15]

GeoLinks asserts that PALs should be assigned in a way that ensures a mixture of technologies are able to utilize the 3.5 GHz Band.  One way in which the Commission can ensure competition within the 3.5 GHz Band is by keeping its existing spectrum aggregation limit in place.  While AT&T urges the elimination of the 40 MHz spectrum aggregation limit,[16] GeoLinks maintains that allocating more than 40 MHz of spectrum to one PAL holder will essentially close off the band to any other provider that could use that spectrum to provide high-speed broadband service.[17]  Moreover, allocating more than 40 MHz to one PAL holder that is not positioned to utilize the band immediately (e.g. a mobile wireless carrier planning to utilize the band for future 5G services) could mean that the 3.5 GHz Band would not be utilized fully for an indefinite amount of time.  GeoLinks agrees with OTI & PK that package bids be limited to three or at most four of the PALs (30-40 MHz).[18]

C. The Commission Cannot Solely Rely on Secondary Markets to Avoid Spectrum Warehousing or Underutilization of Spectrum in the 3.5 GHz Band

AT&T asserts that “allowing for partitioning and disaggregation will alleviate concerns that licensing on a PEA basis will result in underutilized spectrum.”[19]  However, as Google explains, “history confirms that the Commission’s partitioning and disaggregation rules, while sound, cannot be relied upon to promote access to spectrum for non-traditional or rural licensees. According to Commission records, the large wireless carriers who typically win mobile-ready spectrum in auctions only rarely engage in secondary market transactions with smaller entities, much less entities other than established telecommunications companies.”[20]

GeoLinks agrees with numerous commenters that the FCC cannot rely on the secondary marketplace alone if PALs are granted for larger geographic areas.[21]  However, GeoLinks believes that the secondary marketplace is a viable solution IF PALs are subject to strict build out and reporting requirements and the threat of forced relinquishment, partition and/ or disaggregation for failure to meet those requirements.

In developing policies surrounding allocation of PAL licenses in the 3.5 GHz band, GeoLinks urges the Commission to develop strict buildout and reporting requirements for PAL licensees.  As stated in its opening comments, the Company suggests that the Commission require license holders to provide status updates regarding their deployment/ network improvements within the 3.5 GHz Band by census block and reporting on a quarterly basis for the first year of the initial license period or renewal and annually thereafter.[22]

With respect to buildout metrics, GeoLinks strongly opposes T-Mobile’s proposal that the Commission adopt a performance requirement of coverage to only 40% of the population for licenses in the 3.5 GHz band.[23]   As OTI & PK notes, if build-out requirements are based on population, mobile carriers would satisfy them simply by building out almost solely in the high-density and/ or high-ARPU areas where the economic returns justify putting spectrum to work.[24]   GeoLinks asserts that the Commission must create buildout requirements that ensure the 3.5 GHz band is utilized in all areas of the PAL license areas, regardless of population density.  Failure to implement such requirements will only serve to ensure that large swaths of spectrum go unused; a concept that runs contrary to the Commission’s efforts to close the digital divide.

As stated in GeoLinks’ opening comments, minimum buildout requirements should be set high enough to ensure that unserved areas (if applicable) within the license area are not left behind.[25]  As such, GeoLinks suggests that the Commission implement buildout requirements based on locations within the PAL license area.

Moreover, the Commission should establish robust relinquishment, partition, and disaggregation processes for situations where buildout requirements are not met.  Similar to the RWA’s suggestion that unused PAL areas should be subject to a “keep-what-you-serve” standard at the time of renewal, GeoLinks suggests that this be taken a step further to ensure anything unserved within a reasonable time (i.e. one year from PAL assignment) can become available for reassignment by the Commission.[26]

GeoLinks believes that these buildout and reporting requirements, pair with a relinquishment, partition, and disaggregation process will ensure that large carriers either refrain from bidding on PAL areas in which they know they cannot or will not meet the build out requirements or ensure that these carriers seek out options for partitioning a portion of the PAL to another carrier expeditiously (before buildout requirements kick in).  However, in advocating for these safeguards, GeoLinks asserts that PAL holders should not be able to set the price or terms for transferring unused spectrum to an interested party.  GeoLinks firmly believes that if a PAL holder is not willing to utilize the 3.5 GHz Band throughout the entire license area or does not meet certain mandatory buildout requirements (such as those suggested above), the holder should not reap a benefit.

D. If the Commission Utilizes an Incentive Auction to Assign PAL Licenses in the 3.5 GHz Band, it Should Create a Process to Ensure All Types of Service Providers Can Participate

GeoLinks has previously advocated that incentive auctions should not be the preferred mechanism for determining how spectrum is licensed in all bands.[27]  This is because incentive auctions tend to only benefit large companies with large amounts of capital to spend and incentivize bidders to purchase spectrum resources as an asset for future use rather than for immediate use.  This process, while not necessarily designed to, picks “winners and losers” by creating a playing field that only a limited number of parties can participate in.  GeoLinks understands that the Commission will likely utilize the auction process to license PALs in the 3.5 GHz band.  In light of this, and to ensure that PAL licenses can be obtained by “both established wireless and new investors with novel business models,”[28] GeoLinks recommends that the Commission establish a set of bidding credits designed to put potential bidders on equal footing.  Some suggestions for bidding credits include the following.

i. Small Service Provider Bidding Credit

Many small and mid-sized service providers lack the large amounts of capital generally necessary to compete in spectrum incentive auctions leaving them behind and unable to compete with larger carriers in the same spectrum bands.  This disadvantages rural areas where many of these small and mid-sized carriers operate (and wish to invest in additional broadband deployment).  In order to put these smaller operators on equal footing with larger operators, GeoLinks suggests a generous bidding credit for carriers with fewer than 10,000 customers.[29]

ii. Rural Broadband Bidding Credit

GeoLinks believes that the 3.5 GHz band is well suited for a multitude of rural broadband services that will help in the Commission’s goal of closing the digital divide.  However, this will only occur if the policies surrounding allocation of the 3.5. GHz band PALs are crafted in a way that encourages such deployment.  This includes giving smaller service providers, that may focus their service offerings on rural areas, opportunities to obtain spectrum sufficient to offer high speed broadband to these areas – smaller providers that likely do not have the capital that the large mobile carriers do in order to afford such spectrum.  GeoLinks suggests that the Commission create a generous bidding credit for service providers that commit to serve rural areas within the PAL license area.  Specifically, GeoLinks suggests that those service providers that bid on rural areas, including areas containing CAF II Auction eligible areas, and commit to serving a certain number of locations within such area be given such a bidding credit.  The Company also suggests that such bidding credits be subject to ongoing reporting regarding rural service deployment over the 3.5 GHz band.

