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Consultation on New Access Licensing Framework, Changes to Subordinate Licensing and White Space to Support Rural and Remote Deployment

SLPB-004-21
August 2021

Note (effective October 7, 2021): The deadlines provided in section 10 have been extended as follows:

  • closing date for comments: October 26, 2021
  • closing date for reply comments: December 7, 2021

Closing date for comments: October 26, 2021
Closing date for reply comments: December 7, 2021

Expand all content / collapse all content  Annexes 

1. Intent

1. Through the release of this document, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), on behalf of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (the Minister), is initiating a consultation to support innovation and the availability of rural services through the proposed introduction of a new supplementary licensing process (Access Licensing framework) for unused spectrum. This also includes consultation to support clarifications to ISED's framework to streamline subordinate licensing approvals and encourage greater use of these licences to increase use of spectrum, improvements to white space rules, as well as changes to the rural remote broadband system (RRBS) policy framework.

2. Legislative mandate

2. The Minister, through the Department of Industry Act, the Radiocommunication Act and the Radiocommunication Regulations, with due regard to the objectives of the Telecommunications Act, is responsible for spectrum management in Canada. As such, the Minister is responsible for developing national policies for spectrum utilization and ensuring effective management of the radio frequency spectrum resource.

3. Pursuant to the Radiocommunication Act, the Minister has the authority to plan the allocation and use of spectrum, to issue spectrum licences, to fix the terms and conditions of licences, and to amend the terms and conditions of any spectrum licence.

3. Policy objectives

4. Wireless communication is an integral part of the Canadian economy. Not only are businesses, public institutions and consumers reliant on wireless services and technologies to enable day-to-day activities such as conducting business or connecting with family and friends, they are also increasingly being leveraged to enable innovative and emerging use cases.

5. In this context, ISED is committed to the objective that all Canadian consumers, businesses and public institutions have access to the latest wireless telecommunications services in a competitive market. A robust wireless telecommunications industry drives the adoption and use of digital technologies and enhances the productivity of the Canadian economy. Furthermore, connectivity has become even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Canadians have relied heavily on Internet access to stay connected, including in rural and remote regions of the country.

6. Spectrum is a critical resource for wireless service providers. ISED views the release of spectrum as an opportunity to enable existing and new providers to expand services and enhance connectivity in underserved areas and support continued competition in the market for consumers and businesses.

7. Greater access to spectrum is also expected to support the creation and expansion of new services and applications in vertical industries, many of which are located in rural and remote areas, such as agriculture, manufacturing and mining. These industries may benefit from specialized uses, such as private networks, which enable a wide range of automated, robotic and remote operations such as real-time monitoring, dispatching and emergency notifications. While private networks would also enable operators to develop new business opportunities, these networks could also enhance safety and security for people, assets and infrastructure.

8. In developing this consultation, ISED was guided by the Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada (SPFC), which states that the objective of the spectrum program is to maximize the economic and social benefits that Canadians derive from the use of the radio frequency spectrum resource. This objective and the enabling guidelines listed in the SPFC remain relevant for guiding ISED in delivering its spectrum management mandate.

9. In 2019, the Government of Canada released Canada's Digital Charter: Trust in a digital world (Digital Charter). The Digital Charter lists universal access as the first of ten principles that will lay the foundation for a made-in-Canada digital approach, and guide policy thinking and actions towards establishing an innovative, people-centred and inclusive digital and data economy built on trust. Universal access is the principle that all Canadians will have an equal opportunity to participate in the digital world and have the necessary tools to do so, including access, connectivity, literacy and skills. ISED recognizes affordability as a key component of universal access, and that greater access to spectrum will enable sustained competition that allows consumers and businesses to benefit from greater choice and more competitive prices.

10. Through Canada's Innovation and Skills Plan and its focus on people, technologies and companies, the Government of Canada is committed to promoting innovation-led growth across all sectors of the Canadian economy. The ubiquity of digital technologies and services across sectors is a defining feature of the new digital economy and enabling greater access to spectrum will allow all sectors to benefit.

11. The Government of Canada is also committed to promoting the delivery of broadband services to rural and remote areas across the country. In 2019, High-Speed Access for All: Canada's Connectivity Strategy (Connectivity Strategy) was launched, which aims to make speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload available to all Canadian homes and businesses, and to improve mobile wireless access from coast to coast to coast. To reach these objectives, ISED is examining approaches to support and encourage service provision in rural and remote areas.

12. In the context of this coordinated approach to connectivity, ISED's policy objectives for this consultation are to:

  • facilitate the deployment and timely availability of services across the country, with an emphasis on rural and remote regions
  • foster investment and the evolution of wireless networks by enabling the development of innovative and emerging applications
  • support sustained competition in the provision of wireless services so that consumers and businesses benefit from greater choice and competitive prices

4. Background

13. ISED recognizes the importance of releasing spectrum and facilitating access to a combination of services to improve coverage and economic development across the country, including in rural and remote regions. Further, and given Canada's varied geographic and topographical challenges, ISED is committed to leveraging a variety of technologies that will be needed to achieve 50/10 Mbps speeds throughout Canada, as identified as national target speeds in the Connectivity Strategy. Canadians living in rural areas depend on these services as much as those in urban areas.

14. However, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's (CRTC) Communications Monitoring Report, in 2019, only 45.6% of rural households had access to speeds of at least 50/10 Mbps. In contrast, 98.6% of urban households had access to speeds of at least 50/10 Mbps. Overall, 26.7 % of rural households relied on fixed wireless technology for their connectivity.

15. There are also significant gaps in mobile connectivity. From the CRTC's report, while 99% of Canadians have access to mobile networks and 96% of Canadians have access to the higher speed services provided by Long Term Evolution-Advanced (LTE-A) networks in 2019, coverage is uneven, with rural and remote areas in particular sometimes having slower speeds or no service at all. For example, in Alberta, 97.9% of the population had LTE-A technology coverage compared with 76.8% in Newfoundland and Labrador.

16. Connectivity has also become increasingly important for rural economic development. In rural areas, resource extraction and other industries are major economic contributors. As new industrial applications for wireless communications emerge, such as machine-to-machine communication (M2M), ensuring the availability of suitable spectrum resources will unlock the potential of these innovative new use cases, supporting economic development in rural areas.

17. In order to reach the national target of all Canadians having access to at least 50/10 Mbps, support improved mobile coverage, and enable the economic development of rural and remote areas to their full potential, a mix of connectivity solutions will be required, including fibre, satellite, and terrestrial wireless technologies. ISED is working to achieve this target through a variety of policies, including administering the Universal Broadband Fund, enforcing deployment requirements on auctioned spectrum licences, and improvements to the secondary market. ISED has also focused on making additional spectrum available in a variety of bands, including 6 GHz and 3800 MHz. Nonetheless, ISED recognizes that providing additional access to spectrum in bands with robust 4G and 5G equipment ecosystems can allow for wider provision of services, particularly in rural and remote areas.

18. In SLPB-003-18, Spectrum Outlook 2018 to 2022, ISED committed to developing licensing policies while giving consideration to encouraging service provision in rural areas. Comments received as part of recent consultation processes, notably SLPB-002-19 Consultation on a Policy and Licensing Framework for Spectrum in the 3500 MHz Band, SLPB-002-20 Consultation on the Technical and Policy Framework for the 3650-4200 MHz Band and Changes to the Frequency Allocation for the 3500-3650 MHz Band, and the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review, underlined the role spectrum plays in supporting rural connectivity. Some comments also discussed the use of subordinate licensing to make spectrum available to regional providers, with the suggestion that ISED implement additional measures to facilitate the reassignment of spectrum which has been licensed but not used.

19. Taking into account the increasing importance of connectivity, ongoing developments in the telecommunications and other industries, and comments from stakeholders, ISED is now consulting on policies in three areas that will address key challenges related to innovation and rural deployment.

20. First, this consultation will propose a new licensing process, referred to as Access Licensing, that would supplement current licensing processes in a selection of frequency bands. This proposed new licensing process would allow for greater access to spectrum in rural and remote areas, making it easier for new and existing providers to deploy or expand services for public and private applications.

21. Second, this consultation will propose the introduction of new guidelines for subordinate licensing to section 5.6 of CPC-2-1-23, Licensing Procedure for Spectrum Licences for Terrestrial Services. The proposed guidelines will streamline regulatory approvals and facilitate greater secondary market activity that can shift spectrum from those that are not using it to those that will use it. This shift will support innovative new uses, and increase availability of services across Canada.

22. Third, this consultation will propose updates to white space and RRBS policy frameworks to reflect recent developments and clarify the use of the spectrum. The proposed updates will make it easier for new and existing providers to deploy or expand services across Canada while ensuring Canadians benefit from innovation in wireless technology and services.

5. Access Licensing framework

23. As noted in section 4, some wireless service providers have expressed the view that insufficient access to spectrum to support wireless broadband is impeding the expansion and improvement of services for consumers and businesses. These stakeholders often contend that unused spectrum in rural and remote areas could be used to provide such broadband services.

24. At the same time, new and emerging wireless applications, including private networks and Internet of Things (IoT), are also driving demand for spectrum. Stakeholders, including industrial users such as mine and factory operators, agricultural users, as well as private network service providers, have indicated that access to suitable spectrum is a key challenge in unlocking the benefits of these emerging and innovative applications.

25. Given spectrum is a finite resource, a key objective for regulators is to maximize the benefits derived from its use. Increasingly, regulators are recognizing the benefits of spectrum sharing, an approach that allows for a more flexible distribution of spectrum between different services, applications and users within a given area.

26. ISED has implemented a variety of approaches to spectrum sharing. Through SLPB-003-19, Decision on Releasing Millimetre Wave Spectrum to Support 5G, ISED allowed for terrestrial mobile and fixed services to share the millimetre wave bands with the fixed satellite service. In other recent licensing consultations and frameworks, such as those for the 600 MHz, 3500 MHz and 3800 MHz bands, ISED has issued or indicated its intention to issue flexible-use licences, which authorize both mobile and fixed operations, and enabled spectrum sharing with existing services when practical. In March 2019, ISED published SMSE-003-19, Decision on the Technical and Policy Framework for White Space Devices, outlining a framework for the use of white space, which refers to the spectrum that is not being used by licensed radio services in certain frequencies and geographic areas, thus making the spectrum available for use by other services. In May 2021, through SMSE-006-21, Decision on the Technical and Policy Framework for Licence-Exempt Use in the 6 GHz Band, ISED made 1200 MHz of spectrum available for Radio Local Area Network (RLAN) applications, including allowing higher power RLAN operations in 950 MHz of that spectrum in which sharing with incumbents will be managed through automated frequency coordination systems.

27. Internationally, many regulators have adopted spectrum sharing arrangements as a way of enabling more efficient spectrum use and enabling innovative new wireless applications. Of note, in its 2019 decision, Enabling wireless innovation through local licensing, Ofcom, the communications regulator of the United Kingdom (UK), announced two distinct licensing processes to support spectrum sharing. The first, shared access licensing, is available in the 3.8-4.2 GHz, 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz spectrum bands under varying power levels, with the 24.25-26.5 GHz band available for low-power, indoor-only deployment. These licences allow access to spectrum, which was previously licensed to a variety of uses, such as defence, the amateur service, satellite earth stations and fixed wireless access. The second, local access licensing, allows additional users to access spectrum in mobile bands that are already licensed through auctions, in areas where there are no commercial mobile deployments, often in rural and remote areas. These licensing processes support the demand for small area licensing, such as for private networks, or for rural coverage as a complement to regional or national licensing. Ofcom has also indicated a potential move to a fully automated database approach in the future.

