Blog February 13, 2018

Licensing the 3.5 GHz band for Fast Deployment and More Wireless Competition including in Less Densely Populated Areas

Charter is continuously investing in our networks to better serve our customers across our 41 state footprint. A key part of these investments is delivering the next generation of broadband.

Last year, Charter committed to invest $25 billion in capital infrastructure by 2020. Already those investments have meant we’ve been able to extend the reach of our high-speed broadband network including to underserved and unserved homes and businesses in rural areas like Lakeview, Oregon, Meeker, Colorado, and communities across New York State.

In addition to bringing high-speed broadband to more places, we’re testing ways to integrate 4G LTE and 5G wireless capabilities with our existing broadband infrastructure to enhance the mobile service we plan to launch mid-year and to extend the reach of our existing network infrastructure

Some of these trials involve testing on the 3.5 GHz spectrum band. We believe fixed wireless access technologies at lower frequencies, like this band, can help provide cost-effective wireline-like connectivity and speeds to less densely populated areas. Our ongoing testing for fixed wireless has shown speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps, to allow Charter to extend Rural Broadband serviceability where wireline infrastructure does not exist. We’re currently working with vendors in six rural areas, including locations around Bakersfield, California and Coldwater, Michigan, to build on these early results.

We’re excited about the possibilities offered by the 3.5 GHz band provided the licensing rules are designed for quick investment and deployment by new entrants like Charter.  We agree with FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly’s comments that “the licensing is ripe for changes to be made.” Charter believes expanding the current PAL geographic licensing area from the too small census tracts to counties is the best way to promote quick network deployment and enhance wireless competition in communities across the country. But increasing the size of license areas to the too big Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), as some have proposed, would likely limit deployment in the 3.5 GHz band to the largest incumbent carriers as well as pass up the opportunity to help close the urban rural digital divide. For example, the Boston PEA covers half of MA and all of Rhode Island. Adopting county size geographic licenses is a middle ground, striking the right balance between enabling opportunities for both providers who seek to serve smaller areas and those who want to serve larger areas.

Importantly, license sizes smaller than PEAs will encourage deployment of the 3.5 GHz band in more rural communities. For instance, county size licenses would allow new entrants that serve less densely populated areas to match licenses to their existing infrastructure or areas of operation.

We are interested in some of the hybrid compromises currently being considered. We are working to find an approach that like Goldilocks said, is “just right”; license sizes that would ensure rural areas aren’t overlooked while making deploying there more economically feasible.

The current testing we are doing in the 3.5 GHz band is showing real promise that has exciting implications for improved access to broadband. But that promise won’t be realized without a compromise that truly enables deployment by new wireless entrants like Charter that want to deliver faster and better broadband to more communities including those that are harder and more expensive to serve.