November 19, 1998
In the Matter of 1998 Biennial Review --
Spectrum Aggregation Limits for Wireless Carriers
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
Today we act upon our recognition, over six months ago, that many wireless markets are showing great evidence of healthy competition.(1) In this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, we initiate a broad discussion of how two of our central spectrum aggregation and ownership limits -- the 45 MHz commercial mobile radio services (CMRS) spectrum cap,(2) and the cellular cross-interest rule(3) -- operate within the evolving wireless marketplace.
While I agree that these rules are ripe for review, we must assess their continued relevance in a market-specific context. Scarcely a week goes by without the announcement of a second, third, or fourth PCS provider initiating service in one of our major metropolitan markets. Yet the rash of new entrants tapers dramatically as we look beyond our urban centers to our rural communities. As the Notice indicates, roughly forty percent of our nation's Basic Trading Areas (BTAs) do not have coverage from either a PCS or digital SMR carrier. This equates to more than one-fifth of our citizens. For these consumers, the cellular duopoly that was uniform at the time we adopted both the cross-interest rule and the spectrum cap, still prevails. Furthermore, this may not change even as carriers satisfy their coverage requirements under the FCC rules, as 30 MHz licensees need serve only 2/3 of their licensed population, and 10 MHz licensees only 1/4, at the end of their license term.(4)
Simple economics suggests -- and experience bears witness -- that carriers will seek to cover more populous areas, where the fixed costs of network infrastructure will be proportionally less per subscriber. But our citizens in rural areas do not have proportionally less interest in receiving the benefits of wireless technology. The Communications Act directs the Commission to ensure that the benefits of telecommunications are available, "so far as possible, to all the people of the United States,"(5) and to help rural areas in particular.(6) I take this mandate seriously, and so I will be keenly interested in evidence and analysis of the effect of these rules on the provision of needed services in rural and high cost areas.
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2. 47 C.F.R. § 20.6 (1997).
3. 47 C.F.R. § 22.942 (1997).
4. 47 C.F.R. § 24.203(a), (b) (1997).
5. 47 U.S.C. § 151.
6. See, e.g., 47 U.S.C. §309(j)(3)(A), (B); 47 U.S.C. § 254(b)(3); 47 U.S.C. §254(h).