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Technology Neutrality Essential to Enabling Competitive 5G Communications

Only through following the principle of technology neutrality whereby governments enable platforms, not technologies, to compete, will the future vision of 5G bringing wide-spread advanced communications services to all Americans, wherever they are located, be achieved.

As the U.S. government rushes for America to be the first to enable the use of 5G services, it is critical that the government stays focused on the overarching principle of technology neutrality. Only through following the principle of technology neutrality whereby governments enable platforms, not technologies, to compete, will the future vision of 5G bringing wide-spread advanced communications services to all Americans, wherever they are located, be achieved.

The 5G revolution is different than waves of other communications revolutions, like 3G, which were built around a single communications platform. With 5G we are no longer depending on a single communications platform, whether terrestrial-, air- or space-based, to provide the promises of advanced communications service. 5G will consist of an ecosystem of communications platforms that will ensure the types of anytime, anywhere communications that users have come to expect. To realize this vision, 5G requires the inclusion of all communications platforms to meet the demands of United States consumers.

Let me explain. Today we have a number of platforms all preparing for the 5G revolution. These range from traditional platforms, including mobile wireless technologies, to fiber backbone, Geostationary Orbit (GEO) commercial satellites, unlicensed wireless technologies, and microwave, among others. In addition, a number of newer innovative platforms are also gearing up including non-GEO satellites, drones, and solar planes, among others, which are also likely to be critical parts of the 5G ecosystem. All of these platforms are necessary parts of the 5G ecosystem to ensure that users — whether they are a student downloading today’s lesson when they enter a classroom or a rural farmer planting their field or an energy company monitoring its network through smart technology — can receive the information they need when they need it. Of course, to meet all the needs of users with 5G no one platform is sufficient. This has already been recognized by the standards bodies who are fast at work developing 5G standards, whether on the ground, in the air or in space.

So, what does this mean for the U.S. government? The U.S. government must step away from adopting policies and regulations that focus on enabling a single communications platform to provide needed communications services. The days of 3G, when simply making spectrum available for mobile terrestrial use was sufficient, are in the past. Instead, the U.S. government must adopt policies that are truly technology neutral — policies that ensure there are sufficient resources, including spectrum and funding, for all platforms to be an effective part of the competitive 5G ecosystem bringing the benefits of this new world of communications to all.

Being technology neutrality, however, does not require governments to treat all platforms equally. Instead, governments should consider the important role that the platform plays in the 5G ecosystem, as well as other factors such as consumer demand. To do this, the U.S. government must reject antiquated ways of allocating resources and must adopt policies that enable competition among diverse platforms. If the U.S. government fails to change the way they regulate, it is extremely likely that users will not have adequate access to the platform that they require. A good example of this was the recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concerning the Universal Service Funding (USF). In its recent Connect America Fund decision, for the first time, the FCC created a regime whereby all communications platforms, including satellite, could participate. This decision could have resulted in more Americans having access to critical broadband services by having available access to the most economical and appropriate communications platform. However, because of a technological bias, the FCC, based solely on the technical attributes of capacity and speed, chose to severely curtail the possibility of one platform, GEO satellites, to play a role in deploying services to the most rural and remote portions of the United States. This outcome means that there will not be sufficient USF funding to cover the number of Americans in need of broadband services that are covered by USF. The FCC has an opportunity to reconsider this decision in a technology neutral manner.

Another example of where the U.S. government must ensure it follows the principle of technology neutrality is with regard to the allocation of scarce spectrum resources. While simply splitting spectrum into identically-sized pieces may not be appropriate, it is inappropriate for governments to pick technological winners to the detriment of other technologies. For example, as Congress frees up government spectrum, it must be available to platforms based on a technology neutral basis.

In addition, the FCC’s recent Spectrum Frontiers decision provides a good example of where the government has failed to follow the principle of technological neutrality and where it is likely to result in limiting access to 5G services to consumers, especially in the less densely populated areas of the country. In its recent decision, the FCC adopted a spectrum sharing regime to enable terrestrial 5G services to the detriment of satellite. In doing so, the FCC gave terrestrial mobile 5G almost unfettered access to critical spectrum resources that satellite broadband operators utilize today and will utilize as part of the 5G ecosystem to provide services to customers throughout the country, including to rural and remote portions of the United States. Satellite broadband operators are only able to deploy a limited number of earth stations, industry-wide, in the least densely populated portions of U.S. service areas. What this means is that the ability of satellite broadband operators to utilize these bands efficiently to meet increasing consumer demands and on a competitive basis is extremely limited. Instead of adopting such a limited regime, the FCC could have created a regulatory regime that would have ensured 5G terrestrial mobile operators had access to sufficient spectrum in the most densely populated areas of the country where they are focused, while giving satellite operators the flexibility to deploy their systems in these bands to bring important services across the country, including to users who may be located in less densely populated regions of the country. Once again, this decision is under reconsideration and in doing so, the FCC has the opportunity to embrace the principle of technology neutrality and advance the 5G ecosystem overall.

We are in a critical time in the development of the 5G ecosystem and the deployment of 5G infrastructure. The U.S. government must act now to adopt and implement a technology neutral regulatory regime whereby all platforms can effectively compete against one another. By taking this step now, the U.S. government can ensure that all users will have access to the 5G services and applications they require when they need them, no matter where they are located. VS