28. Spectrum sharing arrangements involve various challenges, such as the technical coordination between users. However, properly-designed sharing frameworks could allow for additional spectrum to be made available to support demand, improving access to spectrum for multiple users and services in areas where sufficient spectrum is available to meet demand. ISED notes that in rural and remote areas, some of the challenges associated with spectrum sharing can more easily be addressed given the lower density and numbers of users and greater availability of unused spectrum.

29. Given these factors, ISED is proposing to implement a new Access Licensing framework, which will facilitate greater access to unused spectrum in rural and remote areas and support the provision or expansion of broadband services and new industrial or commercial applications in these areas. It is proposed that this framework allow the issuance of both access spectrum licences and access radio licences. It is also proposed that access licences be limited to rural and remote areas where there is unused spectrum and that access licensees will not be allowed to cause interference to existing operations in any band where the Access Licensing framework is applied, unless otherwise specified in relevant policy provisions.

Q1
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to implement a new Access Licensing framework to make licences available in rural and remote areas where there is unused spectrum.

5.1 Access licensing approach

30. Access spectrum licences will be based on ISED's Service areas for competitive licensing, and access radio licences will be site-based. ISED is proposing to issue access spectrum licences and access radio licences through two distinct processes.

31. Given the proposal to apply the Access Licensing framework in rural and remote areas where there is unused spectrum, ISED does not expect that demand will exceed supply for access spectrum licences or access radio licences.

32. As such, ISED is proposing to issue both access spectrum licences and access radio licences using a first-come, first-served approach. As discussed in the Framework for Spectrum Auctions in Canada, ISED typically releases spectrum using a first-come, first-served approach where the demand for spectrum is not expected to exceed the supply, and a competitive process is not required. In addition, consistent with the Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada, ISED is of the view that a first-come, first-served approach can minimize administrative burden and make spectrum available for use in a timely fashion.

33. ISED has also employed other methods of making spectrum available using different sharing techniques, for example using an "all-come, all-served" or database driven shared approaches for licensing. With these approaches, the number of licences issued for spectrum in the same area would not be restricted. However, ISED is of the view that in the context of accessing unused spectrum, such an approach would not serve the objectives discussed in section 3. In particular facilitating the timely deployment of services in rural areas, as it creates more opportunities for potential interference between systems, including interference with deployments by existing licensees. While other solutions, such as dynamic spectrum access (DSA) offer potential for more efficient sharing of spectrum, the initial development and implementation of systems to support such an approach could take several years. In view of the urgent need for improved connectivity in rural and remote areas, and the interest already expressed by stakeholders seeking immediate access to spectrum to deploy services using existing technologies, ISED is of the view that a first-come, first-served approach for access licensing will allow for faster deployment of new services where they are needed. ISED also notes that it has plans to use or consult on other approaches to spectrum sharing, such as DSA, for the 6 GHz and 3900-3980 MHz bands.

Q2
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to issue access spectrum licences and access radio licences on a first-come, first-served basis.

5.2 Areas where access licences will be available

34. The Service areas for competitive licensing website outlines the general service areas that are used by ISED for the purposes of issuing spectrum licences. The defined geographic areas have been categorized under "service area tiers", which are based on Statistics Canada's Census Divisions and Subdivisions.

35. DGSO-006-19, Decision on a New Set of Service Areas for Spectrum Licensing introduced a new set of service areas, Tier 5, with a view to helping ensure that Canada could meet current and future wireless needs, encourage additional access to spectrum across Canada, and support new technologies and emerging use cases. Within the Tier 5 classification, ISED included a classification of areas into metropolitan, urban, rural, and remote, with 511 rural Tier 5 service areas and 43 remote Tier 5 service areas. The Tier 5 service areas were designed based on a set of principles, in particular to recognize geographic differences, foster demand, maintain technological and competitive neutrality, minimize potential interference, and take local considerations into account. These principles align with the objectives of the proposed Access Licensing framework and the Tier 5 service areas provide a clear geographic boundary for rural and remote areas. As such, ISED is proposing to use the rural and remote Tier 5 services areas as the basis for determining the rural and remote areas in which it will apply the Access Licensing framework.

36. Therefore, ISED is proposing that licences issued through the Access Licensing framework would be made available in rural and remote Tier 5 service areas where existing primary or subordinate licensees have not deployed services. Maps of the Tier 5 service areas can be found in the Service areas for competitive licensing website, and annex A of this consultation includes a list of these rural and remote Tier 5 service areas.

Q3
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to use the rural and remote Tier 5 service areas as the basis to determine the rural and remote areas in which it will apply access licensing.

5.3 Principles for identifying bands for access licensing

37. As discussed previously, some stakeholders have indicated a demand for additional spectrum to support wireless broadband, while others have identified a demand for additional spectrum to support private networks and industry vertical use cases. ISED proposes to consider the bands that meet a combination of the following principles when identifying spectrum that could be made available through the new Access Licensing framework. ISED would consider bands that have:

  • the potential to support wireless broadband, private networks, and/or industry vertical use cases
  • an existing licensing framework for flexible or mobile use
  • an available or clear path to an available equipment ecosystem
  • sufficient amounts of unused spectrum in rural and remote areas
  • the potential for coexistence between existing users and potential access licensees
  • had adequate time for existing licensees to deploy (e.g. initial licence term has lapsed), or time permitted to meet initial deployment requirement has lapsed in the case of bands that were auctioned)

38. ISED is of the view that this set of principles aligns with the objectives discussed in section 3, in particular, to promote connectivity in rural and remote areas. As such, ISED is proposing to implement the Access Licensing framework in an initial set of bands that were chosen taking the above principles into consideration (discussed later in this section). With the proposed Access Licensing framework, ISED may issue access licences in other spectrum licensed or radio licensed bands that meet the above principles, following consultation.

39. Initial bands that could be made available through the Access Licensing framework are discussed in section 6.

Q4
ISED is seeking comments on its proposed principles to be used when considering spectrum licensed or radio licensed bands where the proposed Access Licensing framework will apply.

Q5
ISED is seeking comments on other principles it should take into account when considering bands where the proposed Access Licensing framework will apply.

6. Process for access spectrum licences

40. This section discusses the licensing process for access spectrum licences, including the type of licences, the licence areas, treatment of existing licences in the band and the conditions of licence.

6.1 Flexible use for access spectrum licences

41. Flexible use licences for mobile and fixed services allow operators to offer mobile services, such as smartphones and connected devices and/or fixed wireless services, such as Internet to the home or private network services. ISED has decided to implement flexible use licensing models in its recent spectrum licensing processes, including for the 3500 MHz and 3800 MHz bands. Flexible use licensing would enable licensees to better align their services to the needs of their customers. This approach is intended to enable new technology and innovations to evolve, while supporting a variety of different needs and use cases, such as broadband for high-speed Internet, and support the growing demand for new 5G services. As discussed in the previous sections, ISED is seeking to support a mixture of services in rural and remote areas. As such, ISED is proposing to adopt a flexible use licensing model for access spectrum licenses.

Q6
ISED is seeking comments on adopting a flexible use licensing model for fixed and mobile services when issuing access spectrum licences.

6.2 Licence areas for access spectrum licences

42. In order to determine the appropriate licensing area, ISED takes into consideration the potential use cases for the spectrum and the characteristics of the spectrum, including propagation characteristics and potential for interference coordination challenges. Access spectrum licences are intended to provide access to spectrum in relatively localized areas within larger areas that have already been licensed. As such, access spectrum licences should be made available for relatively small areas. Licensing based on smaller tier sizes, such as Tier 5, will provide flexibility to licensees by allowing them to concentrate on the geographic markets of most interest and/or to aggregate smaller service areas into larger regions that correspond to their business needs. However, understanding that different frequency bands have different propagation characteristics, i.e., signals transmit further in distance in lower frequency bands, compared with higher frequency bands, ISED is seeking comments on the use of Tier 5 service areas for access spectrum licences and any potential technical challenges should this process be applied to all commercial mobile or flexible use frequency bands.

43. Should spectrum licensing on an even more localized level be feasible in the future, ISED may consider issuing access spectrum licences on a smaller level, as well as reducing the areas covered by existing access spectrum licences to reflect deployment at that time.

44. In order to identify rural and remote Tier 5 service areas in which there is unused spectrum, ISED proposes to conduct an analysis of licensing and site data obtained from its Spectrum Management System (SMS). This analysis would identify Tier 5 service areas in bands subject to access spectrum licensing in which no sites are registered as operating in the licensed block. These block and Tier 5 area pairs will be made available for access spectrum licensing. ISED has conducted an initial analysis, as described above, of the initial access spectrum licence bands proposed in section 6.6, and the results are available in annex C.

Q7
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to use Tier 5 service areas for the proposed access spectrum licences and any associated potential technical challenges should this process be applied to all commercial mobile or flexible use frequency bands.

Q8
ISED is seeking comments on any future adjustments to the licence areas for access spectrum licences, including consideration of more localized areas (e.g. smaller than Tier 5).

Q9
ISED is seeking comments on its proposed process for identifying rural and remote Tier 5 service areas in which there is unused spectrum that would be made available for access spectrum licensing.

6.3 Treatment of existing spectrum licences

45. ISED's proposal would mean that existing spectrum licences in some bands would be subject to access spectrum licensing. However, an existing licensee would be permitted to deploy in all of its licence area unless and until ISED has issued an access spectrum licence within that licence area, noting that deployment of stations and coordination requirements are subject to relevant technical requirements as appropriate. Many existing licences would not be affected and licence areas where there is deployment throughout the licence area would not be affected. However, in areas where an access spectrum licence is granted the access spectrum licensee should have an opportunity to deploy on an immediate basis.

46. As a consequence of the proposal that access spectrum licences be issued on an area basis, it is proposed that the existing primary or subordinate spectrum licensee would not be permitted to deploy new stations in a service area that has been licensed to an access spectrum licensee, unless the access spectrum licensee and the existing licensee arrive at a mutually acceptable coordination agreement. It is further proposed that stations already deployed by primary or subordinate spectrum licensees within their service areas would be protected from subsequent access spectrum deployment in access spectrum areas.

47. ISED proposes to implement the deployment restriction mentioned above via a new condition of licence, which would apply to all licences issued in any band that ISED has determined access spectrum licences may be issued. The licence condition would be imposed at the time ISED makes such a determination and would be published on the ISED website. An example of such a condition can be found in section 6.6.5 below.

Q10
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to impose a condition of licence to prohibit existing primary and subordinate licensees' deployment in areas for which an access spectrum licence has been issued.

Q11
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal that stations already deployed by primary or subordinate spectrum licensees within their service areas would be protected from subsequent deployment under access spectrum licences.

6.4 Eligibility

48. Access spectrum licensing will differ from other spectrum licensing processes in that it will involve licensing spectrum that has already been licensed to, but undeployed by, other licensees. ISED's intention is to provide access to this spectrum for operators that intend to bring services to rural and remote areas, and require access to spectrum for this purpose. While ISED expects that this additional access to spectrum will primarily support operators that do not hold a licence in a given service area, it recognizes that additional spectrum could also support the expansion of existing services and provision of new services from current licensees. As such, ISED is considering two options for establishing the eligibility of existing licensees in a given service area to apply for access spectrum licences.

