On Thursday, March 19, 2020, the Commission published a News Release announcing that the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“Bureau”) adopted an Order (“Order”) on its own motion waiving and extending the transition period deadline for certain licensees to transition their existing Part 90 operations to Part 96 operations in the 3650-3700 MHz band (WT Docket No. 18-353). All Part 90 licensees that were required to transition their operations between April 17, 2020 and October 17, 2020 will now have until October 17, 2020 to complete their transitions. In addition, any such licenses expiring between the adoption date of the Order and April 17, 2020, that are eligible for renewal, will be modified to expire on October 17, 2020. The Order clarifies that this waiver does not alter the rights of licensees that have a longer time to transition their operations based on a later expiration.

The Commission adopted rules for shared commercial use of the 3.5 GHz band as well as implemented a transition period for existing wireless broadband licensees in the 3650-3700 MHz band to complete the transition of their existing Part 90 operations to Part 96 operations either on a grandfathered, protected basis or on a non-grandfathered basis. The existing transition period ends between April 17, 2020 and January 8, 2023, depending on the grant and expiration dates of each license. The Bureau issues this Order on its own motion in response to the evolving and unpredictable nature of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that customers of the affected licensees are able to stay connected to broadband and essential services during the declared state of national emergency. Licensees seeking a further extension of the transition period beyond October 17, 2020 must specifically plead any extenuating circumstances that would justify such a waiver. Individual and blanket waiver requests filed in response to the initial transition period deadline are dismissed as moot.

The Order reminds licensees that the extension does not otherwise affect the existing obligations of grandfathered or non-grandfathered licensees to operate in accordance with the Commission’s Part 96 rules and that such licensees must cease operating under Part 90 by October 17, 2020. In addition, the Bureau will suspend accepting and processing of new site registrations for all Part 90 wireless broadband licensees in the 3650-3700 MHz band for applications received on or after March 19, 2020.

Chairman Pai clarified that the extension will not impact the timing of the June 25, 2020 auction of Priority Access Licenses in the 3.5 GHz Band, and praised the Bureau for giving licensees more flexibility to remain focused on keeping Americans connected during the pandemic.

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