iii. Connect America Fund Phase II Awardee Bidding Credit

In its opening comments, GeoLinks proposed that Connect America Fund Phase II (“CAF II”) awardees (or, depending on timing, CAF II applicants that pass the short form phase of the application process) that rely on spectrum resources be allowed “first crack” at a PAL covering applicable eligible areas.[30]  GeoLinks believes that this “first crack” could be in the form of a bidding credit applicable towards PALs in the 3.5 GHz Band.  As awardees will already be committing to serve 95% of rural locations within eligible CAF II areas, this credit could be paired with the rural bidding credit.

iv. Wholesale Bidding Credit

Another bidding credit GeoLinks suggests is a credit for those PAL holders that are willing to offer access to PAL spectrum on a wholesale basis to other service providers, either in the same areas as the PAL holder offers its services or in areas throughout the PAL license areas where the PAL holder cannot or does not wish to deploy services.

v. PAL Awardee Payment Options

In addition to the bidding credits set forth above, and any others the Commission may determine are in the public interest, GeoLinks suggests that the Commission implement a process by which smaller PAL recipients can pay for their spectrum licenses in installments over the length of the PAL period.  This will allow bidders with less upfront capitol to expend on spectrum (generally small and mid-sized carriers) to acquire and pay as the spectrum is utilized and services are deployed.  GeoLinks suggests that failure of a PAL recipient to make timely payments under such a payment option should result in relinquishment or forced relinquishment, partition and/ or disaggregation.  GeoLinks suggests that applicants who qualify for the “small Service Provider” bidding credit, for example, should qualify for extended payment.

III. CONCLUSION

In conclusion, GeoLinks urges the Commission to adopt rules with respect to spectrum licensing in the 3.5 GHz band that do not close off the band to fixed wireless service providers, ensure efficient use of the band, and promote broadband deployment and competition in both urban and rural areas.

 

Respectfully submitted,

GEOLINKS, LLC

 

/s/ Skyler Ditchfield, Chief Executive Officer

/s/ Melissa Slawson, General Counsel/ V.P of Government Affairs and Education

 

January 29, 2018

[1] Notice and Order at para. 2.
[2] See Ajit Pai, Chairman, FCC Remarks on Restoring Internet Freedom (Nov. 28, 2017) (“We have no business picking winners and losers in the marketplace”).
[3] See Comments of Open Technology Institute at New America and Public Knowledge, GN Docket No. 17-258 (filed Dec. 28, 2017), at 23 (“OTI & PK Comments”).
[4] Data based on 2010 Census data, available at https://www.fcc.gov/oet/maps/areas (last visited January 29, 2018).
[5] See generally Comments of AT&T Services, Inc., GN Docket No. 17-258 (filed Dec. 28, 2017) (“AT&T Comments”), Comments of United States Cellular Corporation, GN Docket No. 17-258 (filed Dec. 28, 2017), Comments of Mobile Future, GN Docket No. 17-258 (filed Dec. 28, 2017), Comments of T-Mobile USA, Inc., GN Docket No. 17-258 (filed Dec. 28, 2017) (“T-Mobile Comments”), etc.
[6] Comments of NCTA – the Internet & Television Association, GN Docket No. 17-258 (filed Dec. 28, 2017), at 4 (“NCTA Comments”).
[7] Id. at 5
[8] Id. at 9.
[9] AT&T Comments at 3, citing Comments of Ericsson, GN Docket No. 12-354 (filed July 24, 2017), at 6.
[10] T-Mobile Comments at 4, citing the Notice and Order at para 13.
[11] Comments of the Rural Wireless Association, GN Docket No. 17-258 (filed Dec. 28, 2017) at 7 (“RWA Comments”).
[12] See NCTA Comments at 13.
[13] 47 U.S.C. §309(j)(3).
[14] Comments of Google LLC, GN Docket No. 17-258 (filed Dec. 28, 2017), at 2 (“Google Comments”).
[15] Id. at 3; see also NCTA Comments at 4, “NCTA continues to believe that the Commission should design its licensing rules in this innovation band to enable investment by a wide variety of market participants.”
[16] AT&T Comments at 7.
[17] See Comments of GeoLinks, GN Docket 17-258 (filed Dec. 28, 2017) at 3 (“GeoLinks Comments”).
[18] See OTI & PK Comments at 6.
[19] AT&T Comments at 8
[20] Google Comments at 19.
[21] See e.g. Comments of the General Elective Company, GN Docket No. 17-258 (filed Dec. 28, 2017), at 23 and OTI & PK Comments at 22.
[22] GeoLinks Comments at 4.
[23] T-Mobile Comments at 7.
[24] OTI & PK Comments at 20.
[25] GeoLinks Comments at 5.
[26] See RWA Comments at 10.
[27] Reply Comments of GeoLinks, GN Docket N. 17-183 (filed Nov. 15, 2017), at 3.
[28] Google Comments at 2.
[29] This suggestion goes beyond the bidding credits implemented in 600 MHz Band (Incentive Auction), See Updating Part 1 Competitive Bidding Rules et al., WT Docket No. 14-170 et al., Report and Order, 30 FCC Rcd 7493 (2017).  GeoLinks is open to other metrics for determining what is considered a “small service provider” but believes that the metric should be smaller than what was proposed for the 600 MHz Band or that the bidding credit should increase incrementally the fewer customers a service provider has.
[30] GeoLinks Comments at 7.
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Promoting Investment in the 3550-3700 MHz Band

Before the Federal Communications Commission Washington, DC 20554

In the Matter of Promoting Investment in the 3550-3700 MHz Band Petition for Rulemaking Regarding the Citizens Broadband Radio Service

GN Docket No. 17-258 RM-11788 (Terminated) RM-11789 (Terminated

COMMENTS OF CALIFORNIA INTERNET, L.P. DBA GEOLINKS

California Internet, L.P. DBA GeoLinks (“GeoLinks” or the “Company”) submits these comments in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order Terminating Petitions (“Notice and Order”) issued October 24, 2017.

I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

GeoLinks is proud to service the largest coverage area of any single fixed wireless Internet service provider (“ISP”) in the state the California.  While the Company had previously focused on business and enterprise customers, in 2016 GeoLinks expanded its customer base to include nearly 30 rural school districts and surrounding communities throughout the state that previously had not had access to any high-speed broadband service.  As the Company expands, it strives to reach more unserved and underserved areas within California and beyond.  GeoLinks provides these comments to urge the Commission to adopt rules with respect to the 3550-3700 MHz Band (the “3.5 GHz Band”) that promote competition and adopt general spectrum practices that allow small and mid-sized ISPs to deliver competitive high-speed broadband services to help close the digital divide.

As GeoLinks has explained before, millions of Americans lack what is, by today’s standards, considered high-speed broadband access – especially in rural areas. Sparsely populated rural areas are not well suited for traditional, wired broadband service given the cost to build and deliver a cable/ fiber-based network.  However, fixed wireless broadband technology can provide high-speed broadband to consumers in these areas for a fraction of the cost.  For this reason, it is imperative that spectrum resources be allocated in ways that allow fixed wireless ISPs to deploy services to these regions.