49. Under Option 1, in order to be eligible for an access spectrum licence, at the time of application, an applicant must not hold a spectrum licence for undeployed commercial mobile, fixed, or flexible use spectrum, in the same Tier 5 licence area as the area for which it is seeking an access spectrum licence. This eligibility requirement is in addition to the general eligibility requirements set out in section 9 of the Radiocommunication Regulations.

50. Under Option 2, in order to be eligible for an access spectrum licence, at the time of application, an applicant must not hold a spectrum licence, whether deployed or undeployed, for commercial mobile, fixed, or flexible use spectrum, in the same Tier 5 licence area as the area for which it is seeking an access spectrum licence. This eligibility requirement is in addition to the general eligibility requirements set out in section 9 of the Radiocommunication Regulations.

Q12
ISED is seeking comments on the above options for eligibility.

Q13
ISED is seeking comments for Option 1 and Option 2, specifically should the deployed and/or undeployed spectrum be based on any frequency band (e.g. 2500 MHz) currently held by the applicant or only the band (e.g. PCS band) for which the application is made?

6.5 Conditions of licence for access spectrum licences

51. As with other licences for commercial mobile, fixed and flexible use spectrum, ISED proposes conditions of licence for access spectrum licences that address the licence term, licence transferability and divisibility, spectrum utilization (deployment), and other requirements, as discussed below.

52. The proposed conditions would apply to all access spectrum licences. It should be noted that licences are subject to the relevant provisions in the Radiocommunication Act and the Radiocommunication Regulations. For example, the Minister continues to have the power to amend the terms and conditions of spectrum licences pursuant to paragraph 5(1)(b) of the Radiocommunication Act. The Minister may do so for a variety of reasons, including furtherance of the policy objectives related to the band. Such action would normally only be undertaken after consultation.

6.5.1 Licence term

53. In proposing a term for access spectrum licences, ISED recognizes the need for operators to have some certainty for the availability of the spectrum as they make investments in network infrastructure and that operators require a certain amount of time to obtain and deploy equipment. At the same time, ISED expects that new access spectrum licensees would put this spectrum to use in a timely manner.

54. In light of the above, ISED is proposing that access spectrum licences have a licence term of three years with a high expectation of renewal for an equivalent term upon expiry, unless a breach of licence condition has occurred, a fundamental reallocation of spectrum to a new service is required or an overriding policy need arises. The proposed condition of licence is as follows:

The term of this licence is three (3) years.

At the end of this term, the licensee will have a high expectation that a new licence will be issued for an equivalent licence term unless a breach of licence condition has occurred, a fundamental reallocation of spectrum to a new service is required, or an overriding policy need arises.

Q14
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to issue access spectrum licences with a three-year licence term and the proposed wording of the condition of licence above.

6.5.2 Licence transferability, divisibility and subordinate licensing

55. As noted in CPC-2-1-23, Licensing Procedure for Spectrum Licences for Terrestrial Services, "…spectrum licences assigned under the different licensing processes may not have the same privileges. One such privilege is that of the enhanced transferability and the divisibility rights accorded to spectrum licences." Typically, licences issued via competitive processes, such as an auction, may be transferred in whole or in part. ISED is not proposing to issue access spectrum licences via a competitive process, but rather through a first-come, first-served approach, as noted above. As such, ISED is proposing that access spectrum licences not be granted transfer, subordination or subdivision privileges.

Q15
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal that access spectrum licences not contain transfer, subdivision or subordination privileges.

6.5.3 Deployment requirements

56. ISED uses deployment requirements to encourage licensees to put the spectrum to use to provide wireless services in Canada and to deter acquisition of spectrum licences by speculators and those whose intent is to prevent access to the spectrum by their competitors.

57. Commercial mobile and flexible use licences typically include conditions regarding spectrum utilization, or deployment. Given that access licensing entails making previously licensed spectrum available for timely deployment, where that spectrum is used to provide either commercial mobile services, fixed broadband services, or private network applications, ISED is of the view that deployment requirements for access spectrum licences in a given band should align generally with the deployment conditions imposed on existing spectrum licensees in the band. Accordingly, deployment requirements for a given access spectrum licence will vary based on the conditions of licence set out in the licensing framework for the specific band. As the proposed access spectrum licence area would be a smaller area than the licence areas in the original licensing framework for the specific band, ISED would adjust the deployment requirements to take this difference into account.

58. If an access spectrum licence is used to support a private network, ISED recognizes that the licensee may have a different business case than a mobile or fixed wireless operator. As such, ISED is seeking comments regarding the appropriateness of existing deployment requirements for private networks. For example, ISED is seeking comments as to whether an alternative geographic deployment condition might be used instead, or if there are other options ISED should consider as well as the level of deployment that would be appropriate in these cases.

59. Further, there is a question as to the amount of time that should be given to access spectrum licensees in order to meet the established deployment requirements for the licence. As access spectrum licensing is intended to promote deployment in rural and remote areas, it may be appropriate to establish requirements within and at the end of the term of the licence. For example, considering the three-year licence term proposed above in section 6.5.1, deployment requirements would potentially apply after one year and then increase by the end of the three-year term. Licensees would be required to meet the end-of-term deployment requirements in order to be eligible to renew the licence.

Q16
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to align the deployment conditions for access spectrum licences with the relevant conditions of licence currently applied to the licences in the specific band, taking into account any differing characteristics such as Tier sizes, and the timing as to when those deployment requirements should apply. ISED is also seeking comments on the appropriateness of existing deployment requirements for private networks.

ISED will consider alternative proposals for the deployment requirements for access spectrum licences. Such proposals should contain a rationale and discussion of their implications for ISED's policy objectives.

6.5.4 Other conditions of licence

60. Since it is proposed that access spectrum licences be flexible use, ISED proposes that other conditions of licence be based on those typically included in commercial mobile and flexible use licences. ISED is seeking comments on additional conditions of licence outlined in annex B that would apply to access spectrum licences issued through the proposed Access Licensing framework. The proposed conditions of licence in annex B are based on existing policies and procedures.

Q17
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to apply the conditions of licence set out in annex B to access spectrum licences issued through the proposed Access Licensing framework.

6.6 Initial access spectrum licence bands

61. In identifying the initial bands proposed to be made available through access spectrum licensing, ISED took into account the principles set out in section 5. This section discusses how these principles apply to the two bands ISED is proposing as initial access spectrum licensing bands.

62. The 800 MHz cellular band was initially licensed in 1983. With its extensive equipment ecosystem and favourable propagation characteristics, this band is ideal for rural coverage. Although existing licensees have been able to make the 800 MHz cellular band available on the secondary market, and prospective operators have been able to access unused spectrum in certain areas through RP-019, Policy for the Provision of Cellular Services by New Parties (discussed further below), there remain many rural and remote areas without deployment.

63. The Personal Communications Services (PCS) band was initially licensed in 1995. The PCS band offers increased capacity for last mile distribution and for industrial applications. PCS has significant amounts of spectrum available in rural and remote areas where there has been no deployment.

64. Both the 800 MHz cellular and PCS bands benefit from mature equipment ecosystems. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has standardized the technical specifications for Long-Term Evolution (LTE) band 5 and band 2, which cover the cellular and PCS frequency bands, respectively, to operate with frequency-division duplex (FDD) technologies. Furthermore, the fifth generation (5G) bands n5 and n2 have already been standardized under the 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR) standards for these aforementioned bands.

65. Concurrently to the release of this consultation paper, ISED has released DGSO-003-2021, Consultation on Amending Cellular and Personal Communications Services (PCS) Licence Conditions, in order to reintroduce and propose increased deployment requirements for these bands. However, ISED expects there will still be significant amounts of spectrum available in more rural and remote areas as deployment requirements balance the need to foster innovation and investment. Based on this and its analysis of the 800 MHz cellular and PCS blocks A to F licensing and deployment data covering rural and remote Tier 5 service areas, ISED proposes to implement the proposed Access Licensing framework to both of these bands.

6.6.1 800 MHz cellular (824-849 MHz/869-894 MHz)

66. The 800 MHz cellular band is used primarily to provide commercial mobile wireless services, as well as some fixed services. Licences were first issued by ISED in 1983 through a process of comparative review, with one 20 MHz sub-band (Block A) national licence currently held by Rogers Wireless Inc. and the other 20 MHz sub-band (Block B) licensed to various telecommunications common carriers across Canada. Initially, 5 MHz of spectrum for each of blocks A and B was reserved for future use, but in 1989 the reserved spectrum was allotted to each block and assigned to the incumbent licensees, forming the current band plan of two paired blocks of 25 MHz each. See figure 1 for the current band plan.

Figure 1: 800 MHz cellular band plan

Figure 1: 800 MHz cellular band plan
Description of figure 1

This chart shows the sub-allocation for the bands 824 to 849 MHz and 869 to 894 MHz. Frequencies from 824 to 849 MHz will be used for mobile station transmissions, whereas frequencies from 869 to 894 MHz will be used for base station transmissions. The sub-bands 824 to 835 MHz and 845 to 846.5 MHz, paired with 869 to 880 MHz and 890 to 891.5 MHz, are identified as sub-band A. The sub-bands 835 to 845 MHz and 846.5 to 849 MHz, paired with 880 to 890 MHz and 891.5 to 894, are identified as sub-band B.

67. In the Canadian Table of Frequency Allocations (CTFA) the cellular band (824-849 MHz/869-894 MHz) is allocated on a primary basis to the mobile service and on a secondary basis to the fixed service in the 824-849 MHz and 869-890 MHz portion of the band, and is allocated to the fixed service and mobile service on a co-primary basis in the 890-894 MHz portion.

68. As discussed in section 6.1, ISED is proposing to adopt a flexible use licensing model when issuing access spectrum licences. This proposal will enable operators to provide the service required by their subscribers; be it to support data-intensive commercial mobile applications, or to provide broadband Internet services to homes or private networks. In other bands that allow flexible use services, such as the 3500 MHz band, both fixed and mobile services have been allocated on a co-primary basis. In order to enable flexible mobile or fixed deployments in the 800 MHz cellular band, ISED is proposing to change the existing status of the fixed service from secondary to co-primary in the 824-849 MHz/869-894 MHz range, where relevant.

69. Through this consultation, ISED is proposing to make modifications to the CTFA as set out in table 1.

Table 1: Proposed modification to the CTFA in the range 806-902 MHz
MHz
806-890 824 MOBILE 5.317A C7
Fixed
5.317 5.318
824 - 849 MOBILE 5.317A C7
Fixed MOD FIXED
5.317 5.318
849-869 MOBILE 5.317A C7
Fixed
5.317 5.318
869-890 MOBILE 5.317A C7
Fixed MOD FIXED
5.317 5.318
890-902 FIXED
MOBILE except aeronautical mobile 5.317A C7
Radiolocation C5A
5.318

70. ISED has conducted a preliminary analysis, as described in section 6.2, to identify Tier 5 areas in which no sites have been registered in ISED's SMS for a licensed 800 MHz cellular block. The results of this analysis are summarized in table 2, and more detailed results are available in annex C. As the analysis indicates, there are a significant number of Tier 5 rural and remote service areas that have no sites registered in SMS in either the A or B blocks in the 800 MHz cellular band. Applying access spectrum licensing to the 800 MHz cellular band would create opportunities for providing services in nearly all provinces and territories.

