Representatives of the C-Band Alliance (CBA) and the cable industry clashed at an event today that focused on CBA’s market-based plan to repurpose 200 megahertz, including a 20-MHz guard band, of spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 gigahertz band for 5G terrestrial use.
Today’s event was organized by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, and speakers included only representatives of organizations that are critical of the CBA proposal, which seeks to secure FCC approval to allow incumbent satellite operators to privately sell access to the 200 MHz to prospective terrestrial licensees. The event was titled, “The Great Airwaves Robbery II: Will Taxpayers or Satellite Companies Receive $15-40 Billion?”
The FCC last summer adopted a 3.7-4.2 GHz band notice of proposed rulemaking and order that furthered its efforts to free up at least some of the band for terrestrial wireless broadband services, and Commissioners generally spoke favorably of the market-based satellite proposal (TR Daily, July 12, 2018).
Today’s panelists said the FCC should auction the spectrum. They argued that the Commission is obligated to hold a sale and that it would set an ill-advised precedent if it allowed spectrum licensees to hold out in the future for a financial windfall before agreeing to relinquish or share spectrum.
They also expressed frustration that they have not been able to get sufficient detail about the CBA proposal to ensure that cable and other customers that rely on the C-band to deliver programming will be protected from interference and that there will be adequate spectrum left for incumbent satellite operators and their customers.
The moderator of today’s event, Michael Calabrese, director of OTI’s Wireless Future Project, said that if the FCC permits incumbent satellite operators to sell the spectrum, “it will set a counter-productive policy precedent.” Not only would it nullify the Commission’s obligations under section 309(j) of the 1934 Communications Act, as amended, to auction spectrum when there are mutually exclusive applications for licenses, but it would “send a message to dozens of other licensees” that they should resist sharing spectrum in future unless they receive a financial windfall, he said.
“It would set a terrible precedent for the future,” agreed Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. He said the FCC should auction the spectrum and use the proceeds for purposes defined by Congress, such as deficit reduction or bridging the digital divide.
Ross Lieberman, senior vice president-government affairs for the American Cable Association, said that cable operators rely on the C-band for video programming delivered to 90 million subscribers, including cable operators in rural areas where fiber is not available. He said that CBA has not sufficiently answered all of the questions from ACA and other industry entities that rely on the band concerning how the proposal will ensure incumbent operations continue without interference or other harms.
“As a party that seeks to profit … fully from the sale of the spectrum, we don’t think that they’re in the best position to be able to decide for users what is a harm and how to address it,” Mr. Lieberman said of CBA. He also suggested that reallocating 200 MHz of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for terrestrial use will result in higher leasing prices for cable operators and others.
He said ACA wants answers and any necessary modifications to make sure its members are made “whole.”
“But they just haven’t done that yet, despite requests for that to be done over many, many, many, many months,” said Mr. Lieberman, adding that the FCC can best deal with any harms and how they should be addressed.
But Mr. Lieberman acknowledged that ACA has so far not outright opposed the CBA plan.
“We’ve been on the fence, but, you know, we’re starting to be nudged over to one side just based on the lack of responsiveness to try … to get legitimate concerns addressed,” he said.
“We think that an FCC auction is really the fastest, fairest, and most efficient way to get spectrum out and make it available to all different kinds of players, including Charter,” said Colleen King, vice president-regulatory affairs for Charter Communications, Inc.
“The Commission would be shifting its responsibility … to protect the public interest,” suggested Staci Pies, senior policy counsel for Google LLC. “We shouldn’t be giving the users of spectrum the ability to hold the FCC hostage, essentially, in order to reallocate spectrum for a higher and better use.”
“There are insufficient facts, and there’s insufficient transparency,” Ms. Pies added.
Ms. Pies also put in a plug for a proposal advanced by the Broadband Access Coalition, which seeks a new, licensed, point-to-multipoint (P2MP) fixed wireless service in the 3.7–4.2 GHz band.
The speakers also suggested that if the FCC auctions the 3.7-4.2 GHz band spectrum, it would be deployed more quickly than CBA would be able to, because CBA’s framework would likely end up drawing legal challenges, with Ms. King saying that it would take the FCC 12 to 18 months to auction the C-band spectrum and 36 months to get it deployed. CBA has argued that its proposal is the quickest way to get the spectrum in the marketplace.
When Mr. Calabrese opened it up to the audience for questions, an audience member, Preston Padden, head-advocacy & government relations for CBA, clashed with Ms. King and a colleague at Charter and Mr. Lieberman.
Mr. Padden defended the CBA plan, saying the group will launch eight new satellites and install filters on up to 100,000 dishes to protect the current services offered in the C-band. He asked how such mitigation would occur if the FCC auctions the spectrum.
Mr. Padden said CBA sent out 400 certified letters to entities that might be interested in buying the spectrum and said its discussions with Charter indicate that “they definitely want to participate, and we hope they do.”
But the Charter representatives said they have made it clear that they favor an FCC auction, although they said they have talked with CBA in the event the FCC approves the market-based proposal. “We’ll continue to talk to everybody,” Ms. King said.
“We’re not getting any specifics when we’ve asked for them,” said Ms. King’s colleague in the audience, Elizabeth Andrion, SVP-regulatory affairs for Charter. “I don’t like the misrepresentations about what our company is doing.”
Mr. Lieberman said that there has been opposition to the CBA plan because “the satellite industry has not sought to find any compromise on any proposal that they’ve had.”
In a related development today, CTIA released an Analysis Group report it commissioned that concluded that making 400 MHz of spectrum available between the 3.45 GHz and 4.2 GHz bands will add $274 billion to the gross domestic product, create 1.3 million new jobs, and prompt wireless carriers to invest more than $150 billion in infrastructure over seven years. The FCC has already adopted rules for using the 3.5 GHz band, and the federal government is studying the feasibility of repurposing the 3.45-3.55 GHz band.
“Thanks to the investment of America’s wireless industry, and the leadership of the Federal Communications Commission, we lead the world in 5G deployment and the first commercial 5G networks are live in cities across the country,” said CTIA President and Chief Executive Officer Meredith Attwell Baker. “Making more mid-band spectrum available will secure our long-term wireless leadership and boost our economy. The FCC is already making great progress freeing up mid-band and we’re confident that under the leadership of Chairman Pai, [we] can quickly close … the gap.”
In response to the study, Mr. Padden told TR Daily, “CBA agrees that mid-band spectrum is essential to deploying 5G across America and our plan gets that spectrum to wireless providers now.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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