The C-Band Alliance (CBA) plans to unveil soon a proposal to repurpose more than 200 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 gigahertz band spectrum for 5G terrestrial repurposes, the alliance’s top lobbyist said today. Meanwhile, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly reiterated that the Commission plans to require that at least 300 MHz of spectrum be made available, and he said that even a little more than that could be freed up.
During an event this afternoon organized by The Capitol Forum, Peter Pitsch, head-advocacy and government affairs for the CBA, said that thanks to “high efficiency video coding and other compression technologies, we believe, and we’re aggressively looking at this, we can do much better than 200 MHz. Paramount to us will be keeping our customers whole. We’re not ready yet to say what that amount will be, but it’s coming very soon.”
Asked when the CBA planned to unveil the proposal, he replied that it would be “imminent.” He also said that the CBA would free up the additional spectrum in a 36-month period. The CBA’s current plan calls for 200 MHz, including a 20-MHz guard band, to be made available in two tranches – 18 months and 36 months.
Mr. Pitsch said that video compression technologies are currently being used in the industry, but he said the challenge is to ensure that the plan “keeps those customers whole in the timelines that we’re talking about.”
“I’m quite hopeful that the customers, who are on the front lines here, are going to be happy,” he added.
But he also said the clearing more than 200 MHz of spectrum would require “a more intrusive approach” in terms of C-band users.
Mr. Pitsch also declined to specify how much the CBA planned to offer as a voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury, but he said it believes that the contribution would be “legal and enforceable.”
Ross Lieberman, senior vice president-government affairs for ACA, which has proposed the 5G Plus plan for repurposing 370 MHz of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, complained that the CBA was now suggesting it would amend its plan even though the FCC is expected to consider an order in the proceeding at its November or December meetings.
“CBA does not have a plan for clearing anything more than 200 MHz,” he said. “We’re going to rush to a decision by December? … I just don’t see how it happens at this point. … How do we know that this is going to even work?”
By contrast, he said, proponents of the 5G Plus plan, which ACA has proposed with the Competitive Carriers Association and Charter Communications, Inc., have presented “a detailed plan” that they later amended in response to concerns raised by various stakeholders. The plan calls for deploying fiber across the country, and transitioning earth station users to fiber, while proposing an FCC auction that includes a floor for Treasury proceeds and ceiling for satellite compensation.
Mr. Lieberman also urged the CBA to say how much its voluntary contribution would total and he called video compression technology “experimental” and “untested.”
Colleen King, vice president-regulatory affairs for Charter, also touted what she said are the benefits of the 5G Plus plan.
For their part, Patrick McFadden, associate general counsel for the National Association of Broadcasters, and Matt DelNero, a partner at Covington & Burling LLP who represents content companies, said their constituencies want to make sure that video programming delivery is not interrupted in any repurposing of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, and they said they were willing to continue to discuss CBA efforts to free up more than the 200 MHz of spectrum, a plan they have supported.
Any proposal must be “grounded in science and engineering,” Mr. DelNero stressed. He also said that while content companies believe additional spectrum can be freed up, “it’s going to be a major undertaking.”
Messrs. McFadden and DelNero also criticized a proposal to share a portion of the C-band between earth stations and point-to-multipoint (P2MP) broadband systems. They said such sharing would complicate repurposing spectrum in the band. “The last thing we should do is make that proceeding more complicated,” Mr. McFadden said.
They also said that while FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said the FCC plans to act in the C-band proceeding this fall, the Commission should ensure it doesn’t let speed be the enemy of making the correct decisions.
“We need to be sure we get it right,” Mr. DelNero said. “If it takes a little bit longer, it’s worth taking the time.”
During remarks at today’s event, Mr. O’Rielly reiterated that he was “not bothered” by the private auction envisioned by the CBA if it would result in spectrum being cleared sooner than under an FCC auction. He also said again that he doesn’t have a problem with satellite operators getting compensation as long as the maximum amount of spectrum as possible can be cleared. He also said that all of the spectrum to be cleared should be auctioned at the same time, even if it is freed up in tranches. He also said that he doesn’t believe the FCC should impose a floor for Treasury proceeds or a cap for CBA compensation.
“I have not endorsed that particular proposal,” he said of the CBA plan, although he has defended it against a number of criticisms (TR Daily, Sept. 24). “We’re still having disagreement over the amount of spectrum.”
“I am optimistic that we can figure out a path forward to expedite the process,” Mr. O’Rielly said. He cited “seven or eight fires that have been percolating for a while. But they’re all solvable.”