Table 2: Number of rural or remote Tier 5 area blocks without deployment (800 MHz cellular A and B blocks)
800 MHz cellular block A B
Rural or remote Tier 5 area blocks without deployment 83 18

71. In light of the above considerations, ISED is proposing to make the 800 MHz cellular band (824-849 MHz/869-894 MHz) available through access spectrum licensing in rural and remote Tier 5 service areas in which unused spectrum has been identified through the process described in section 6.2.

6.6.2 PCS A-F blocks (1850-1910 MHz / 1930-1990 MHz)

72. The PCS band, blocks A-F, is used primarily to provide commercial mobile services, as well as some fixed services. Licences in part of the band were first issued by ISED in 1995 through a process of comparative review, which resulted in the issuance of two national 30 MHz licences, a national 10 MHz licence, and eleven regional 10 MHz licences. A total of 40 MHz was held in reserve, with 52 spectrum licences awarded through a 2001 auction process, and remaining licences made available on a first-come, first-served basis starting in 2003. The current PCS band plan is shown in figure 2.

Figure 2: PCS band plan

Figure 2: PCS band plan
Description of figure 2

This figure shows the PCS band plan. Block A is a paired 30 MHz block from 1850-1865/1930-1945 MHz. Blocks D, B1, B2, B3, E, F, C1, C2, and C3 are paired 10 MHz blocks in 1865-1910 MHz/1945-1990 MHz range.

73. In the CTFA, the PCS band (1850-1910 MHz/1930-1990 MHz) is allocated to the fixed service and mobile service on a co-primary basis. No further changes are required to the CTFA to enable flexible use licensing in the PCS blocks.

74. ISED has conducted a preliminary analysis, as described in section 6.2, to identify Tier 5 areas in which no sites have been registered in ISED's SMS for a licensed block A through F in the PCS band. The results of this analysis are summarized in table 3 and more detailed results are available in annex C. As the analysis indicates, there are a significant number of Tier 5 rural and remote service areas that have no sites registered in SMS for at least one of blocks A through F in the PCS band. Applying the access spectrum licensing to the PCS band would create opportunities for providing services in all provinces and territories.

Table 3: Number of rural or remote Tier 5 area blocks without deployment (PCS A-F blocks)
PCS block A B1 B2 B3 C1 C2 C3 D E F
Rural or remote Tier 5 area blocks without deployment 299 100 97 129 346 246 242 223 242 270

75. In light of the above considerations, ISED is proposing to make the 1850-1910 MHz/1930-1990 MHz portions of the PCS band available through access spectrum licensing in rural and remote Tier 5 service areas in which unused spectrum has been identified through the process described in section 6.2.

Q18
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to make 800 MHz cellular available for access spectrum licenses in rural and remote Tier 5 service areas in which the existing primary or subordinate has no deployment.

Q19
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to modify the CTFA, where relevant, to change the existing fixed service allocation to primary status in the 824-849 MHz/869-894 MHz range, noting that the fixed service is already allocated on a primary basis in the 890-894 MHz portion.

Q20
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to make PCS blocks A to F available for access spectrum licenses in rural and remote Tier 5 service areas in which the existing primary or subordinate licensee has no deployment.

Q21
ISED is seeking comments on any other spectrum licence bands that meet the principles proposed in section 5 that could be considered for access spectrum licensing.

6.6.3 Technical requirements for initial access spectrum licences

76. Equipment operating in the cellular and PCS bands are subject to compliance with RSS-132, Cellular Telephone Systems Operating in the Bands 824-849 MHz and 869-894 MHz and RSS-133, 2 GHz Personal Communications Services, respectively. In addition to equipment standards, ISED establishes technical requirements to enable coexistence and facilitate coordination between licensees operating on the same frequency in neighbouring services areas or operating on adjacent frequencies. These specifications are detailed in relevant Standard Radio Systems Plans (SRSP) and oftentimes include a minimum geographic separation distance between two service areas or a maximum allowable field strength at the service area boundary where operations beyond these technical parameters may require coordination between impacted licensees.

77. For the 800 MHz cellular band, ISED established technical requirements in SRSP-503, Technical Requirements for Cellular Radiotelephone Systems Operating in the Bands 824-849 MHz and 869-894 MHz, including specific technical requirements such as power level and coordination requirements, including maximum field strength and coordination distances. Similar technical requirements for PCS operations are established in SRSP-510, Technical Requirements for Personal Communications Services (PCS) in the Bands 1850-1915 MHz and 1930-1995 MHz. ISED is proposing that access spectrum licences be required to operate under the same set of technical requirements in their respective bands. This includes, among other technical requirements, not exceeding the specified maximum field strength at the service area boundary for the given frequency band, where applicable, at the tier 5 service area boundaries.

Q22
ISED is seeking comments on the proposal to generally adopt the same technical requirements, including coordination requirements, as published in RSS-132 and SRSP-503 in the cellular band, and RSS-133 and SRSP-510 in the PCS band for future access spectrum licences.

6.6.4 Treatment of existing licences in the 800 MHz cellular and PCS bands

78. Existing spectrum licences: ISED initially licensed the cellular band in 1983 and the PCS band in 1995. Since the initial licences were issued, ISED has periodically issued new licences in the bands and renewed existing licences. Existing primary licences are generally at the Tier 2, 3 or 4 levels in these bands, with a number of PCS licences also issued as TEL-area licences. ISED's access spectrum licensing proposal involves licensing previously licensed, but undeployed, spectrum at the Tier 5 level. These undeployed Tier 5 areas are subdivisions of the TEL, Tier 2, 3 or 4 licence areas where existing licensees hold licences. 

79. In section 6.2, ISED proposed that access spectrum licences be made available for blocks in rural and remote Tier 5 service areas where an existing licensee (whether primary or subordinate) has not deployed. In cases where an existing licensee has deployed in its licence block within a specific Tier 5 service area, ISED is proposing that the spectrum block/Tier 5 service area combination would not be available for licensing through the access spectrum licensing process. ISED is proposing to publish a preliminary list of available licences and areas with the decision.

80. ISED proposes the following licence amendment for all existing spectrum licences at the time of a decision on this consultation, in blocks A and B of the cellular band and blocks A to F, inclusively, of the PCS band, at the end of the Condition of Licence on "International and Domestic Coordination:"

This licence is subject to licensing by access spectrum licensees in accordance with the Access Licensing framework. Where an access spectrum licence has been issued, the licensee may only deploy in the area licensed to an access spectrum licensee where the licensee and the access spectrum licensee have entered into a coordination agreement.

81. The amendment would take effect upon publication of the decision following this consultation. ISED would also make any other necessary amendments to existing licences following from this consultation.

82. As discussed in section 6.6.3, SRSP-503 and SRSP-510, include specific requirements for coordination between licensees in the cellular and PCS bands. As ISED is proposing that access spectrum licensees in the cellular and PCS bands must meet those same technical requirements, ISED must establish the relationship between existing licensees and future access licensees in these bands. ISED is proposing that existing spectrum licence operations be protected from access spectrum licence operation. In terms of the cellular and PCS bands, this would mean that existing stations would be protected from future stations authorized under an access spectrum licence. As such, ISED is proposing that existing stations in the cellular and PCS bands would not require further coordination vis-a-vis new access spectrum licence operations in adjacent service areas. However, ISED is proposing that any future stations deployed by existing cellular and PCS licensees would be subject to the coordination rules in SRSP-503 and SRSP-510 applied at the new Tier 5 service area boundary where an access spectrum licence has been issued.

83. Existing radio licences: In addition to the spectrum licences discussed above, ISED has issued a number of radio licences in the 800 MHz cellular and PCS bands.

84. In the 800 MHz cellular band, there are 6 radio licences, covering 37 sites. Some of these licences are developmental and therefore subject to "no-interference, no-protection" licence conditions. The remaining licences are for sites outside rural and remote Tier 5 areas, or contain conditions requiring the licensee to operate on a "no-interference, no-protection" basis. As such, ISED is not proposing any measures for access spectrum licensees with respect to radio licences in the 800 MHz cellular band.

85. In the PCS band, there are 30 radio licences for sites in rural or remote Tier 5 areas. Most of these licences are for standard systems, as this term is defined in section 3.1 of SP-Gen, General Information Related to Spectrum Utilization and Radio Systems Policies.

86. In ISED's past spectrum licensing of the PCS band, existing fixed point-to-point licensees have been subject to a displacement process, as described in CPC-2-1-09, Displacement of Fixed Service Stations Operating in the 2 GHz Frequency Range to Accommodate Licensed Personal Communications Services (PCS). As discussed above, ISED is proposing that existing spectrum licensees be protected from access spectrum licensees. A similar approach could be appropriate for existing radio licensees, notwithstanding CPC-2-1-09. Thus, ISED is proposing that existing radio licensees in the PCS band would be protected from access spectrum operations and access spectrum licensees may not trigger displacement of existing radio licences in the PCS band.

87. ISED proposes that radio licensees operating standard systems in the PCS band be protected from interference from access spectrum licensees operating standard systems. Radio licensees with non-standard systems, or conditions of licence requiring them to operate on a no-interference, no-protection basis, would not be protected from these access spectrum licensees. When ISED releases spectrum for access licensing, it will identify the Tier 5 areas and spectrum blocks where a radio licensee is already operating a standard system.

Q23
ISED is seeking comments on the above proposal to amend the Condition of Licence concerning "International and Domestic Coordination" for all existing spectrum licensees in blocks A and B of the cellular band and blocks A through F, inclusively, of the PCS band.

Q24
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal that existing cellular and PCS stations under spectrum licences will be protected from access spectrum licence operations and would not be required to coordinate with new access spectrum licence operations in adjacent service areas.

Q25
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal that any future stations deployed by existing cellular and PCS spectrum licensees would be subject to the coordination rules in SRSP-503 and SRSP-510 applied at the new Tier 5 service area boundary where an access spectrum licence has been issued.

Q26
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal that existing radio licensees operating standard systems in the PCS band would be protected from access spectrum operations and access spectrum licensees may not trigger displacement of existing radio licences in the PCS band.

6.6.5 Deployment requirements for initial access spectrum licences

88. In 6.5.3 above, ISED proposes to align deployment conditions for access spectrum licences to the requirements of the bands subject to access licensing. The deployment requirements for the bands proposed for initial access spectrum licensing are the subject of a concurrent consultation, DGSO-003-2021, Consultation on Amending Cellular and Personal Communications Services (PCS) Licence Conditions. The decision resulting from that consultation will also impact the deployment requirements imposed on these initial access spectrum licences.

6.6.6 Licence fees for initial access spectrum licences

89. ISED has in place a fee schedule for licences in the cellular and PCS bands, and these fees would therefore apply to access spectrum licences. These fees would be paid annually, calculated in accordance with DGRB-005-03, Radio Authorization Fees for Wireless Telecommunication Systems that Operate in the Radio Frequency Bands 824.040 MHz to 848.970 MHz, 869.040 MHz to 893.970 MHz or 1850 MHz to 1990 MHz and adjusted according to table 2 of ISED's Spectrum and telecommunications fees website. For the fiscal year 2021-22, the applicable fee is $0.03654103 per MHz per population for the authorized service area (based on the 2001 Census).

6.6.7 Process for making access spectrum licences available

90. ISED proposes to publish a list of available blocks by Tier 5 service area, in the decision following this consultation. This publication process follows the one ISED has generally used in releasing other blocks of spectrum for spectrum licensing, including the 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 releases of PCS spectrum for first-come, first-served licensing. Additionally, ISED proposes to publish an updated list of cellular and PCS blocks A to F, which remain undeployed by Tier 5 service area, as part of the decision resulting from this consultation.