GeoLinks understands that the 3.5 GHz Band is gaining traction as “one of the core mid-range bands for 5G network deployments throughout the world” and acknowledges that any rules the Commission develops for this band will be primarily for 5G mobile wireless use.[1]  However, this band is also well suited for other wireless technologies that can be deployed quickly to start closing the digital divide.  GeoLinks urges the Commission to develop rules for this band that support 5G deployment without closing off the 3.5 GHz Band to other uses, such as fixed wireless service.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Licenses Should Be Granted in a Manner that Promotes Competition

In its comments on the Public Notice issued June 22, 2017, GeoLinks supported a longer PAL license term.[2]  The Company believes that longer terms will allow license holders time to better utilize the spectrum.  Specifically, the expectation of extended use of a specific band of spectrum creates certainty that will allow license holders to work with equipment manufacturers to develop and produce new equipment at lower costs.  These lower costs will, in turn, allow license holders to invest more resources into their networks to promote higher speeds, additional roll out, etc.  However, in supporting these longer license terms, GeoLinks urged the Commission to ensure that any licenses granted in the 3.5 GHz Band are allocated in ways that allow for robust competition.[3]  Specifically, spectrum resources should not be available to only those companies with large amounts of capital or those who would purchase it as an asset with no intention of utilizing it to its full potential.

To ensure such competition can flourish within the 3.5 GHz Band and that it can be used as a tool to help close the digital divide, GeoLinks suggests the following approaches:

i. The Commission Should Ensure Adequate PAL Allocation to Promote Competition

The Commission should consider the role various technologies may play with the 3.5 GHz Band and ensure PALs are allocated in ways that promote competition.  Fixed wireless ISPs can offer a competitive choice to traditional, wired broadband service providers for a fraction of the cost.  These technologies can be rolled out quickly and are the most cost-effective way to connect unserved consumers throughout the country.  Allocating PALs within the 3.5 GHz Band in a way that allows these technologies to compete will help ensure the Commission’s stated goal of promoting competition.

One way in which the Commission can ensure competition within the 3.5 GHz Band is by keeping its existing spectrum aggregation limit in place.  In the Notice and Order, the Commission asks whether it should modify or remove its current 40 MHz spectrum aggregation limit.[4]  GeoLinks asserts that allocating more than 40 MHz of spectrum to one PAL holder will essentially close off the band to any other provider that could use that spectrum to provide high-speed broadband service.  Moreover, allocating more than 40 MHz to one PAL holder that is not positioned to utilize the band immediately (e.g. a mobile wireless carrier planning to utilize the band for future 5G services) could mean that the 3.5 GHz Band would not be utilized fully for an indefinite amount of time.  The Commission should reject any rule changes that could promote inefficient use of spectrum or spectrum warehousing.  Along this vein, the Commission should also create rules to ensure that an entity cannot circumvent this aggregation limit by acquiring another PAL license holder.  In the case of an acquisition, the remaining PAL holder should be required to relinquish any spectrum in excess of 40 MHz in the band within the specific geographic license area.

In addition, PALs should be distributed in a way that ensures a mixture of technologies are able to utilize the 3.5 GHz Band.  Specifically, GeoLinks suggests that the Commission create a licensing scheme that distributes PALs amongst technology types as equally as possible.  For example, if mobile wireless service providers and fixed wireless ISPs apply for PALs within the same geographic area, the Commission should ensure that both types of technologies are able to obtain PALs in that area.  In other words, the Commission should not let one technology type dominate the entire band within a geographic area.  This will help ensure that the specific characteristics of the 3.5 GHz Band are utilized in more efficient and technology neutral manner.

ii. The Commission Should Require PAL Holders to Meet Rigorous Performance Requirements Focused on the Deployment of High-Speed Broadband to Unserved Areas

In the Notice and Order, the Commission asks whether “if we adopt longer term, renewable PALs, it would serve the public interest to adopt certain performance requirements to ensure that the spectrum is put to its best use in an efficient and effective manner.”[5]  As an initial matter, GeoLinks believes that any spectrum license should carry with it the requirement to serve the public interest.  Spectrum is, first and foremost, a public resource and should be allocated accordingly.  GeoLinks asserts that PALs should be awarded in a way that promotes the Commission’s interests in closing the digital divide.

GeoLinks proposes that the Commission implement a requirement to provide broadband service over the 3.5 GHz Band to some minimum portion of the geographic license area within a reasonable time frame (regardless of how large or small the license area may be).  Specifically, GeoLinks recommends that this minimum be set high enough to ensure that unserved areas (if applicable) within the license area are not left behind.  In addition, if a PAL is renewed, it should carry a new set of buildout or network improvement requirements to ensure PAL holders do not sit on spectrum licenses without fully utilizing them.

GeoLinks urges the Commission to require license holders to provide status updates regarding their deployment/ network improvements within the 3.5 GHz Band by census block.  Reporting should be required on a quarterly basis for the first year of the initial license period or renewal and annually thereafter.  In addition, the Commission should develop rules to require relinquishment, partition, or disaggregation of the PAL if deployment requirements are not met (as discussed in more detail below). These requirements will alleviate the risk of spectrum warehousing within any given license area and encourage rapid deployment of high-speed broadband by license holders.

iii. If PAL Holders are Unable or Unwilling to Fully Utilize a PAL, the Commission Should Create Rules to Allow (or Require) that Excess Spectrum to be Partitioned and Disaggregated

As noted above, spectrum is a public resource and it should be managed in a way that more effectively and efficiently serves the public need.  Regardless of what license area the Commission may adopt, the Commission must implement rules for PAL holders that prohibit spectrum warehousing.

GeoLinks believes that it will be inevitable that some PAL holders may be unable or unwilling to expand their services over the 3.5 GHz Band throughout an entire license area.  Without rules to allow (or require) relinquishment, partition and/ or disaggregation of the remaining license area, PAL holders could merely sit on the unused spectrum.  The likely result would be that urban areas within a license area would receive the benefit of services offered over the Band while rural areas would be left behind and spectrum that could otherwise be used for broadband deployment would be left unused.  To avoid this potential problem, the Commission should create rules that would allow other interested parties to acquire the unused portion of the PAL license areas.

In making this recommendation, GeoLinks does not advocate that PAL holders should be able to set the price or terms for transferring unused spectrum to an interested party.  GeoLinks firmly believes that if a PAL holder is not willing to utilize the 3.5 GHz Band throughout the entire license area or does not meet certain mandatory buildout requirements (such as those suggested above), the holder should not reap a benefit.  GeoLinks urges the Commission to create rules that discourage spectrum warehousing by ensuring that PAL holders do not obtain a windfall for poor spectrum management and allowing other interested parties to obtain unused spectrum resources.

