FCC gives access to 5.9GHz spectrum for rural wireless broadband amid coronavirus pandemic



The FCC granted some wireless providers in rural areas access to spectrum to deliver broadband. 

Wireless Internet Service Providers Association

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The US Federal Communications Commission is taking some steps to help get broadband to rural Americans who don’t have it. On Friday, the agency granted nearly three dozen fixed-wireless internet service providers, or WISPs, temporary access to the 5.9GHz band of spectrum. 

The agency is giving the 33 WISPs access for 60 days to help them get broadband to rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary access to the lower 45 megahertz of spectrum in that band is sort of a dry run for the FCC’s plan to free up this portion of the 5.9GHz spectrum for unlicensed use. In December, the agency voted to split that band of spectrum so it could be shared with providers, allocating the lower 45 megahertz for unlicensed use. The upper 30 megahertz is allocated for the use of Qualcomm’s cellular vehicle-to-everything protocol (C-V2X). 

Splitting up this spectrum band to allow for shared broadband access has been somewhat controversial. For more than two decades, the 75 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9GHz band has been used exclusively for a transportation safety and communications technology known as Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC). 

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The US Department of Transportation has said the entire block of spectrum in the 5.9GHz band should remain allocated for the use of the DSRC technology. 

But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has criticized the transportation industry for moving too slowly in developing the DSRC technology and actually using the spectrum. He’s pushed for the FCC to open up the spectrum for shared use, specifically pushing for the lower 45 megahertz of the spectrum to be set aside for unlicensed use, such as the fixed-wireless services offered by the WISPs

The FCC on Friday said the temporary access it’s approved for the 33 WISPs will help bring access to telehealth, distance learning and telework in rural communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.   

“Like everybody else, rural Americans are facing an increased need for broadband service as more and more workers, students, and families stay home during this national emergency,” Pai said in a statement. “Fixed wireless broadband providers deliver this service for many communities, especially those hardest for other providers to reach.” 


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