91. In an analysis conducted based on data from March 2021, ISED identified 2,194 blocks of undeployed cellular and PCS blocks A to F in rural and remote Tier 5 service areas across Canada that could be made available as access spectrum licences. Typically, when ISED has released spectrum on a first-come, first-served basis in the past, the number of blocks and service areas available has not exceeded 150. For example, when it released spectrum in the 3.4 GHz band in 2014 on a first-come, first-served basis, ISED made 115 blocks available, while its 2011 release of PCS spectrum on a first-come, first-served basis included 33 blocks. The number of undeployed blocks that could be made available for access spectrum licensing is therefore far greater than for previous first-come, first-served spectrum releases. Moreover, access spectrum licensing is a new spectrum licensing approach for which demand is unknown at this time. With a view to making these licences available to new licensees in a timely and orderly fashion, ISED is proposing two options to pilot the release of spectrum for access spectrum licensing.

Option 1: Release of all available blocks, with revised service standard

92. Applications for first-come, first-served spectrum licences in bands with established fees, including cellular and PCS, are subject to ISED's Spectrum and Telecommunications Service Standards. According to the service standards for these types of licences, ISED will process applications in 28 calendar days from receipt of the complete application.

93. As access spectrum licensing is a new method of issuing spectrum licenses, and the level of demand for up to 2,194 undeployed spectrum blocks (as of March 2021) is unknown, potential applicants will likely require assistance with or clarifications of the licensing process. ISED support to applicants will therefore potentially compromise the ability of program management to ensure compliance with the 28-day service standard. Under Option 1, ISED would release all undeployed spectrum blocks three months following the decision, but the applicable service standard would be 126 calendar days. The standard would apply to access spectrum licence applications submitted under the Access Licensing framework. In addition, to allow equitable access to access spectrum licences, ISED proposes that eligible applicants be permitted to apply for not more than 20 access spectrum licences in any 12-month period.

Option 2: Sequential release of "tranches" of spectrum blocks

94. Under Option 2, ISED would make selected blocks in selected Tier 5 service areas available for access spectrum licensing in sequential releases (or "tranches"). With each release, ISED would publish a list of a number of available blocks and areas. Interested parties could apply for spectrum in these blocks and areas, and ISED would review and process these applications and issue licences before proceeding with the release of another tranche. In so doing, ISED could make spectrum available for access licensing in a predictable manner, and applications could be processed in a timely fashion per the existing service standard. Under Option 2 ISED would release blocks in tranches (e.g. 50 blocks at a time) for access spectrum licensing on a quarterly basis, starting three months following the publication of the decision. ISED would announce the release of each tranche on its website and applicants would be permitted to apply on a first-come, first-served basis as described earlier in this section.

95. Spectrum that is not licensed in earlier tranches would remain available for access spectrum licensing, unless it is deployed or subordinated by the existing licensee. ISED would update the list of blocks that were not licensed in previous tranches as part of the notification for the next tranche, to take into account such deployments or subordinations. In addition, to allow equitable access, ISED proposes that eligible applicants be permitted to apply for not more than five access spectrum licences in any tranche.

96. Under Option 2, ISED's determination of blocks and areas for release could be based on a number of factors, including:

  • equitable geographic distribution (each release should include licence areas across Canada)
  • coverage (bringing service to underserved rural and remote areas)
  • impact on existing spectrum licensees
  • potential business cases (recognizing the varying amounts of frequency available in MHz)
  • ISED's capacity to process applications in a timely manner (the number of blocks in each tranche would not exceed what could be processed according to the existing service standard of 28 days)

Q27
ISED is seeking comments on the process for making access spectrum licences available and the options described above.

Q28
Under both options, ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to begin access spectrum licensing three months after the publication of the decision.

Q29
Under both options, ISED is seeking comments on its proposals to limit the number of access spectrum licence applications to:

  • Option 1: 20 per applicant per 12 month period
  • Option 2: 5 per applicant at the opening of the access licensing process for each tranche

Q30
Under Option 2, ISED is seeking proposals on how it should prioritize Tier 5 licence areas and spectrum blocks if it adopts a sequential release of spectrum for access spectrum licensing. Proposals should address the key considerations of equitable geographic distribution, coverage, impacts on existing licensees, potential business cases, and timeliness.

6.6.8 Decision to rescind RP-019, Policy for the Provision of Cellular Services by New Parties

97. RP-019, Policy for the Provision of Cellular Services by New Parties was introduced in 1998 as a way to provide for secondary licensing for a limited range of services, however, utilization of the policy has been limited. With the proposal of the access licence framework, ISED is of the view that RP-019 is made redundant and will accordingly rescind this policy, effective August 16, 2021. ISED notes that this decision will not impact existing licences issued under the RP-019 policy.

D1
ISED hereby rescinds RP-019, Policy for the Provision of Cellular Services by New Parties, effective August 16, 2021.

7. Process for access radio licences

98. In section 5, ISED proposed to make access radio licences available under the proposed Access Licensing framework. This section outlines a proposed approach to issuing access radio licences, and the conditions of licence that would apply to them.

7.1 Site-specific access radio licences

99. Land mobile radio (LMR) and fixed systems are issued through a site-based radio licensing regime. As with the proposals for access spectrum licences, ISED is proposing to generally align with the original licensing approach when applying the Access Licensing framework to bands identified for access radio licences. Aligning with the same site-specific regime when applying the Access Licensing framework to radio licensed bands will allow ISED to manage interference to existing LMR or fixed licensees while giving flexibility to access radio licensees to deploy in localized areas. As such, ISED is proposing to issue access radio licences on a site specific basis.

100. As discussed in section 5, ISED is proposing to make access radio licences available within rural and remote Tier 5 service areas. Given that ISED would be managing the access radio licences on a site-by-site basis, it can determine spectrum availability and the potential for interference to existing LMR or fixed licensees on a case-by-case basis. As such, ISED is proposing to allow access radio licensing in all rural and remote Tier 5 service areas in bands identified for access radio licensing.

Q31
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to issue site-specific access radio licences within rural and remote Tier 5 service areas under the Access Licensing framework.

7.2 Process for making access radio licences available

101. As noted above, ISED proposes to use site-specific licensing for access radio licences. As with its existing radio licensing process, interested applicants may request licences through ISED's Spectrum Management System, and ISED proposes that these applications follow the existing process used for the LMR service. ISED further proposes, as for LMR licence applications, that there be no limit to the number of applications per access radio licence applicant.

Q32
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to follow its LMR licensing process to receive and review applications for access radio licences.

Q33
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal not to limit the number of access radio licence applications an applicant may submit via the Spectrum Management System for these bands.

7.3 Eligibility

102. The Radiocommunication Regulations set out terms and conditions for radio licences for LMR systems, and these will apply to access radio licences. This includes the eligibility criteria set out in section 9 of the Regulations, which apply to both fixed and mobile radio licences.

103. ISED's underlying principle for access radio licensing is that spectrum be made available to parties seeking to use it for private networks. ISED is seeking proposals on eligibility conditions for access radio licences that are consistent with this principle, and that preclude the possibility of parties obtaining licences for speculative or anti-competitive purposes. For example, ISED could limit eligibility to those parties who can present to ISED a plan for a specific private network or ISED could designate a specific set of users who can apply through the Access Licensing framework, similar to what it has done by designating specific bands for use by public safety or utilities. ISED is also seeking comments as to whether it should limit licensing to only "radiocommunication users" or if issuing licences as "radiocommunication service providers" (as those terms are defined in the Radiocommunication Regulations) should also be permitted.

Q34
ISED is seeking comments on potential eligibility restrictions for access radio licences.

7.4 Conditions of licence for access radio licences

104. ISED is proposing to align the conditions of licence for access radio licences with those currently applied to radio licences for LMR systems. As such, ISED proposes the following licence conditions.

7.4.1 Licence term

105. As with other radio licences, access radio licences would have one-year terms.

7.4.2 Radio station installations

106. The licensee must comply with CPC-2-0-03, Radiocommunication and Broadcasting Antenna Systems, as amended from time to time.

Provision of technical information:

The licensee shall, within 30 calendar days following a request from ISED, provide a summary of all data for the radio equipment and system related to this licence as set out in the request. Data may include, but is not limited to: channel loading, usage and capacity, and bandwidth.

Q35
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to apply the above conditions of licence to access radio licences.

7.4.3 Initial access radio licence band

107. In attempting to identify additional spectrum for broadband users seeking to establish private networks, ISED also examined a number of bands currently authorized through a radio licensing framework. Based on spectrum availability, equipment ecosystems, and the potential for new broadband uses to share with existing uses, ISED is of the view that the 900 MHz band offers an opportunity for broadband users to access spectrum to support private networks.

108. Current use of 896-901 MHz/935-940 MHz: In the CTFA, the paired bands 896-901 MHz/935-940 MHz make up the 900 MHz land mobile radio (LMR) band, which is allocated to fixed and mobile (except aeronautical mobile) services on a co-primary basis. Figure 3 shows the current use of the 900 MHz LMR band and the adjacent services in the 900 MHz frequency range.

Figure 3: Current use in the 900 MHz frequency range

Figure 3: Current use in the 900 MHz frequency range
Description of figure 3

This figure shows the current use of the 900 MHz Land Mobile Radio (LMR) band (the paired bands 896-901 MHz/935-940 MHz) as well as the directly adjacent services in the 900 MHz frequency range including Air to Ground, Fixed, and Narrowband Personal Communications Service.

109. The 900 MHz LMR band consists of 399 paired channels of 12.5 kHz channel bandwidth that are mainly used to provide two-way voice communications and support day-to-day operational needs in industries such as oil and gas, utilities, transportation, and manufacturing as well as organizations, such as municipal government. In addition, of the 399 paired channels, 6 pairs are reserved for the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) as a nationwide spectrum licence surrounding railroad rights-of-way for the implementation of an Advanced Train Control System (ATCS). ATCS employs advanced computer-based techniques designed specifically for use with large scale mobile systems, to control and monitor train movements along railway rights-of-way. In these bands there are approximately 400 licences across the country, mostly concentrated around a dozen locations in Ontario and Alberta, resulting in availability of these channels in most rural and remote areas. Figure 4 shows the approximate locations of licences in the 896-901 MHz and 935-940 MHz bands.

Figure 4: Locations of licences in 896-901 MHz and 935-940 MHz band

Figure 4: Locations of licences in 896-901 MHz and 935-940 MHz band
Description of figure 4

The figure shows a map of Canada with the location of licences in the 896-901 MHz and 935-940 MHz band.

110. United States (US) usage of 896-901 MHz/935-940 MHz: In the US, the 900 MHz LMR band had the same uses as in Canada, with the Association of American Railroad (AAR)'s ATCS also licensed for the same reserved channels as the ATCS operated by the RAC. However, in May 2020, the FCC approved a Report and Order realigning 6 MHz of 900 MHz LMR spectrum for private wireless broadband services. The FCC created a broadband segment in 897.5-900.5 MHz/936.5-939.5 MHz (3+3 MHz), which left two separate narrowband segments: a 1.5/1.5 megahertz segment (896-897.5/935-936.5 MHz) below the broadband segment, and a 0.5/0.5 megahertz segment (900.5-901/939.5-940 MHz) above the broadband segment (see figure 5).