B. Geographic Areas Should Be Determined in a Manner that Promotes Competition and Accounts for Regional Broadband Needs

In its comments on the Public Notice, GeoLinks did not oppose the use of PEAs in licensing PALs but urged the Commission to consider the unique characteristics of rural vs. more populated areas when determining how those areas should be licensed.  Specifically, GeoLinks suggested that the Commission consider whether rural areas would benefit more from using smaller geographic areas (such as by census tract or county) vs. PEA if it would ensure more timely broadband access to rural communities.

PEAs differ in size as well as in urban vs. rural make up.  For example, PEA 2 in Southern California,[6] encompasses very populous areas like Los Angeles and Orange Counties as well as large rural areas that are currently deemed “unserved” by high-speed broadband such as San Bernardino and Kern Counties.[7]  Conversely, PEA 192 is only comprised of Cumberland County, NC, which encompasses Fayetteville.  These PEAs are undoubtedly very different and a licensing scheme appropriate for one would not necessary be appropriate for the other.

GeoLinks recommends that the Commission develop PAL licensing rules that account for the differences between areas like PEA 2 vs. PEA 192.  Logic dictates that areas such as PEA 2 should be divvyed up in a way that would account for differences between the different regions and sub-regions within it.  Because census areas are widely used and understood, division by census area (tract or even block group) would likely be easier to implement that some other metric.  However, the Company urges the Commission to use its expertise in assessing broadband deployment and population centers to develop a licensing scheme that is in the best interests of the specific area that license falls within.

Regardless of what geographic area(s) the Commission adopts for PALs within the 3.5 GHz Band, as discussed above, GeoLinks urges the Commission to develop and enforce strict buildout/ service requirements and develop robust relinquishment, partition and/ or disaggregation rules to ensure that license holders utilize the spectrum within the entire license area held.  This will help ensure that rural, sparsely populated areas that may not be attractive to some license holders are not left with no way to benefit from this band.

C. Connect America Fund Phase II Recipients Should Get Priority Access to PALs within Auction Award Areas

As GeoLinks has previously expressed to the Commission, the Company believes that the Connect America Fund Phase II Auction (“Phase II Auction”) presents an opportunity for the Commission to develop spectrum licensing policies specifically focused on unserved and rural areas.  Specifically, GeoLinks urged the Commission to allow Phase II Auction awardees the opportunity to obtain priority access to spectrum resources with which to serve eligible areas.  GeoLinks believes that this priority access could be considered in developing rules for the 3.5 GHz Band.

GeoLinks proposes that Phase II awardees (or, depending on timing, Phase II applicants that pass the short form phase of the application process) that rely on spectrum resources be allowed “first crack” at a PAL covering applicable eligible areas.  The 3.5 GHz Band offers a broadcast range that would allow fixed wireless ISPs such as GeoLinks the ability to provide high-speed broadband service across large rural areas with minimal tower construction.  Therefore, GeoLinks asserts that access to spectrum resources in this band (especially resources sufficient enough allow point-to-multipoint (“P2MP”) services) would ensure the speed tiers that the Commission seeks from Phase II applicants could be met at a fraction of the cost of traditional wired networks.  GeoLinks suggests that the Commission develop licensing rules for the 3.5 GHz Band that will maximize the benefit of the Phase II auction.

D. If the 3.5 GHz Band Will be Allocated Primarily for 5G Services, the Commission Should Allocate Other Spectrum Bands for Fixed Wireless Services

As stated above, GeoLinks asserts that the Commission should make the 3.5 GHz Band available to different technology types on an equal basis.  Doing so would allow consumers to benefit from different service offerings and ensure competition opportunities.  However, as noted, GeoLinks understands that the 3.5 GHz Band will be primarily be allocated for 5G mobile wireless use.  If that is the case, the Company urges the Commission to allocate other bands primarily for fixed wireless technology uses and implement rules similar to those proposed herein to ensure that spectrum is fully utilized.

As an initial matter, mobile wireless carriers have more spectrum than they need to meet current service requirements and 5G technology is still years from being fully developed and deployed.  It makes little sense to allocate most, if not all, of 3.5 GHz Band plus other mid-band spectrum plus the spectrum that wireless carriers already control to a technology that is still being developed and won’t be ready for deployment for an indefinite amount of time.  Instead, the Commission should develop spectrum allocation policies that allow for immediate deployment of high-speed broadband services, specifically in rural areas. These policies are imperative to closing the digital divide.

In the recent Restoring Internet Freedom Order, the Commission determined that “network investment is key to closing the digital divide, spurring competition and innovation that benefits consumers.”[8]  To reach this goal and spur this network investment, the Commission must create avenues by which competition can flourish and alternative providers can enter the market.  With respect to wireless technologies, this can be accomplished by making additional spectrum resources available.  Access to dedicated spectrum will allow fixed wireless ISPs to utilize clean spectrum connections to deliver robust, high-speed service.  Specifically, access to dedicated licenses for P2MP connections will allow for high-speed broadband connections to numerous locations from a single transmission point, resulting in additional bandwidth and deployment opportunities at a fraction of the cost of traditional, wired broadband services.  GeoLinks believes there are numerous bands well suited for P2MP technologies (in addition to the 3.5 GHz Band), including 3.7-4.2 GHz, 5.925-6.425 GHz, 10-11 GHz, and 23-24 GHz.[9]  The Company encourages the Commission to continue its work to develop new spectrum allocation policies and, in doing so, urges the Commission to ensure these policies create the competitive opportunities that will promote network investment.

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III. CONCLUSION

In conclusion, GeoLinks urges the Commission to adopt rules with respect to spectrum licensing in the 3.5 GHz band that do not close off the band to fixed wireless service providers, ensure efficient use of the band, prohibit spectrum warehousing, and promote broadband deployment and competition.

Respectfully submitted,

GEOLINKS, LLC

/s/ Skyler Ditchfield, Chief Executive Officer

/s/ Melissa Slawson, General Counsel/ V.P of Government Affairs and Education

December 28, 2017

 

 

[1] Notice and Order at para. 2.

[2] See Comments of California Internet, L.P. DBA GeoLinks, GN Docket No. 12-354 (filed August 8, 2017), at 2

[3] Id.

[4] Notice and Order at para 27.

[5] Notice and Order at para 17.

[6] PEA 2 is comprised of Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardina, San Luis Obispo Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties.

[7] See http://www.broadbandmap.ca.gov/ (last visited on December 22, 2017).

[8] Public Notice, “FCC Acts to Restore Internet Freedom; Reverses Title II Framework, Increases Transparency to Protect Consumers, Spur Investment, Innovation, and Competition,” WC Docket No. 17-108 (rel. Dec 14, 2017).

[9] In developing new spectrum policies, GeoLinks urges the Commission to undertake rulemakings to develop rules to allow for P2MP services in the 11 and 23 GHz bands (which are currently only for point-to-point services).  GeoLinks asserts that any new rules developed for any band should include the rigorous reporting and buildout requirements discussed herein and should set forth a process for relinquishment of any unused spectrum.

