CenturyLink says FCC should maintain 3.5 GHz PALs to ease rural broadband deployments

CenturyLink sign on building (free to use)
Rural network deployments may be compromised if rules around PAL are changed, CenturyLink says. (Image: CenturyLink)

As CenturyLink looks to continue its broadband expansion efforts in harder to build rural areas using a mix of wireline and wireless technologies, the service provider says the FCC should not alter the rules governing the Priority Access Licenses (PALs) that will be issued in the 3.5 GHz band.

While the FCC rules define PAL geographic license areas is one census tract, the FCC has proposed to increase the size of the geographic license area with both Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) and counties under consideration.

CenturyLink, which asked the FCC for permission last fall to test 3.4 GHz wireless spectrum in some of its rural markets, told the FCC in a filing (PDF) that the “use of PEAs as the geographic license area for PALs will inhibit higher-speed broadband deployment in rural areas.”

RELATED: CenturyLink seeks FCC permission to test 3.4 GHz wireless spectrum

“CenturyLink agrees with the many commenters that advocate that PEAs are too large to encourage broadband deployment in rural areas,” CenturyLink said in the filing.  “CenturyLink also agrees with those who argue that secondary market transactions with PEAs will not ameliorate the absence of smaller geographic licenses in the first instance.”

The service provider added that while it “appreciates that PAL administration at the census block level may be greater than at the county or PEA level” but “as the Commission has noted, some have already stated that managing over 70,000 licenses as an SAS Administrator should not be overly burdensome in light of today’s technology.”

Like other CAF-II recipients Consolidated, Frontier and Windstream, CenturyLink was among several wireline providers in 2015 that accepted FCC funding to deploy broadband services to over 1 million locations in rural areas in 33 states by 2021. While CenturyLink prefers to extend fiber to more areas, the cost realities of network construction make this option still challenging even with with CAF support.

“CenturyLink is deploying fiber further out into its wireline network,” CenturyLink said. “But, like other price cap carriers that accepted CAF II model support it is also exploring more cost-effective ways to get higher-speed broadband to remote locations where deploying fiber to the premises is still uneconomic even with CAF support. Possible approaches include fixed wireless solutions using spectrum in the 3.5 GHz Band.”

CenturyLink’s sentiment is clearly shared by Consoldiated, Frontier and Windstream, which issued a joint filing say that the larger license sizes—specifically partial economic areas (PEAs)—are too big and too expensive.

“For our companies, traditional large area mobile licenses, such as PEAs, cover much too great of an area and drive up the costs of licenses too high to make fixed rural wireless feasible in the 3.5 GHz Band,” Frontier, Consolidated and Windstream said in the joint filing (PDF).