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FCC Approves Return of Unused 700MHz Choice Licence to IT&E; Telco Must Launch 4G by Nov-23, 5G by Nov-24

2023-09-20 12:07:00| Source:Commsupdate

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved the return of an unused 700MHz licence – vacated by Choice Phone (iConnect) in 2019 – to IT&E, which acquired iConnect in October 2020. The 700MHz Lower Band B-block licence covering the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) was originally granted to Choice Phone in June 2008, but terminated in February 2019 due to the company’s failure to fulfil FCC rollout requirements. As per Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) paperwork, IT&E submitted a request to have the licence reinstated in June 2023, as it seeks to boost its existing 4G coverage and deploy 5G technology.

The FCC assessed: ‘The geography, extreme remoteness, and corresponding lack of infrastructure in the CNMI create unique difficulties for the construction of the communications network. This group of islands is extremely remote –roughly 3,200 miles from Hawaii, which itself is 2,397 miles from the contiguous United States. This remoteness makes all aspects of infrastructure development more difficult. All radiofrequency equipment must be importedthe CNMI. Even before the pandemic, these equipment deliveries took roughly four weeks.

Now, equipment deliveries can take four-six months. The declining economic environment in the CNMI also presents challenges for infrastructure investment. The CNMI has experienced year-to-year GDP declines, population declines, and its median household income is less than half of the US average. In addition, the lack of skilled workers in the CNMI to implement base station upgrades and new site construction further complicates network construction. Taken together, these unique factors support grant of a waiver here.’

In granting the waiver, the FCC has stipulated that IT&E must offer 4G connectivity using the 700MHz B-block licence to 70% of the licence area by 13 November 2023. Looking ahead, IT&E must provide 5G services to 10% of the CNMI’s population by 13 November 2024 – with this figure rising to 30% population coverage by 13 May 2025.