Figure 5: FCC changes to the 900 MHz LMR band

Figure 5: FCC changes to the 900 MHz LMR band
Description of figure 5

This figure displays the changes made to the 900 MHz LMR band by the FCC in the US. Changes displayed are a shift from 5 MHz of narrowband between 896-901/935-940 MHz to 3 MHz of broadband and 2 MHz of narrowband in the 896-901/935-940 MHz ranges.

111. The FCC adopted rules for broadband licences on a county-by-county basis, instead of simultaneously across the country and established a negotiation-based transition strategy through private agreements between narrowband and broadband licensees. To facilitate the transition, the FCC modified the AAR's existing nationwide spectrum licence to relocate the 6 reserved paired channels to a single reserved paired 125 kHz channel at 896.00625-896.13125/935.00625-935.13125 MHz.

112. Although there was no existing equipment ecosystem for this new band plan at the time of the Report and Order being approved, a limited range of equipment is currently available. Furthermore, according to comments submitted to the FCC during their proceeding, the 3GPP band class 8 equipment ecosystem, though having a different duplex spacing, can be used after some modifications. Given that some equipment is already available only 18 months after the adoption of the new band plan, the potential for existing equipment to be modified to function within the new band plan, and the size of the US market, ISED expects that a wide range of compatible 4G equipment to become available within the coming years. Given the current limitation of 5 MHz bandwidths for 5G, future availability of 5G equipment is uncertain.

113. Allowing broadband use of the 900 MHz LMR band in rural and remote areas: The 900 MHz LMR licensees typically operate conventional or trunked networks that support two-way voice and data communications requiring low data rates. ISED recognizes the importance of maintaining narrowband deployments to satisfy a variety of communications needs. However, ISED studies show that broadband could be enabled within the 900 MHz LMR band in rural and remote areas without unduly constraining narrowband uses. ISED is of the view that allowing broadband use would enable users to take advantage of next generation applications, which are not possible with existing narrowband systems and this would be beneficial for the safety, security and productivity of industries that operate in rural and remote areas. In order to maximize the availability of broadband spectrum and minimize impacts to existing narrowband licensees, ISED proposes to allow broadband use in the 900 MHz LMR band in rural and remote Tier 5 service areas and only in locations within those service areas where there will be no interference to existing LMR licensees.

114. ISED is proposing to align with the US band plan and to issue broadband access radio licences in the 897.5-900.5 MHz and 936.5-939.5 MHz portions of the 900 MHz LMR band in rural and remote Tier 5 service areas and only in locations within those service areas where there will be no interference to existing LMR licensees (as shown in figure 6 below). ISED recognizes that a 3/3 MHz broadband segment is likely not enough to achieve CRTC's universal broadband service objective of 50/10 Mbps for public consumers. However, as 3/3 MHz blocks are supported by wireless technical standards such as Long Term Evolution (LTE), business and enterprise users whose needs are not being met by the consumer-driven public service providers, could take advantage of this segment for a wide variety of innovative applications.

115. In addition to a broadband segment, the US band plan includes two separate narrowband segments: a 1.5/1.5 MHz segment (896-897.5/935-936.5 MHz) below the broadband segment and a 0.5/0.5 MHz segment (900.5-901/939.5-940 MHz) above the broadband segment. This arrangement is beneficial as it enables land mobile radio users in rural and remote areas to continue to deploy traditional narrowband systems even if a licence has been issued for a broadband system in the same area.

Figure 6: Proposed changes to the 900 MHz LMR band plan

Figure 6: Proposed changes to the 900 MHz LMR band plan
Description of figure 6

This figure outlines the proposed changes to the 900 MHz LMR band plan. The changes presented would allow the issuance of broadband access radio licences in the 897.5-900.5/936.5-939.5 MHz portions of the 900MHz LMR band.

116. ISED also considered the feasibility of making 896-901 MHz/941-946 MHz available for broadband. Given that the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) LTE band class 8, commonly known as the extended GSM band, uses 880- 915 MHz for uplink and 925- 960 MHz for downlink, it would offer an opportunity to provide 5+5 MHz in 896-901 MHz/941-946 MHz. However, this pairing would complicate sharing as it overlaps with existing fixed, MCS and wireless microphone operations in the 941-946 MHz band, resulting in limited usability of such an option. Furthermore, ISED is of the view that aligning with the US band plan in rural and remote areas would have the best long-term success for the future use of the band should ISED decide to align with the US band plan changes in rest of Canada, particularly along the border.

117. ISED recognizes that there may be some stakeholders who would support aligning with the US changes to 900 MHz LMR band plan, so that broadband is available in all parts of Canada. However, this would require a full re-banding process for existing LMR licensees, which would take several years to complete. ISED may consider a full alignment with the US plan in the future, but has no short-term plans for changes to this band. Any such changes would be through a future consultation.

Q36
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to allow broadband use in the 900 MHz LMR band as shown in figure 6.

Q37
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to issue access radio licenses in the 897.5-900.5 MHz and 936.5-939.5 MHz portions of the 900 MHz LMR band in rural and remote Tier 5 service areas and only in locations within those service areas where there will be no interference to existing LMR operations.

Q38
ISED is seeking comments on availability of equipment for the proposed broadband service, including the feasibility of modifying 3GPP band 8 equipment.

Q39
ISED is seeking comments on the potential use cases of 3/3 MHz for broadband services, including the potential for 5G deployment.

Q40
ISED is seeking comments on the feasibility of also making 896-901 MHz and 941-946 MHz available for broadband at the same time as 987.5-900.5 MHz and 936.5-939.5 MHz.

7.4.4 Technical requirements for initial access radio licences

118. ISED is seeking comments on some of the key elements for the future technical rules to allow for coexistence between new and existing services both within and adjacent to the 900 MHz narrowband. ISED will incorporate input received through this consultation as it develops technical rules in consultation with stakeholders, which typically takes place via the Radio Advisory Board of Canada (RABC).

119. SRSP-506, Technical Requirements for Land Mobile and Fixed Radio Services Operating in the Bands 896-901 MHz and 935-940 MHz outlines the current technical requirements for land mobile and fixed radio services operating in the 900 MHz narrowband. The document includes, among other things, sharing arrangements along the border between Canada and the US, limitations on power and channel usage, as well as a methodology to determine the required geographic separation between co-channel systems. For the broadband segment, ISED proposes to use the same methodology to determine the required geographic separation between co-channel broadband, and broadband/narrowband, operations in order to simplify coordination between the two types of systems.

120. As shown in figure 6, the proposed ISED plan offers 1.5 MHz of separation between the broadband segment and adjacent services such as the Air-Ground Radiotelephone Service in 894-896 MHz, the fixed microwave systems spectrum in 932-935 MHz, and 500 kHz of separation between the broadband segment and the Narrowband Personal Communications Service operating in 901-902/940-941 MHz. ISED is of the view that these frequency separations will provide sufficient protections to Air-Ground Radiotelephone Service, fixed service and Narrowband Personal Communications Service.

121. It should be noted that unless and until Canada and the US update cross-border arrangements to account for changes in use, future broadband users in Canada/US border regions remain subject to existing sharing arrangements, which were designed for narrowband operations. The arrangements include some limitations on channel usage, as the 900 MHz narrowband channels are divided between the two countries on a primary and secondary basis. It is therefore possible that a 900 MHz broadband user in a border area may be required to operate on a secondary basis to US operations in some or a portion of their spectrum.

Q41
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to use the same methodology for determining geographic separation for broadband service as already included in SRSP-506 for land mobile systems.

Q42
ISED is seeking comments on whether the 1.5 MHz and 500 kHz of separation are sufficient to protect the adjacent band Air-Ground Radiotelephone Service, fixed service and Narrowband Personal Communications Service.

122. Advanced Train Control System: As discussed earlier, in order to facilitate the transition to broadband, the FCC will modify the AAR's existing nationwide ribbon licence to relocate the 6 reserved paired 12.5 kHz channels to a single reserved paired 125 kHz channel for ATCS. Since ISED is only proposing to enable broadband service in rural and remote areas, at this time it will not initiate a similar relocation of channels. ISED will work with the RAC to determine whether a relocation of channels is needed, and if applicable, an appropriate approach taking into account its potential impacts and timing. 

7.4.5 Licence fees for initial access radio licences

123. ISED has in place a fee schedule for licences in the LMR service, and these fees would therefore apply to access radio licences in the 900 MHz LMR band. These fees would be paid annually, calculated in accordance with RIC-42, Guide for Calculating Radio Licence Fees.

7.4.6 Interim process

124. In order to promote access in remote areas, ISED notes that it is immediately applying an interim process to issue radio licences under terms similar to those set out in section 7, in remote Tier 5 service areas as listed in annex A. Those interested in being issued such a licence in a remote area should contact their local ISED district office, as set out in RIC-66, Addresses and Telephone Numbers of District Offices.

8. Subordinate licensing

125. Subordinate licensing of unused spectrum is an important way to increase service provision where existing licensees have not yet deployed their licenced spectrum. In section 8.1 below, ISED discusses the importance of subordinate licensing in the secondary market.

126. Comments made in multiple fora have identified ISED's processes to review subordinate licence requests as a barrier to entering into subordination agreements. ISED is seeking to reduce uncertainty and administrative overhead where possible. To this end, section 8.2.1 below discusses how ISED views subordinate arrangements based on the considerations set out in the Spectrum Licence Transfer Framework. Section 8.2.2 of this consultation outlines the information ISED requires to complete its assessment of a request to issue a subordinate licence and seeks insight from parties as to how these requirements might be fulfilled. ISED is of the view that these clarifications will ease the regulatory process to issue subordinate licences once parties have entered into subordinate agreements.

127. ISED is aware that some commenters have noted that existing licensees may have little incentive to enter into subordinate agreements with those seeking access to spectrum. As such section 8.3 seeks input on different ways that ISED could facilitate subordinate licensing and encourage secondary market transactions.

128. ISED has also heard from stakeholders that clarifying the information required by parties in coming to a subordinate agreement would be useful. Section 8.4 below discusses a new information tool, a sample subordination request, to facilitate communications between primary licensees and potential subordinate licensees. This tool would be for voluntary use between licensees and is based on the discussions that ISED had with stakeholders. ISED is continuing that discussion by asking for input on a draft form.

8.1 Support for the use of subordinate licences as an integral part of a dynamic secondary market

129. A dynamic secondary market for spectrum improves the overall competitiveness of Canada's telecommunications market. Subordinate spectrum licensing, as one facet of the secondary market, is an effective means of facilitating access to spectrum resources for those who wish to use it.

130. Facilitating access to subordinated spectrum lowers an important barrier to entry into the market, and is a means of working towards the objectives set out in the Connectivity Strategy. In the strategy, the Government of Canada commits to developing and administering licensing frameworks that facilitate access to spectrum, and considers new approaches that will support and encourage service provision in rural and remote areas. Facilitating secondary markets for spectrum authorizations is also included in the enabling guidelines of the Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada.

131. For smaller wireless service providers, subordinate licensing provides an opportunity to negotiate the usage of more precise amounts of spectrum, adjusted to the particular needs of their network. This opportunity is particularly salient in rural and remote areas where existing licensed spectrum is often underutilized by primary licensees, and could be sublicensed to other parties to the benefit of Canadians living in those underserved areas.

