FCC and NTIA Release Coordination Procedures for Potential Licensees in the 3.45-3.55 GHz Band

On Wednesday, June 2, 2021, the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) released a joint Public Notice (DA 21-645) providing updated guidance on the coordination procedures for successful bidders in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band auction (Auction 110).  The Public Notice clarifies which Cooperative Planning Areas (“CPA”) and Periodic Use Areas (“PUA”) require coordination agreements, and provides specific guidance on the procedures for obtaining and implementing coordination agreements for 3.45-3.55 GHz licensees.

As a reminder, most licensees in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band will have unencumbered use of the entire band across the United States.  In all but two geographic areas specifically identified as CPAs and PUAs, the non-federal operators will not be entitled to protection against harmful interference from federal operators in all 100 MHz of spectrum in the band, and the non-federal operators must coordinate their operations with the federal incumbents prior to commencing operations in the CPAs and PUAs.  In the Fort Bragg, North Carolina CPA and PUA and the Little Rock, Arkansas CPA, non-federal operators will only be required to coordinate with the incumbent federal operators in the lower 40 MHz of the band.

The Public Notice provides specific guidelines for coordination agreement procedures in the event that the 3.45 GHz Service licensee(s) and federal incumbent(s) cannot reach a mutually agreeable coordination agreement (in the event that an agreement is reached, the agreement would control):

  • Contact:  The Licensee must initiative formal coordination requests with the federal incumbent through a to-be-created online portal.
  • Informal Discussion:  Both the FCC and NTIA strongly encourage licensees to engage the federal incumbents in informal discussions at the conclusion of the auction and before the formal coordination process begins.  Licensees are permitted to share draft proposals or request discussions with federal incumbent staff in order to discuss their proposed deployments, develop an analysis methodology that reflects the licensees’ proposed deployments and the federal incumbents’ operations, and develop a process for identification and resolution of harmful interference.  The FCC and NTIA hope that these voluntary, informal, and non-binding discussions will help streamline the formal coordination process and allow parties to resolve potential conflicts early.
  • Formal Coordination:  The Public Notice provides the following guidance about the formal coordination process:
    • Initiation:  The licensee must formally request access to operate within the CPA or PUA through the to-be-created online portal.
    • Timing:  For the first nine months after the end of the auction, licensees may not submit formal coordination requests.  Licensees, however, are permitted and encouraged to engage federal incumbents in informal discussions during this quiet period.  After the nine months has expired, the licensee must submit a coordination request, which the federal incumbent must review and respond to in a timely manner.  The incumbent must acknowledge receipt of the request within five days, and notify the licensee if the application is complete or incomplete within ten days.  If the request is incomplete, the incumbent must identify the missing information that is needed.  Once the application is complete, the incumbent must provide a response within sixty days.
    • Submission Information:  The request must include information about the technical characteristics for the licensee’s base stations and associated mobile units relevant to operation and will include basic technical operating parameters.  Information about the federal incumbents operations will be published as “Transition Plans” on the NTIA website no later than June 7, 2021.  The Department of Defense (“DoD”) will provide further instructions regarding submission information in a forthcoming online portal user’s guide.  Furthermore, if licensees seek to coordinate with multiple systems or multiple locations of operation controlled by one federal incumbent, the licensee must prioritize the order in which it prefers the incumbents process the request.
    • Coordination Analysis:  During the sixty day review period, the federal incumbent may coordinate with appropriate internal units to review the submission.  Likewise, the incumbents are permitted and encouraged to ask any question and discuss any issues with the licensee.  At the end of the sixty days, the federal incumbent must provide a response of either concurrence, partial concurrence with operating conditions that specify the terms in which the licensee may begin operations, or denial.  The response will be provided through the DoD portal and licensees are encouraged to acknowledge receipt of the response.  Licensees are permitted to submit technical proposals to resolve a denial or a partial concurrence.  However, this requires the licensee to submit a new formal coordination request and the formal process timeline begins again.
    • Streamlined Coordination Process for High-Power Radar Sites:  Appendix A of the Public Notice includes a list of all CPAs and PUAs for which the coordination request process applies.  High-power radar facilities are identified with an asterisk in Appendix A.  For licensees operating in CPAs and PUAs that contain high-power radar facilities, licensees may complete and submit the streamlined template coordination agreement provided in Appendix B of the Public Notice.  Once received and countersigned by the federal incumbent, the FCC and NTIA will deem the coordination requirement satisfied.
    • PUA Operator-to-Operator Agreements:  For PUAs, licensees and incumbents are expected to develop operator-to-operator agreements to define notification processes, content, and timelines.  Once a licensee submits a coordination request for a PUA, the DoD will contact the licensee to begin discussions regarding an operator-to-operator agreement.  Additionally, the incumbent and licensee may develop an Incumbent Informing Capability—a real-time and location-specific process to alert users to harmful interference—to facilitate coordination within PUAs.
  • Dispute Resolution:  For most disputes, the FCC and NTIA encourage parties to negotiate in good faith and to enter into operator-to-operator agreements that contain dispute resolution provisions.  If either party believes the other is not negotiating in good faith, however, they may seek assistance from the NTIA or FCC.  For disputes regarding the execution, timing, or cost of the approved Transition Plan, federal law provides that either the incumbent or the licensee may request the NTIA to establish a dispute resolution board.
  • Miscellaneous Coordination Issues:  
    • Sharing of Sensitive and Classified Information:  The DoD will establish a mechanism for sharing sensitive and classified information.  NTIA will provide additional details when available.
    • Interference Resolution Process:  If identified harmful interference not addressed by the coordination procedures or operator agreements occurs between the incumbent and the licensee, the licensee must attempt to resolve the interference directly.  If unsuccessful, the licensee may escalate the matter to the FCC.
    • Future Workshops and Workbooks: The DoD will publish a “Workbook” that will offer additional information about its operations and coordination expectations.  The Workbook will be published on the NTIA website.  The DoD also plans to host a public workshop in July 2021 to discuss the Transition Plans and Workbook, and to answer questions.  Additional details will be made available on NTIA’s website.

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