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Rural Service is Key to Bridging the Digital Divide

Rural Service is Key to Bridging the Digital Divide

Working with municipal stakeholders cuts costs, increases speed of rural deployments of the more than 30 million people in the United States without access to the internet, some 6 million of them are students, Skyler Dithfield, CEO of service provider Geolinks, told RCR Wireless News during the recent TC3 conference.

“I grew up with no internet in a rural area myself,” he explained. Once he was connected, access changed the way he approached his own educational experience. Years later, Ditchfield read an article about dozens of k-12 schools that were unconnected, had grant funding to fix the problem, “but no service providers stepped forward. We can do this,” he told himself.

Now Geolinks is one of the fastest-growing telecom companies in the country, according to the Inc. 5000 index. Specializing in rural connectivity, Geolinks provides service in Southern California and parts of Arizona.

In terms of deployment models, Ditchfield explained the benefits of working with government stakeholders to arrive at a cost-effective strategy with an emphasis on speed. “We’ve been working with schools, health care, libraries…how do we bring these different funding silos together?” By working with a cross-section of stakeholders, Geolinks arrived at a model where municipal assets can be leveraged to deploy “in one fell swoop. Right now it’s done on a bid-by-bid basis with all these different funding silos. It’s not cost effective to build the network in increments like that. We can come in and build the entire network, do it for a fraction of the cost, and much, much quicker.”

This is accomplished with a mixture of fiber and fixed wireless, including iterations like using TV white space—something being pushed by Microsoft. “It’s going to be conjoining those networks in the proper design and topology depending on the terrain, the density of housing, etc…to get not only a cost effective deployment, but also rapid.

So why is speed of deployment important? “We’ve got to get it done sooner rather than later. Every three or four years, we’re missing a generation of kids. The internet is going to give that opportunity to be the next great innovator. Think of all the advantages that’s going to bring to those people. We don’t lose a whole generation of children who miss out.”

To hear more from Geolinks, including the role of the 3.5 GHz CBRS band in delivering rural coverage, as well as the company’s focus on delivering multi-gigabit speeds using millimeter wave spectrum, check out this video interview.

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Expanding Flexible Use in Mid-Band Spectrum Between 3.7 and 24 GHz

Before the

Federal Communications Commission

Washington, DC 20554

In the Matter of

Expanding Flexible Use in Mid-Band Spectrum Between 3.7 and 24 GHz

GN Docket No. 17-183

REPLY COMMENTS OF CALIFORNIA INTERNET, L.P. DBA GEOLINKS

California Internet, L.P. dba GeoLinks, LLC (“GeoLinks” or the “Company”) submits these reply comments in response to certain comments filed on the Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) issued August 3, 2017 in the aforementioned docket.

Additional flexible access to mid-band spectrum would allow broadband providers to leverage wireless technologies to fill the gaps in the current broadband landscape. Fixed wireless technologies offer new opportunities to connect rural and unserved communities and offer competitive alternatives to incumbent providers in urban settings. GeoLinks submits these reply comments to provide input on potential opportunities for additional flexible access to mid-band spectrum.

DISCUSSION
Rules for the 3.7-4.2 GHz Band Should Be Changed to Promote Point-to-Multipoint Wireless Broadband Service
As explained in its opening comments, GeoLinks urges the Commission to structure a flexible use regime that will allow small and mid-sized wireless broadband providers to utilize mid-band spectrum for point-to-multipoint (“P2MP”) wireless broadband service. As commenters explain, the​ ​3.7–4.2​ ​GHz​ ​band​ ​is​ especially ​well-suited​ ​to​ ​support​ P2MP​ ​broadband​ ​access.[1] However, rule changes are needed to allow for this type of use in the 3.7-4.2 band.

GeoLinks agrees with commenters that the Commission should change its “full-band, full-arc” policy for licensing satellite earth stations.[2] As Microsoft states, the Commission “should initiate a process to update its rules regarding FSS earth stations so that they are protected only to the extent necessary to protect them from receiving harmful interference.”[3] More specifically, GeoLinks supports the BAC’s recommendation that the Commission could “modify its rules to permit FSS operators to retain their current licenses to operate across the entire 3700 – 4200 MHz band, but limit interference protection to the frequencies on which the earth station is actually operating at a given time.”[4] GeoLinks also supports commenters’ recommendation to clean up the FSS database.[5] If the database does reflect FSS earth stations that were never built or no longer exist, as asserted by several commenters, failure to update the information only serves to further limit use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.

The 3.7-4.2 GHz band Should Not Be Reserved for Mobile Wireless Use Only
GeoLinks disagrees with commenters that advocate that the 3.7-4.2 GHz band should be solely allocated for mobile wireless broadband use.[6] As an initial matter, GeoLinks fails to see how this type of allocation would help meet the Commission’s goals of expanding broadband deployment to unconnected Americans (especially in rural areas). As GeoLinks explains in its opening comments, P2MP connections offered via fixed wireless broadband service create opportunities to connect multiple users from one transmission point. With the appropriate spectrum allocation, fixed wireless providers can offer up to Gigabit+ P2MP connections of identical quality to fiber connections for a fraction of the cost.[7] This is something that cannot yet be accomplished over mobile broadband connections.

Additionally, allocation of this band for mobile wireless providers may not provide an immediate benefit to consumers like allocation for P2MP services would. T-Mobile states in its comments that designation of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for mobile broadband would “complement wireless carriers’ use of spectrum in adjacent bands.”[8] T-Mobile further states that some of this adjacent band spectrum “may be made available in the future.”[9] Moreover, Verizon explains that this band “can support the high bandwidth carriers required for data-heavy 5G services”[10] – a future technology that is still years from full deployment. While adjacent bands do promote efficiencies, the efficiencies touted by certain commenters are too forward looking to base spectrum policy for this band on at this time. A policy of setting aside rare spectrum resources for prospective purposes when they could be utilized immediately to connect underserved areas promotes inefficiency and runs contrary to the Commission’s goals of closing the digital divide. Instead, GeoLinks urges the Commission to create spectrum sharing policies for this band that will promote the deployment of highspeed P2MP broadband services.

An Auction Mechanism is Not Appropriate for Mid-Band Spectrum
Some commenters advocate that spectrum licenses in the mid-band should be offered via an incentive auction.[11] While auctions are effective for some spectrum bands, GeoLinks maintains its position that an auction mechanism is not appropriate for mid-band spectrum. First, incentive auctions tend to only benefit large companies with large amounts of capital to spend. Small to mid-sized fixed wireless providers have the potential to offer highspeed broadband services that can meet the Commission’s speed and deployment goals for a fraction of the cost of traditional, fiber-based service providers. Therefore, GeoLinks emphasizes that any spectrum licenses granted in the mid-band spectrum should be granted on a basis that will allow these companies to obtain and utilize them. Second, as discussed above, auctions incentivize bidders to purchase spectrum resources as an asset for future use rather than for immediate use.[12] To meet the Commission’s broadband deployment goals, spectrum policies should be developed in a way that promotes connectivity immediately.