132. As increasing amounts of commercial mobile spectrum are introduced into the market in coming years to support the introduction and growth of 5G technology, subordinate licensing also provides an opportunity for interested parties to seek out unused spectrum for innovative use cases and private networks.

133. ISED encourages licensees to enter into subordinate arrangements and seek a subordinate licence wherever feasible in order to increase overall use of the spectrum and provision of services.

Q43
ISED is seeking comments on the potential or actual benefits of subordinate licensing to increase rural broadband access and accommodating new innovative network usage.

8.2 Spectrum licence transfer and subordinate licensing procedures

134. ISED's spectrum licence transfer and subordinate licensing procedures are set out in CPC 2-1-23, Licensing Procedure for Spectrum Licences for Terrestrial Services, which provides a framework for ISED to assess spectrum licence transfer requests and requests to issue subordinate licences. The procedures support the government's policy objective to maximize the economic and social benefits that Canadians derive from the use of the radio frequency spectrum resource, including the efficiency and competitiveness of the Canadian telecommunications industry, and the availability and quality of services to consumers.

135. CPC-2-1-23 sets out requirements that apply to all subordinate licence approval requests in all bands subject to section 5.6.3 and includes a sample request for a Subordinate Licence provided in annex D of that document. In addition, requests for subordinate licences for commercial mobile spectrum are also subject to the requirements outlined in section 5.6.4. related to transfers in commercial mobile bands.

136. In this section, ISED is seeking input on potential changes to the application and review process that could apply to all subordinate licences and changes that could streamline the consideration of subordinate licence requests in commercial mobile bands.

137. ISED intends to take comments into account in order to modify CPC-2-1-23 with respect to the portions of it that deal with subordinate licences, but is not considering making other changes to CPC-2-1-23 at this time.

8.2.1 Clarifying the distinction between subordinate licensing agreements and licence transfer agreements in the commercial mobile bands

138. A subordinate licence is considered to be a type of licence transfer for the purposes of section 5.6.4 of CPC-2-1-23 and therefore the same criteria and considerations set out in that section apply to requests to transfer a licence in full and requests to issue a subordinate licence. Section 5.6.4 also states that: "In cases of requests for Subordinate Licences pursuant to Agreements, [ISED] will also consider the nature of the Agreement and the planned use of the spectrum by each of the Applicants." ISED has at times needed to engage with stakeholders in a more time-consuming review process for some subordination requests when the intent of the parties is unclear, or where subordinate arrangements introduce issues as to control of licence (which is a concept defined in section 5.6.1 of CPC-2-1-23). As such, ISED is seeking to add clarity to its considerations of agreements that are related to a subordinate licence (subordination agreements) request.

139. ISED acknowledges that a party seeking access to spectrum through a subordinate licence may expect to have a level of certainty with respect to ongoing availability of the subordinated spectrum. CPC-2-1-23 does not seek to place limitations on how a Primary Licensee chooses to share their licensed spectrum via subordination agreement, whether it be exclusively or among multiple subordinate licensees.

140. However, ISED is of the view that subordination agreements that: restrict the Primary Licensee's ability to transfer its licence or exit the subordinate arrangement; influence or affect the Primary licensee's control over the disposition of the licence; or may impact control of the Primary Licensee are not subordination arrangements, but rather should be considered transfers, deemed transfers, or prospective transfers, as the case may be.

141. As such, ISED wishes to clarify that it will not consider agreements that contain the above type of provisions as supporting a subordinate licence under section 5.6.4 of CPC-2-1-23. Parties who enter into those agreements should request ISED approval of the transfer, deemed transfer, or prospective transfer of licences, depending on the specific agreement.

8.2.2 Simplifying information requirements to facilitate a timely review process

142. The length of time required to process and review a subordinate licensing request has been identified by stakeholders as one of the challenges to accessing unused spectrum. In addition to considerations under section 5.6.4. of CPC-2-1-23 in the commercial mobile bands outlined above, all subordinate licence applications must also address the factors listed in section 5.6.3. ISED requires that applications for subordinate licences be made using the form set out in annex D of CPC-2-1-23.

143. Given this process, ISED notes that in order to grant a requested subordinate licence in a timely manner, ISED must establish the nature of the agreement between the parties, including the expected purpose of the subordinate arrangement; the duration of the subordinate licence; the specific geographic area and spectrum band to be subordinated, and any intention of renewing the arrangement upon expiration of the subordinate licence. This information or the specific data required to do this assessment is not always provided with initial applications for subordinate licences requiring ISED to seek out this information from the applicants which increases the overall time for ISED to respond to requests. The submission of clear and specific data related to these considerations from applicants will facilitate timely assessment of the request by ISED.

144. As such, ISED is seeking proposals on how to simplify the information requirements, which must be included in a subordinate licencing request, while providing ISED sufficient information to make the determinations above, in turn helping to facilitate a more timely review process. Proposed tools or mechanisms may include, for example, the use of standardized attestations confirming eligibility requirements or matters of licence control, grid cell maps of the licence area, a copy of the full commercial agreement, etc.

145. ISED is also seeking comments on its general application process for subordinate licences under CPC-2-1-23 including the criteria and considerations applied under section 5.6.4 and whether some subordinate licence applications in the commercial mobile bands may be considered in a more streamlined fashion.

Q44
ISED is seeking comments on ways in which to streamline the general application requirements for subordinate licences as set out in sections 5.6.3 and annex D of CPC-2-1-23. ISED also seeks proposals to streamline the application process for all subordinate licence applicants, including those in commercial mobile bands who must also provide material addressing the criteria and considerations in section 5.6.4 of CPC-2-1-23. In these proposals, ISED also seeks comments as to how parties can demonstrate (e.g., an attestation, or other commitment) that their request for a subordinate licence does not constitute a transfer, deemed transfer, or prospective transfer as discussed in section 8.2.1 above.

8.3 ISED's role in encouraging subordinate licensing

146. Entering into an agreement to support a subordinate licence request is a business arrangement between the parties. As noted in CPC-2-1-23, "[ISED] will not take a role in negotiating, reviewing or enforcing any Agreement undertaken by the subordinate and primary licensees."

147. As noted above, a number of comments have been made in public fora indicating that existing licensees sometimes have little incentive to enter into subordinate arrangements. These comments suggest that there is a view among some parties that ISED should take action to prompt licensees to enter into subordination agreements.

148. ISED recognizes that there are challenges for licensees to making spectrum available on the secondary market including return on investment and long term planning. However, ISED notes that there is a clear benefit to Canadians in terms of increased service when primary licensees subordinate spectrum that they do not plan to deploy to someone who will make timely use of it. There are also benefits to the existing licensee in terms of potential revenue and the general rule that deployment by a subordinate licensee will count toward meeting the primary licensee's responsibilities. With this consultation, ISED seeks to open a discussion as to whether any additional steps should be taken by ISED in relation to the current subordinate licensing procedures or in relation to other licensing procedures or spectrum management.

149. To initiate the thought process on if ISED should consider playing a greater role to encourage secondary market transactions, here are some example dimensions for discussion:

  • establishing timelines for a licensee to respond to a request to enter into a subordinate agreement
  • requiring that the Primary Licensee provide valid reasons for refusing to enter into a subordinate arrangement (e.g. an imminently planned deployment)
  • potential consequences for failing to respond to a request

Q45
ISED is seeking comments on facilitating subordinate licensing and encouraging secondary market transactions including:

  • Should additional changes be made to existing licences that will encourage the use of subordinate licences as a means to help deploy more services?
  • Given ISED's regulatory role, are there any issues or actions ISED should consider?

8.4 Licensee Interaction - Information Required to Consider Subordination Requests

150. In 2019, ISED reached out to approximately 300 wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) to discuss the challenges that they faced with accessing spectrum, including those related to the secondary market and subordinate licensing.

151. Through those consultations, many small WISPs, who had considered the use of subordinate licensing, noted that they had experienced difficulty in determining how to initiate discussions with primary licensees. Larger providers, for their part, expressed that some secondary market requests lacked sufficient information for them to evaluate, introducing unnecessary delays.

152. This suggests that secondary market discussions could proceed more efficiently. Although ISED is not involved in negotiations between licensees, ISED considers that a shared understanding of what information is required could expedite discussions and improve how secondary markets function.

153. In order to facilitate discussions between licensees, ISED considered it worthwhile to take the feedback that it heard in order to develop a sample spectrum availability inquiry form that spectrum seekers could use when making inquiries to primary licensees prior to negotiations (see annex D). Information in a form such as this can facilitate secondary market transactions by providing primary licensees with sufficient information to adequately evaluate such requests.

154. Given the theme of this consultation, ISED is facilitating a continued discussion on that point and is seeking comments from licensees on the draft information form at Annex D. ISED notes that the use of a form like this is entirely voluntary; the form will not be used by ISED. The Decision will reflect feedback received from stakeholders on the form, but ISED notes that further development of a form like this or other tools to facilitate discussions between licensees may take place in other fora. 

Q46
ISED seeks comments on what additional information, if any, should be included in the draft form shown in annex D.

9. White space policy updates and RRBS moratorium

155. White space refers to spectrum that is not being used by licensed radio services at particular times and in certain geographic areas, thus making that spectrum available for use by other services. White space devices (WSD) operate in the frequency ranges 54-72 MHz, 76-88 MHz, 174-216 MHz, 470-608 MHz and 657-663 MHz on a licence-exempt basis. Although rules to permit WSD operation have been in place for a number of years, a full ecosystem of equipment vendors and database service providers have been available since April 2021 to support the use of this technology. A number of current and potential WISPs, rural broadband advocates and other Canadian stakeholders have already deployed or are planning to deploy WSD to support Internet service delivery, especially in rural and remote areas

156. Prior to the introduction of white space and the decisions for the 600 MHz auction, ISED issued remote rural broadband systems (RRBS) licences in unused TV broadcasting channels 21 to 51 (512–698 MHz) in locations that are more than 121 km from the Canada-US border and at a sufficient distance from major population centers. In 2014, ISED placed a moratorium on new applications for RRBS licences through SLPB-001-15, Consultation on Repurposing the 600 MHz Band in order to facilitate the repurposing of the 600 MHz band. In addition, SLPB-002-18, Technical, Policy and Licensing Framework for Spectrum in the 600 MHz Band, indicated that RRBS operating in the 614-698 MHz band are afforded a minimum displacement notification period of two years from the 600 MHz auction winners.

157. In this section, ISED is consulting on a number of measures to improve access to white space spectrum and support a competitive and dynamic white space ecosystem, as well as its future approach to RRBS licensing.

9.1 White space devices

158. The key components of white space technology include white space databases (WSDB), white space database administrators (WSDBA) and WSDs. A WSDB is a third-party database that maintains records of all licensed services that operate within the frequency bands allowed for potential white space use. Based on this information, a WSDB is able to identify allocated channels that are unused by licensed radio services at specific times and geographic locations. WSDBs are administered by WSDBAs. A WSD is a radio apparatus that operates in the white space designated frequency bands using opportunistic access to spectrum identified by the WSDB. When operating, a WSD provides its geographical location to a WSDB, which in return provides it with a list of available channels (spectrum) for use. WSDs operate on a licence-exempt basis under the control of a WSDB, which ensures the protection of licensed users of the spectrum, such as broadcast TV and RRBS.

