49. Geographic Area Licensing. We propose to license all AWS-3 spectrum blocks using a geographic area licensing approach, and we seek comment on this proposal. A geographic licensing approach appears well suited for the types of fixed and mobile services that would likely be deployed in these bands. Additionally, geographic licensing appears consistent with the licensing approach adopted for other bands that support mobile broadband services. Moreover, adopting a geographic areas licensing approach would seem to allow the Commission to assign new initial licenses in these bands through a system of competitive bidding in accordance with the Spectrum Act. We seek comment on this approach, including the costs and benefits of adopting a geographic area licensing scheme. In the event that a party does not support using geographic licensing for a given band, it should explain its position, describe what type of licensing scheme it supports and identify the costs and benefits associated with its alternative licensing proposal. Commenters should also address how an alternative licensing approach would be consistent with the statutory requirement to assign licenses in these bands through a system of competitive bidding and the statutory objectives that the Commission is required to promote in establishing methodologies for competitive bidding.
50. Service Area Size. If we use a geographic area approach for licensing these bands, we must determine the appropriate size(s) of service areas on which licenses should be based. We seek to adopt a service area for all bands that meets several statutory goals. These include facilitating access to spectrum by both small and large providers, providing for the efficient use of the spectrum, encouraging deployment of wireless broadband services to consumers, especially those in rural areas and tribal lands, and promoting investment in and rapid deployment of new technologies and services consistent with our obligations under section 309(j) of the Communications Act.
51. Of the various geographic areas we might adopt here, Economic Areas (EAs) represent a natural market unit for local or regional service areas. The Bureau of Economic Analysis defines an EA as "one or more economic nodes--metropolitan areas or similar areas that serve as centers of economic activity--and the surrounding counties that are economically related to the nodes." EAs nest within and may be aggregated up to larger license areas, such as Major Economic Areas (MEAs) and Regional Economic Area Groupings (REAGs) for operators seeking larger service areas. EAs also represent a close match to the geographic licensing approach used for the AWS-1 and AWS-4 bands. Given their spectral proximity, the AWS-1 and AWS-4 bands appear to be the most likely candidates for ad hoc operational consolidation with AWS-3 spectrum, in those cases where such consolidation may occur. Using a compatible geographic licensing approach may therefore result in more efficient opportunities for available spectrum to be put to use where needed.
52. We therefore propose to license the AWS-3 bands on an EA basis (176 EAs) and seek comment on this proposal and any alternatives. We ask commenters to discuss and quantify the economic, technical, and other public interest considerations of licensing on an EA or other basis. We also seek comment on whether there are costs and benefits to adopting our proposed EA licensing approach for bands shared with Federal users. For example, to what extent do the Protection Zones of incumbent Federal operations extend across EA boundaries and, if they do, is this a relevant factor to consider in adopting EA licensing? We seek comment on alternative geographic area sizes that could be used as the basis for licensing spectrum in these bands. Although we propose to separately license the Gulf of Mexico separately consistent with AWS-1, AWS-4, and H Block, all of which license the Gulf as a separate EA license, we also invite comment on whether to include the Gulf of Mexico as part of larger service areas, as the Commission did for the Upper 700 MHz band. Commenters who advocate a separate service area or areas to cover the Gulf of Mexico should discuss what boundaries should be used, and whether special interference protection criteria or performance requirements are necessary due to the unique radio propagation characteristics and antenna siting challenges that exist for Gulf licensees.