GeoLinks urges the Commission to grant spectrum licenses for the mid-band in a way that immediately promotes efficient use and deployment of highspeed broadband services. Specifically, GeoLinks urges the Commission to use a “light licensed” or Part 101-type licensing structure, especially with respect to the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.

CONCLUSION
In conclusion, GeoLinks urges the Commission to develop spectrum policy for the mid-band spectrum that allows for the effective deployment of P2MP wireless broadband technologies.

Respectfully submitted,

GEOLINKS, LLC

/s/ Skyler Ditchfield, Chief Executive Officer

/s/ Melissa Slawson, General Counsel/ V.P of Government Sales and Education

[1] See Comments of the Broadband Access Coalition (“BAC”), GN Docket No. 17-183 (filed Oct. 2, 2017) (“BAC Comments”), at 1. See also Comments of Google LLC and Alphabet Access, GN Docket No. 17-183 (filed Oct. 2, 2017) (“Google Comments”), at 2.
[2] See Comments of Microsoft Corporation, GN Docket No. 17-183 (filed Oct. 2, 2017) (“Microsoft Comments”), at 3. See also BAC Comments at 8, and Comments of Verizon, GN Docket No. 17-183 (filed Oct. 2, 2017) (“Verizon Comments”), at 12.
[3] Microsoft Comments at 3.
[4] BAC Comments at 8.
[5] See Google Comments at 4-5 and Microsoft Comments at 3-4.
[6] Comments of T-Mobile USA, Inc., GN Docket No. 17-183 (filed Oct. 2, 2017) (“T-Mobile Comments”), at 7. See Comments of CTIA, GN Docket No. 17-183 (filed Oct. 2, 2017) (“CTIA Comments”) at 6.
[7] Specifically, spectrum allocation of at least 250 MHz in the mid-band would be ideal for these connections.
[8] T-Mobile Comments at 10.
[9] Id.
[10] Verizon Comments at 14.
[11] See CTIA Comments at 5. See, generally, T-Mobile Comments.
[12] See FN 9, supra.

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Connect America Fund Phase II, Auction Connect America Fund

Before the Federal Communications Commission
Washington, DC 20554
In the Matter of Connect America Fund Phase II Auction Connect America Fund
AU Docket No. 17-182 | WC Docket No. 10-90

REPLY COMMENTS OF GEOLINKS

California Internet, L.P. DBA GeoLinks (“GeoLinks” or the “Company”) submits these reply comments in response to comments filed on the Public Notice issued August 4, 2017 in the aforementioned dockets.

I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

GeoLinks is proud to service the largest coverage area of any single fixed wireless Internet service provider in the state the California. As the Company expands, it strives to reach unserved and rural areas within California and beyond, including schools, libraries and residential areas. GeoLinks provides these reply comments in response to comments filed on the proposed procedures to be used in the Connect America Fund II Auction (“Phase II Auction”) and to emphasize the Company’s goal to promote robust broadband deployment in unserved and rural areas across the United States.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The Commission Should Craft a Straightforward Process for the Phase II Auction That Encourages Participation from Small and Mid-Sized Service Providers

GeoLinks commends the Commission on its efforts to develop rules for the pre-auction process for the Phase II Auction. The Company believes that the Phase II Auction has the potential to ensure broadband deployment to some of the most remote areas of the country and further the Commission’s goals of connecting rural America to high-speed broadband access. However, GeoLinks agrees with the American Cable Association (“ACA”) that aspects of the auction processes proposed in the Public Notice, although potentially sound in some ways, may have the effect of turning off many serious bidders and enabling only larger interests to win bids at higher bid amounts. To avoid this outcome, the Commission must develop pre-auction rules that encourage “vigorous bidding by multiple providers, thereby driving prices lower to efficient levels.”

i. The Proposed Financial Qualifications Metrics Posed in the Public Notice Will Not Promote Robust Bidding in the Phase II Auction

The Public Notice proposes a five-point financial qualification assessment scale to help staff determine whether an applicant satisfactorily demonstrates its financial qualifications prior to the Phase II Auction. Specifically, the Public Notice explains that an applicant with a score of less than three points on this scale “would warrant a more in-depth review of the full set of financial statements submitted with the short-form application, as well as other information, to determine whether the application is qualified to bid the Phase II auction.” While GeoLinks agrees with commenters that the Commission is wise to seek to ensure that an applicant is financially qualified prior to participating in the auction process, GeoLinks echoes the concern of ITTA – The Voice of America’s Broadband Providers (“ITTA”) that the Commission’s current proposal is “overkill with respect to companies that have provided voice and/or broadband services for at least two years.” GeoLinks urges the Commission to recognize that these financial qualification metrics, as proposed, will preclude many small to mid-sized wireless broadband providers from bidding on Phase II Auction areas – providers that are well suited to serve far-reaching rural areas, generally at a lower cost than traditional, large providers.

As an initial matter, GeoLinks agrees with ITTA’s assessment that providers of telecommunications infrastructure routinely leverage debt to fund significant capital expenditures to expand and upgrade networks. For this reason, most telecommunications carriers that invest in their own networks would not clear the thresholds for at least the last two of the metrics proposed by the Public Notice. This is true not just for small and mid-sized broadband providers, but for many large providers, as well. Specifically, as the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (“WISPA”) points out, “every price cap carrier that is already receiving CAF support would fail the Commission’s test.”

GeoLinks agrees with WISPA that “if large, well-established price cap carriers cannot meet the Commission’s test, then it is highly probable that a vast number of potential smaller bidders would similarly fall short.” It seems clear that if the same providers that were eligible to receive multi-million-dollar CAF awards during the first phase of funding disbursement would now be ineligible to receive CAF awards during a subsequent phase, the proposed process warrants further review. In addition, as WISPA explains, such a process would have the effect of rewarding applicants that do not routinely reinvest capital in their own networks.

GeoLinks believes that a better metric for measuring whether a broadband provider possesses the requisite financial qualifications for initial consideration for Phase II Auction funding would be a showing in the short-form application that the applicant has provided voice and/or broadband services for at least two years. As ITTA explains, this measure was previously adopted by the Commission in the Phase II Auction Order to “provide assurance to the Commission that the entities that intend to bid in the auction have some experience operating networks or are otherwise financially qualified,” and to “provide the Commission with sufficient assurance before the auction that an entity has at a minimum level demonstrated that it has the ability to build and maintain a network.”

ii. The Commission Should Not Restrict the Use of Consultants Among Small and Mid-Sized Broadband Service Providers

The Public Notice seeks comment on procedures to prevent competitive harm that could occur from coordinated bidding. As part of this effort, the Commission specifically explains that the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has expressed concerns regarding employing the same third-party consultant as other applicants despite the requirement that an applicant “takes appropriate steps to ensure that any third party it employs for advice pertaining to its bids of bidding strategies does not become a conduit for prohibited communications to other covered entities unless parties to a joint bidding agreement.” While GeoLinks supports the goal to prevent waste, fraud and abuse of Universal Service Fund resources, the company agrees with the Rural Wireless Association, Inc. (“RWA”) that the Commission must be careful not to adopt restrictions that limit the ability of small and mid-sized carriers to rely on qualified consultants when participating in the Phase II Auction.