159. In October 2012, ISED issued SMSE-012-12, Framework for the Use of Certain Non-broadcasting Applications in the Television Broadcasting Bands Below 698 MHz allowing white space devices to operate under a licence-exempt basis. Since 2012, interest in white space technology from proponents of rural broadband has remained strong. Many stakeholders have reached out to ISED to pursue experimental trials and alternate solutions towards eventual commercial use. These stakeholders have emphasized the favourable radio propagation characteristics including reach, penetration of foliage, and tolerance to hilly terrain, which make the spectrum particularly suitable for the delivery of broadband services in rural and remote areas of Canada. Furthermore, usage by primary television and other licensees is also limited in many of these areas, allowing access to adequate amounts of spectrum.

160. Changes were made to this regulatory framework in the March 2019 through SMSE-003-19, Decision on the Technical and Policy Framework for White Space Devices, which modified the frequency bands for white space devices to 54-72 MHz, 76-88 MHz, 174-216 MHz, 470-608 MHz and 657-663 MHz, and allowed for additional uses in specific sub-bands. Moreover, in this same timeframe ISED has continued to update the technical rules for white space technology as more experience has been gained in Canada and around the world with dynamic approaches to access to spectrum. These updates have allowed for WSDs to access more spectrum and improve their potential coverage, particularly in less-congested areas.

161. As of April 2021, a full ecosystem of WSD and WSDBA has been in place and a number of deployments have been completed. ISED expects that white space technology, in combination with other technologies such as 5 GHz and 6 GHz Wi-Fi, will increasingly be used to provide broadband coverage in rural and remote areas.

162. In addition, the practical experience obtained from the use of white space technology may facilitate the development of future dynamic spectrum access technologies, which is a key to making more spectrum available through improved spectrum sharing techniques.

163. In this section, ISED is consulting on a number of measures to improve access to white space spectrum in Canada as well as to help support the development of a competitive and dynamic white space ecosystem.

9.1.1 Database hosting location

164. Currently in order to be eligible to be designated as a WSDBA, applicants must establish and maintain duly delegated personnel/representatives within Canada. Additionally, the main elements of each database essential to the operational control of spectrum access and interference must currently be hosted within Canada. The requirement to host the WSDB in Canada was intended to facilitate the execution of agreements with ISED that require compliance with provisions related to a WSDBA's eligibility, security, reliability, authentication, synchronization, interface between database administrators and privacy.

165. As the white space ecosystem continues to evolve, and with the continued development of cloud-based solutions, ISED now considers that geographically limiting the hosting of the WSDB to Canada serves as a barrier to potential market entry by cloud-based WSDB providers. In addition, as ISED has gained experience with dynamic approaches to spectrum access, it has become apparent that a geographic limitation on hosting is not required to enforce compliance with the requirements set out in SMSE-012-12, Framework for the Use of Certain Non-Broadcasting Applications in the Television Broadcasting Bands Below 698 MHz or the relevant agreements. Therefore, in order to enable prospective WSDBAs to move more easily to safe, effective and efficient cloud-based solutions, ISED is of the view that the database hosting requirements should be updated to focus less on geography and more on oversight and performance. ISED, therefore, proposes to remove the provision in section 6.2.2.2 of SMSE-012-12 that requires databases to be hosted in Canada, which will facilitate the hosting of WSDBs by cloud service providers.

Q47
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to remove the current restriction on database hosting in order to facilitate cloud-based database hosting solutions.

9.1.2 TV channels 3 and 4

166. In SMSE-012-12, it was specified that WSD were not allowed to access TV channels 3 and 4 (60-72 MHz) to minimize interference risks to consumer electronic devices, which at that time continued to use these channels to interface and connect to analogue television sets. For instance, it was still common at that time to connect video cassette recorders to television sets via coaxial cable with the programming transferred over channel 3 or 4. In SMSE-003-19, Decision on the Technical and Policy Framework for White Space Devices, ISED permitted the operation of fixed WSD in these TV channels, recognizing technological advancements in consumer devices including the transition to the use of dedicated cables, such as high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) to connect video devices to television sets. As a result, typical televisions and consumer electronic devices no longer rely on using TV channels 3 and 4 to connect to each other and therefore the use of these TV channels by any type of WSD is unlikely to cause interference to these devices. Since this restriction is no longer required, ISED proposes to permit the use of TV channels 3 and 4 by all types of WSD.

Q48
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to allow the use of TV channels 3 and 4 by all types of WSD.

167. If the white space framework is changed as a result of this consultation, ISED will make the corresponding changes to CPC-4-1-01, Application Procedures for White Space Database Administrators (WSDBAs), DBS-01, White Space Database Specifications and RSS-222, White Space Devices (WSDs), accordingly.

9.2 Rural remote broadband systems (RRBS)

168. The policy decision to allow RRBS licenses was established in 2004 in accordance with Spectrum Utilization Policy SP 746, Mobile Service Allocation Decision and Designation of Spectrum for Public Safety in the Frequency Band 746-806 MHz and then further refined in Radio Systems Policy RP-006, Policy for the Use of 700 MHz Systems for Public Safety Applications and Other Limited Use of Broadcasting Spectrum published in 2006. The licensing framework related to these radio licences is outlined in CPC-2-1-24, Licensing Procedure for Remote Rural Broadband Systems (RRBS) Operating in the Band 512-698 MHz (TV channels 21 to 51). Unlike WSD, which use automated spectrum database systems, RRBS systems are licensed on a site-by-site basis, including a detailed individual technical evaluation by ISED to ensure there will be no harmful interference to existing spectrum users, in particular TV broadcasters. RRBS are licensed on a no-protection, no-interference basis in relation to the broadcasting service, on condition that they do not constrain the provision of existing or future TV broadcasting services or cause harmful interference to existing spectrum users.

169. Although there has been interest in RRBS, use of these systems remained limited within the seven years from when RRBS licensing was first permitted until the 2014 moratorium for a variety of reasons. These reasons included limited population numbers and market size once regions near major population centres and within 121 km of the US border were excluded. Furthermore, the small size of the Canadian only market also led to limited equipment selection, and the lack of economies of scale kept the cost of available equipment high.

170. Given the lack of uptake after nearly a decade of spectrum availability and the need to ensure a stable spectrum environment for the repacking of television stations transitioning from the 600 MHz band repurposed for commercial mobile systems, a moratorium on the licensing of new RRBS systems was put in place in 2014. Moreover, RRBS operating in the band 614-698 MHz were subject to displacement by the 600 MHz auction licensees. As the repacking of television stations nears its completion date of January 14, 2022 and as mobile systems are being deployed in more areas, now is a good time to revisit this moratorium.

171. Although both RRBS and white space technologies can provide Internet service in rural markets through the use of similar spectrum with similar radio propagation environments, ISED is of the view that white space technologies will provide a greater opportunity for supporting rural and remote broadband coverage in the long term.

172. WSD operate on a licence-exempt basis through dynamic spectrum access systems. Therefore, users of WSD do not have to apply for approvals from ISED nor pay a radio licence fee. WSD can be deployed in a more nimble and scalable fashion than RRBS as they do not require the same level of technical and regulatory intervention as needed for RRBS's authorization. On the other hand, licensed systems such as RRBS are normally able to plan on more stable spectrum access. However, RRBS operates on a no-interference, no-protection basis with regards to primary licensees. Its access is less stable than licensed radio systems in other bands.

173. In the case of white space technology, policy and technical frameworks have been implemented in other countries, such as the US and the UK.  White space ecosystems can therefore be leveraged, providing economies of scale for Canadians and businesses. While RRBS equipment is available, and being upgraded to use improved technologies compared to earlier RRBS equipment generations, it remains a niche product with a Canada-only ecosystem. RRBS development is, therefore, more reliant on a smaller number of equipment manufacturers and less likely to see equipment costs driven down over time.

174. Under the most recent WSD and RRBS technical rules, WSD have access to more spectrum and are able to deploy in wider geographic areas of Canada, including nearer to urban centers and the US border. WSD can operate in the frequency ranges 54-72 MHz, 76-88 MHz, 174-216 MHz, 470-608 MHz and 657-663 MHz, whereas should ISED lift the moratorium RRBS would be limited to 512-608 MHz.

175. As the markets for RRBS and white space are primarily comprised of areas that are currently unserved or underserved, it is unlikely that there would be interest in deploying both technologies in the same community; as a result every customer for one technology is one less potential customer for the other. This sets up a win-lose competitive dynamic and risks fragmenting the market into portions too small for either technology to succeed in the long run.

176. ISED is of the view that the benefits of harmonizing with the broader international ecosystem, the flexibility of deployment and lower cost of dynamic spectrum access approaches used by WSD technologies will ultimately result in more public benefit, especially to rural and remote communities that are currently underserved in terms of access to broadband services.

177. In order to provide more certainty and encourage the development and deployment of WSD systems, ISED proposes to phase out RRBS. To ensure that there is no loss of service for existing RRBS users, RRBS operators will be afforded up to five years to transition to white space or other spectrum/technologies. ISED would renew existing compliant RRBS licences and allow operations under RRBS licences until March 31, 2027, after which no RRBS licences will be renewed. During this transition period, modifications to existing RRBS licences would only be permitted if they do not result in increase of the existing coverage in any direction or change of operating frequencies. For RRBS licensees displaced by TV or mobile services, changes to operating frequencies may be permitted subject to authorization from ISED.

178. Although there is a moratorium in place for new RRBS licences, ISED is clarifying that it would not lift the moratorium and would no longer issue any new RRBS licences. As such, ISED would rescind its RRBS policy framework, SP 746, Mobile Service Allocation Decision and Designation of Spectrum for Public Safety in the Frequency Band 746-806 MHz, RP-006, Policy for the Use of 700 MHz Systems for Public Safety Applications and Other Limited Use of Broadcasting Spectrum and CPC-2-1-24, Licensing Procedure for Remote Rural Broadband Systems (RRBS) Operating in the Band 512-698 MHz (TV channels 21 to 51) as a consequence of this proposal.

Q49
ISED is seeking comments on its proposal to no longer renew existing RRBS licences after March 31, 2027.

10. Submitting comments

179. All submissions should cite the Canada Gazette, Part I, the publication date, the title and the notice reference number (SLPB-004-21). Parties should submit their comments no later than October 26, 2021, to ensure consideration. Soon after the close of the comment period, all comments received will be posted on ISED’s Spectrum Management and Telecommunications website.

180. ISED will also provide interested parties with the opportunity to reply to comments from other parties. Reply comments will be accepted until December 7, 2021.

181. Respondents are requested to provide their comments in electronic format (Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF) by email.

182. Paper submissions should be mailed to the following address:

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
Senior Director, Regulatory Policy, Spectrum Licensing Policy Branch
235 Queen Street (6th Floor, East Tower)
Ottawa ON K1A 0H5

183. In addition, respondents are asked to specify questions numbers for ease of referencing and to provide supporting rationale for each response. As all comments will be published, respondents are asked to not include confidential or private information in their submissions.

184. Following the initial comment period, ISED may, at its discretion, request additional information if needed to clarify significant positions or new proposals.

11. Obtaining copies

185. All spectrum-related documents referred to in this paper are available on ISED's Spectrum Management and Telecommunications website.

186. For further information concerning the process outlined in this document or related matters, contact:

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
c/o Senior Director, Regulatory Policy, Spectrum Licensing Policy Branch
235 Queen Street (6th Floor, East Tower)
Ottawa ON K1A0H5
Telephone: 613-219-5436
TTY: 1-866-694-8389
Email: spectrumauctions-encheresduspectre@ised-isde.gc.ca

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