The FCC voted at its open meeting yesterday to open several spectrum bands formerly reserved for specialized microwave services for mobile backhaul.

The agency says the spectrum opened for backhaul use under the new regulations covers nearly two-thirds of the United States.

The changes could enable as much as 650 megahertz of spectrum for backhaul transport in rural areas.

"Consequently, these rules enhance the ability for rural consumers, to receive more mobile services," said commissioner Mignon Clyburn. "They also create new business opportunities for companies that want to offer more backhaul transport to mobile service providers and companies that seek to serve mobile wireless consumers."

The FCC says the move will speed the rollout of 4G broadband networks, accelerate the role of expanded wireless broadband in national economic revitalization and job creation and bring new broadband services to rural areas where microwave is often the only feasible backhaul option.

Service providers' use of microwave links as a cost-effective alternative to traditional copper circuits and fiber optic links has increased by about 50 percent in recent years, according to the FCC.

The commission's Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on additional proposals for making microwave communications more flexible and cost-effective. For example, it proposes to allow smaller antennas in certain microwave bands, as smaller antennas may be cheaper, easier to install and generate fewer objections in the zoning process. The Further Notice also seeks comment on exempting licensees in non-congested areas from the commission's efficiency standards, which may make use of fixed microwave links more cost-effective in rural areas.