As an initial matter, small to mid-sized providers generally do not have dedicated auction experts in house. To be on equal footing with larger carriers that may have such internal personnel assets, it is important that small to mid-sized applicants be able to turn to third-party expert assistance (consultants, experts, and attorneys) in developing their Phase II Auction applications. Given the Commission’s stated goal of encouraging participation in the Phase II Auction from a broad range of providers, the Commission should recognize that there are likely to be far more applicants than consultants with the requisite expertise to provide effective counsel. In order for providers to get the expert advice needed to prepare an effective application at affordable rates, GeoLinks agrees with WISPA, ACA, and NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association that the Commission should allow applicants to “share the costs of a single expert” in order to “encourage greater participation by smaller entities and allow them to compete against larger providers on a more level playing field.”

In order to mitigate the uncertainty that such consultant sharing may cause, GeoLinks supports WISPA’s suggestion that the Commission “adopt a ‘safe harbor’ of conduct that will be deemed to not be a violation of the Commission’s anti-collusion rules.” Specifically, the Company believes that so long as the consultant does not advise another applicant bidding for the same census block group, there should be a presumption that safeguards have been established to ensure the consultant is not acting as a conduit for prohibited communications between or among bidders, pursuant to the Commission’s rules.

B. The Commission Should Craft Spectrum Policy to Benefit Eligible Phase II Auction Areas

As expressed in its opening comments, GeoLinks believes that the Phase II Auction presents an opportunity for the Commission to develop spectrum licensing policies specifically focused on unserved and rural areas. To meet the goals of the Phase II Auction Order, GeoLinks urges the Commission to allow Phase II Auction awardees the opportunity to obtain priority access to spectrum resources with which to serve these eligible areas. Specifically, GeoLinks urges the Commission to i) allow awardees to obtain spectrum resources sufficient enough allow robust point-to-multipoint (“P2MP”) services (for gigabit plus capacity) award these resources on either a “light licensed” or Part 101 basis, and iii) create spectrum license periods and renewal options that allow for investment in the equipment necessary to utilize them. New policies to this effect will allow wireless broadband providers flexibility in how they develop and design networks to meet the needs of the Phase II Auction eligible areas resulting in better application proposals and lower costs.

In addition to this forward-looking spectrum policy, GeoLinks urges the Commission not to create policy that could potentially hinder WISP participation in the auction process. In the Public Notice, the Commission proposes to require each applicant that intends to use radio frequency spectrum to submit information regarding the sufficiency of the spectrum to which it has access to aid the Commission in determining applicants’ capability to meet the public interest requirements of the Phase II Auction. As several commenters have observed, the Commission only proposes to subject applicants proposing to use spectrum to this requirement. As WISPA points out, “the Commission is not proposing to require an applicant proposing to use fiber to demonstrate that it has access to rights-of-way or utility poles for the 10-year CAF Phase II support term,” which, WISPA explains, is “in contravention to the Commission’s stated desire to have technology neutral rules that promote participation by a broad range of bidders.” GeoLinks agrees with WISPA’s suggestion that the Commission can remedy this disparity “by establishing a ‘safe harbor’ for any applicant proposing to use any licensed or unlicensed bands that historically have been used to provide the performance tier selected.”

Along a similar vein, GeoLinks urges the Commission to reject the Rural Coalition’s suggestion that it should require applicants proposing to rely on spectrum (and only those applicants) to submit propagation maps of their planned coverage areas as part of their shortform applications. This proposed requirement is similarly contrary to the Commission’s technology neutral goals but goes one step further to suggest that WISPs are not capable of designing a network utilizing existing spectrum resources despite the fact that most WISPs have been doing so, very successfully, for many years now.

Additionally, GeoLinks agrees with WISPA’s suggestion that the Commission should explicitly state that applicants may propose to use more than one spectrum resource to provide the services proposed in their application(s). GeoLinks has had success using licensed spectrum in the 6 GHz and 11 GHz bands for point-to-point wireless connections for a variety of users but has also broadly utilized spectrum in the unlicensed bands to provide service to its customers – primarily in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. In addition, GeoLinks is in the process of assessing new bands that it might be able to use for expanded service offerings (especially P2MP services). The band (or bands) an applicant will choose to utilize depends on a variety of factors including distance between connections, available licenses, building and subscriber density, equipment options, etc. Just as a traditional wired broadband service provider may use different network elements to deliver service, wireless providers do the same and should, therefore, not be precluded from using all the tools available to them to craft a proposed service solution for eligible areas.

III. CONCLUSION

In conclusion, GeoLinks urges the Commission to develop rules for the Phase II Auction in ways that will provide the greatest benefit to unserved, rural areas. Specifically, GeoLinks urges the Commission to avoid auction procedures that will place small to mid-sized wireless broadband providers at a disadvantage and create spectrum policy to benefit Phase II Auction areas.

Respectfully submitted,

GEOLINKS, LLC

/s/ Skyler Ditchfield, Chief Executive Officer

/s/ Melissa Slawson, General Counsel/ V.P of Government Sales and Education

October 18, 2017

Footnotes that appear in the formal document:

