The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced last week that it would delay the Priority Access License (PAL) auction for the 3.5GHz CBRS (Citizens Radio Broadband Service) band by a month due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Bidding on the PAL’s for the 3550-3650 MHz band will now take place on July 23 rather than June 25. Meanwhile, the FCC announced it was postponing Auction 106, for construction permits in the FM broadcast service, indefinitely.
The commission felt given the Coronavirus pandemic the changes were necessary to protect its staff’s health and safety, as well as allow the parties more time to take part in both auctions.
“Many Americans have had to make tough decisions on how they do business in this rapidly changing environment, and the FCC is no different,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “After consulting agency staff within the relevant Bureaus and Offices, we determined that it was in everyone’s best interest to make these changes. But we remain committed to holding the 3.5 GHz auction this summer and look forward to beginning this important mid-band auction in July.”
How PAL’s work
Currently, the General Authorized Access (GAA) is available for everyone using the CBRS band. GAA covers 150 MHz between 3550 MHz and 3700 MHz. Meanwhile, PAL’s will cover 70 MHz between 3550 and 3650 MHz—in seven, 10 MHz licenses. The auctions are expected to take between two and six weeks to complete, making PAL’s available in August or September.
Every county in the U.S. has access to seven PAL’s—meaning there will be 21,994 PAL’s auctioned. Each one lasts 10 years and the licensee has to prove the PAL is being used for public good. Unlike standard spectrum licenses, PAL’s do not give the license holder exclusive use. If the PAL is not being used, the spectrum is free for other CBRS users. When the holder needs to access the spectrum however, they get priority. With traditional licenses, only the user can access the spectrum, whether it’s in use or not.
The rescheduled PAL auction is expected to garner a lot of interest
A number of companies have expressed interest in the 150MHz spectrum in the CBRS band according to Lightreading. Energy companies like the Utilities Technology Council, fixed wireless providers such as GeoLinks as well as AT&T, T-Mobile and Charter are expected to take part in the auction. It is expected to generate up to $4.4 billion in total bids.
The short-form application window for the CBRS PAL auction will now open on April 23 at noon and close on May 7 at 6 p.m. EST. Upfront payments will be due on June 19 and the bidding will start on July 23. Interested parties can continue to monitor the auction on the FCC’s dedicated webpage for future announcements regarding the auction schedule and other important information. Auction 106 applicants who submitted upfront payments can obtain a refund after submitting a written request. A revised schedule will be announced in a future public notice.