That didn’t take long. Soon after CTIA released its latest study supporting its argument for more licensed spectrum, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) shot a letter over to lawmakers asking for more shared spectrum, similar to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) model.

Signed by more than 200 companies in the WISP ecosystem, the letter urges lawmakers to support the 3.5 GHz CBRS model for future spectrum bands, such as 3.1-3.45 GHz. The letter is addressed to Senator Maria Cantwell, (D-Washington), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Senator Roger Wicker, (R-Mississippi), ranking committee member.

The letter comes as lawmakers negotiate extending the FCC’s auction authority and consider how to reallocate federal spectrum, mainly spectrum used by the Department of Defense (DoD), for commercial use.

Big licensed carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, represented by CTIA, want the lower 3 GHz spectrum to be allocated for licensed use. Smaller companies, like WISPs, are pushing for a structure that allows for smaller-sized auctioned areas and a shared spectrum approach.

“Recent proposals from the nation’s largest mobile cellular carriers would result in only a handful of companies gaining access to limited spectrum. Without access to additional usable spectrum, like that in the lower 3 GHz band, small and medium-sized businesses like ours may be precluded from expanding our offerings to the millions of truly unserved Americans desperately in need of connectivity,” the WISPA letter states.

“Fortunately for policymakers, there is a blueprint for success,” WISPA said, pointing to the CBRS structure that allows for both large and small providers to deliver services where they’re needed.

“Indeed, the overall CBRS structure, an example of true spectrum sharing, has been a tremendous success and continues to grow,” WISPA told the lawmakers, pointing to more than 285,000 CBRS radio devices, known as CBSDs, already deployed for a variety of use cases in industries including residential, retail, hospitality, healthcare, transportation, energy and education.

CTIA triggered a backlash from the CBRS community when it released a study by Recon Analytics last month that basically called CBRS a failure. It was part of a full-court push CTIA is making – some have called it a CBRS smear campaign – as lawmakers consider how to allocate the next batch of spectrum.

The thinking goes something like this: If CBRS is deemed a success, it’s more likely to be extended to other bands, like 3.1-3.45 GHz, which CTIA doesn’t want.

Today, CTIA released a new report, also commissioned by CTIA, by Compass Lexecon that finds the wireless industry contributed $825 billion in GDP to America’s economy and enabled 4.5 million jobs in 2020 alone. Of course, for the wireless industry to continue to provide these kinds of positive effects on the economy, mobile operators need access to “dedicated, licensed spectrum,” the report states.

According to CTIA, other countries recognize the value of licensed spectrum and have plans to make significant amounts of it available for 5G. CTIA has identified the lower 3 GHz as the best opportunity to access crucial mid-band spectrum that countries like China are using for 5G.  

“The wireless industry is driving the U.S. economy, and this report highlights its massive contributions to our GDP and support of American jobs,” said CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker in a statement. “Instead of experimenting with unproven solutions, the U.S. needs a pipeline of exclusive-use, licensed spectrum to continue to power the American economy.”

It’s unclear what lawmakers will end up doing as they scramble to pass items ahead of the holidays. A CTIA spokesperson said they’re continuing to work with the House and Senate and hopeful to see movement before the end of the year.

Deadline looms

Michael Calabrese is director, Wireless Future Program at Open Technology Institute (OTI) at New America, which regularly lobbies for more unlicensed and shared spectrum structures.

Calabrese said he believes the timing of CTIA’s report is meant to reinforce CTIA’s final push to have Congress force the DoD to relocate military radar systems off lower 3 GHz spectrum that CTIA wants for exclusive licensed use.

Lawmakers are in the final stages of negotiating a bill to extend FCC auction authority, and they’re expected to amend the provision in last year’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that gives the DoD the final say over how many megahertz, if any, they will share or clear in the lower 3 GHz band (3100-3450 MHz), he said. Word is there’s a Friday deadline for bipartisan consensus and it needs to move along if it’s going to be part of the omnibus next week.

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