1 Comments of American Cable Association, WC Docket No. 10-90 and AU Docket No. 17-182 (filed Sept. 18, 2017) (“ACA Comments”), at 5. 2 See ACA Comments at 6. 3 Public Notice at para. 58. 4 Comments of ITTA – The Voice of America’s Broadband Providers, WC Docket No. 10-90 and AU Docket No. 17-182 (filed Sept. 18, 2017) (“ITTA Comments”), at 2. 5 ITTA Comments at 4. 6 See ITTA Comments at 4. These metrics are: “(3) current ratio (i.e., current assets divided by current liabilities), where a ratio greater than or equal to 2 would receive one point; and (4) total equity divided by total capital, where a result greater or equal to 0.5 would receive one point.” Public Notice at para. 59. 7 Comments of Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, WC Docket No. 10-90 and AU Docket No. 17-182 (filed Sept. 18, 2017) (“WISPA Comments”), at v. 8 WISPA Comments at 22. 9 WISPA Comments at 22. 10 ITTA Comments at 2-3 citing Connect America Fund; ETC Annual Reports and Certifications; Rural Broadband Experiments, Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 31 FCC Rcd 5949, 5985, para. 106 (2016) (“Phase II Auction Order”).11 Public Notice at para. 21. 12 Comments of Rural Wireless Association, WC Docket No. 10-90 and AU Docket No. 17-182 (filed Sept. 18, 2017) (“RWA Comments”), at 4-5. 13 See WISPA Comments at 4-5, citing Letter from Ross Lieberman (ACA), Michael Romano (NTCA) and Stephen Coran (WISPA) to The Hon. Chairman Ajit Pai, et al., AU Docket No. 17-182 and WC Docket No. 10-90 (filed Sept. 15, 2017). 14 WISPA Comments at 5. 15 See WISPA Comments at 5. 16 GeoLinks notes that if small to mid-sized wireless providers were given priority licensing access to sufficient spectrum for P2MP services in the 3.7-4.2 GHz or 6.0-6.4 GHz bands, the Company estimates that these carriers could deliver gigabit+ service at 1/10th the cost of fiber providers (or less). 17 See Public Notice at para. 37. 18 WISPA Comments at 14-15. 19 WISPA Comments at 15. 20 See Comments of the Rural Coalition, WC Docket No. 10-90 and AU Docket No. 17-182 (filed Sept. 18, 2017), at 19. 21 WISPA Comments at 15-16. 22 These new bands include TV White Spaces spectrum, which GeoLinks agrees with Microsoft Corporation should be added to the list of suitable spectrum bands in Appendix B of the Public Notice. See Comments of Microsoft Corporation, WC Docket No. 10-90 and AU Docket No. 17-182 (filed Sept. 18, 2017), at 4-5.

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Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3550-3700 MHz Band

Before the Federal Communications Commission Washington, DC 20554

In the Matter of Petition for Rulemaking to Amend the Commission’s Rules Regarding the Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3550-3700 MHz Band

COMMENTS OF CALIFORNIA INTERNET, L.P. DBA GEOLINKS California Internet, L.P. DBA GeoLinks (“GeoLinks” or the “Company”) submits these comments in response to the Public Notice issued June 22, 2017.

I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

GeoLinks is proud to service the largest coverage area of any single fixed wireless Internet service provider (“ISP”) in the state the California. While the Company had previously focused on business and enterprise customers, in 2016, GeoLinks expanded its customer base to include nearly 30 rural school districts and surrounding communities throughout the state that previously had not had access to any high-speed broadband service. As the Company expands, it strives to reach more unserved and underserved areas within California and beyond. GeoLinks provides these comments to urge the Commission to adopt rules with respect to the 3550-3700 MHz Band that allow small and mid-sized ISPs to deliver competitive high-speed broadband services to help close the digital divide.

II. THE COMMISSION SHOULD DEVELOP RULES THAT ALLOW SMALL AND MID-SIZED SERVICE PROVIDERS TO OBTAIN SPECTRUM LICENSES

Millions of Americans lack what is, by today’s standards, considered high-speed broadband access – this is especially true in rural areas. Sparsely populated rural areas are not well suited for traditional, wired broadband service given the cost to build and deliver a cable/ fiber-based network. With the emergence and growing popularity of fixed wireless technology, new opportunities to connect rural communities are becoming available. However, there is a need for public policy that allows for these opportunities to become realities to benefit rural America.

Traditionally, fixed wireless ISPs have operated in unlicensed bands (i.e. 2.4 and 5 GHz). While this has allowed for successful deployment of internet services in some areas, the availability of unlicensed bands is not a one-size-fits-all option. Increased use of the unlicensed bands has created congestion over the bands that causes slower internet speeds and network interference. In order to ensure competition within the residential and rural broadband markets, the Commission must develop policies that provide for regulatory certainty among new technologies and non-traditional ISPs to drive innovation and investment.

GeoLinks urges the Commission to craft a spectrum licensing regime in the 3550-3700 MHz band that ensures that small to mid-size fixed wireless providers have the opportunity to obtain dedicated spectrum resources in order to ensure competition and diversity of services to meet the differing needs of differently situated communities (i.e. rural vs. urban).

A. Geographic Areas Should Be Determined in a Manner that Promotes Competition and Accounts for Regional Broadband Needs

Both T-Mobile and CTIA assert that Partial Economic Areas (“PEAs”) be used when licensing Priority Access Licenses (“PALs”) contending that using census tracts to license PALs would cause unnecessary complication and create the risk of interference.2 GeoLinks does not oppose the use of PEAs in licensing PALs. However, the Company urges the Commission to consider the unique characteristics of rural PEAs vs. more populated PEAs when determining how those areas should be licensed. Specifically, the Commission should consider whether rural areas would benefit more from using smaller geographic areas (such as by census tract or county) vs. PEA if it would ensure more timely broadband access to rural communities. Granting PALs on a smaller geographic basis in certain areas may encourage small to mid-sized companies to apply for specific rural areas where they may be better suited to provide high-speed broadband access or have more specialized, regional expertise over larger, national service providers. Moreover, the Commission should consider the risk of spectrum warehousing in areas where the entire PEA may be bid on but not utilized for broadband deployment or other uses. In these areas, the Commission may consider segmented PALs or spectrum sharing arrangements to ensure that this public resource is being used effectively. Regardless of the geographic area chosen, the Company urges the Commission to consider these factors when developing its rules to ensure the most efficient use of this spectrum band.

B. License Terms Should Be Granted in a Manner That Promotes Competition

GeoLinks agrees that a 10-year term is a reasonable term for licensing within this band. Short license periods create regulatory uncertainty that stifle investment in networks and equipment. This will all but ensure that this spectrum will not be utilized properly. However, longer license periods will drive down the cost of equipment and allow ISPs to invest in the network elements necessary to reach rural communities. Because development of networks over this band will take time to roll out, a longer license period will help ensure ISPs’ ability to realize return on investment and, in turn, re-investment in their networks. In creating these 10-year licensing schemes, however, GeoLinks urges the Commission to ensure that such licenses are allocated in ways that allow for robust competition. Specifically, spectrum resources should not be available to only those companies with large amounts of capital or those who would purchase it as an asset with no intention of utilizing it.

C. PALs Should Be Granted Regardless of the Number of Applicants

GeoLinks agrees with T-Mobile that all PALs should be available at auction, regardless of the number of applications received.3 In 2016 and 2017, GeoLinks was awarded grant funding through Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) to connect nearly 30 rural schools in some of the most remote parts of California. The Company worked with CENIC to provide service to these schools in areas where no other provider was willing to provide a high-speed broadband solution. This example is indicative of the fact that some areas may be of little to no interest to most carriers but may present a unique opportunity for one. The PAL licensing process should not be denied to the one interested carrier solely because there is only one. This will surely create gaps in rural, sparsely populated parts of the country that could benefit from an interested service provider. As T-Mobile suggests, if the single applicant is otherwise qualified, it should be granted a PAL.

III. CONCLUSION In conclusion, GeoLinks urges the Commission to adopt rules with respect to spectrum licensing in the 3550-3700 MHz band that allow small and mid-sized ISPs to deliver much-needed high-speed broadband services to rural and underserved areas.

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