FCC Releases NOI on Facilitating Access Spectrum for Offshore Use

On June 9, 2022, the FCC released a Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) seeking comment on facilitating access to spectrum for offshore uses and operations, which was adopted at the June Open Meeting. In the NOI, the FCC seeks comment on whether changes in the Commission’s rules and policies are needed to facilitate the development of commercial and private wireless networks offshore. More specifically, the NOI seeks comment on the following:

  • Demand for Offshore Spectrum: The NOI seeks comment on the demand for offshore spectrum, including but not limited to, which kinds of offshore operations would benefit from greater access to spectrum, both now and in the future, the distance from land these operations would be conducted from, and what types of services entities might consider deploying offshore.
  • Spectrum Rights Model: The NOI seeks comment on what kind of spectrum rights should be conveyed to meet any demand,  including but not limited to, whether a spectrum commons model, or similar shared spectral rights model, offers enough spectrum for offshore operations and enough interference protection, whether the FCC should provide secondary spectrum rights to offshore operations and how to account for primary licensees on land, and whether there is a need for individual authorizations with primary rights for offshore operations.
  • Assignment Mechanisms for Initial Licensing: The NOI seeks comment on which assignment mechanisms should be used for off shore operations, including but not limited to allowing access through models that have minimal or no registration requirements, such as a license-by-rule or a licensed by light approach, whether the Commission should adopt a demand-driven, site-based, licensing mechanism that grants authorization to construct at a specific location, whether the Commission should adopt geographic area licensing and if so how the boundaries should be determined, and whether the Commission should adopt a flexible scheme, allowing for one type of licensing mechanism in one region, while applying a different type of licensing mechanism in another.
  • Unlicensed Spectrum Use: The NOI seeks comment on allowing unlicensed spectrum access pursuant to part 15 of the Commission’s rules, including but not limited to the specific types of offshore operations that are well-suited for deployment the unlicensed rules, what applications might be better realized through licensed access models, and whether commenters anticipate that an expansion of licensed access models in offshore locations would affect existing unlicensed operations or future deployments.
  • Access Via Spectrum Leasing: The NOI seeks comment on permitting access to offshore spectrum through leasing arrangements including but not limited to, if there are incumbent licensees with spectrum available for leasing, if existing terrestrial or offshore licensees are interested in leasing spectrum for offshore operations, and if leasing is permitted under the current rules.
  • Spectrum Bands for Offshore Operations: The NOI seeks comment on which spectrum bands, or combinations thereof, are best suited for offshore operations including but not limited to, the specific characteristics that are needed (such as high bandwidth, low latency, particular propagation characteristics, etc.) for offshore operations, whether bands that used to support offshore operations need to already have in place certain equipment standards, such as 3GPP, and whether there are certain bands that should not be included in order to protect incumbents in those bands.
  • Offshore Spectrum Access in Other Countries: The NOI seeks comment on how other countries handle offshore spectrum access, including but not limited to whether the Ofcom or North Sea models provide useful lessons for spectrum use by U.S. offshore operations and whether differences in geography and regulatory frameworks in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands warrant different approaches offshore than in the United States.
  • Additional Issues: The NOI seeks comment on additional things the Commission should consider, such as convening Commission-let workshops comprised of industry and government experts, first testing any proposed plan through a pilot project, and further studies or analyses the Commission should consider in developing its offshore regulatory framework.

Comments will be due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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