They include the amount of spectrum to be cleared, how fast it will be cleared, whether fiber will replace satellite distribution, how to ensure broadcasters remain whole, and whether an upper guard band is needed to protect altimeters, the Commissioner noted.
“The landing spot is going to be somewhere around 300 [MHz] and anyone who, you know, is not there is probably delusional,” Mr. O’Rielly warned. “It’s probably a little bit over 300.”
He also said repeatedly today that he has cautioned stakeholders “don’t be greedy in this,” saying that the purpose of the proceeding is to free up spectrum for 5G terrestrial use. In response to a question, he said he is not saying that any parties have gotten greedy yet.
Mr. O’Rielly also said that the debate on fiber deployment is “a little immature,” and he said that it’s “problematic” that the CBA’s auction design has not drawn much support.
He also said that while he was not “foreclosing” supporting the 5G-Plus plan, “I think there are a number of problems going forward” with the proposal.
Mr. O’Rielly also said that he wants an order that the FCC plans to adopt this fall to address the bulk of the issues in the proceeding, although he said that he wouldn’t be bothered if a further notice explored certain matters, like sharing a portion of the band with fixed terrestrial links.
During another session, Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, argued that permitting a private sale of the C-band would violate section 309(j) of the 1934 Communications Act, as amended, which Mr. Pitsch earlier argued would not be the case. Mr. Calabrese also said that such action would set “a horrible precedent for policy purposes” because it would make it difficult to establish spectrum-sharing regimes in the future.
He also suggested that the FCC’s upcoming order would likely be more of “a framework order” with a number of details being considered in a further notice and resolved probably by the middle of 2020, allowing an auction to be scheduled by the end of next year or early in 2021. By contrast, he said, a private auction could occur by the end of next year. Mr. Calabrese also noted the possibility of a hybrid approach, where the first 200 MHz could be auctioned by satellite companies, with additional spectrum being included in an FCC incentive auction.
Panelists during the last session today debated whether a private auction conducted by the CBA could be conducted much more quickly than an FCC sale, as Mr. Pitsch argued that it would, and was good public policy.
The answer tended to be based on whether the panelist supported that option.
Brian Hendricks, VP-policy & public affairs for the Americas region for Nokia, and Patrick Welsh, assistant vice president-wireless policy development for Verizon Communications, Inc., advocated for a private auction, saying that it could be completed more quickly, ensuring that crucial mid-band spectrum could be deployed faster and help the U.S. try to catch up with a myriad of nations that have already deployed such frequencies.
Mr. Hendricks suggested that because a private sale could be done more quickly, it would give equipment makers a jump on getting gear ready for 5G deployment in the U.S. However, if the FCC decides to sell the spectrum, it should prioritize the 3.7-4.2 GHz band sale over others in the pipeline. “There’s a real risk this slips to the back of the pack,” he said.
“We are reaching a point almost of negligence” regarding freeing up mid-band spectrum, Mr. Hendricks argued. “It is decision time.”
Mr. Welsh said that Verizon supports a private auction because it will end up in spectrum being deployed more quickly. He rattled off the names of countries that have already deployed mid-band spectrum, including those in Asia and Europe.
But Grant Spellmeyer, VP-federal affairs and public policy for United States Cellular Corp., and Steve Sharkey, VP-government affairs/technology and engineering policy for T-Mobile US, Inc., said the Commission should auction the spectrum, which they said could be done in a reasonable timeframe.
Mr. Sharkey noted that T-Mobile has suggested that a public incentive auction could free up the entire 500 MHz, and he commended the 5G Plus plan proponents for their focus on deploying fiber. He said a private FCC auction “opens itself up to manipulation” without FCC oversight and structure. “I don’t believe there is a significant time difference” between public and private auctions, he said.
Mr. Spellmeyer said that at least 300 MHz of spectrum must be sold to give three carriers a chance to bid on 100-MHz channels. He also expressed concern that the CBA’s single round private auction design proposal would make it more difficult for smaller carriers such as his to win licenses. Mr. Spellmeyer agreed that the FCC should prioritize the C-band sale over other auctions. He also suggested that the FCC could adopt auction rules in nine to 12 months.
Mr. Hendricks said that auction experts have told his company that it would likely take the Commission two years to design the sale and that hold-out problems could make an auction challenging.
Louis Peraertz, VP-policy for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, made a pitch for the P2MP sharing proposal, saying that it would help bridge the digital divide and “could happen in a matter of months” without interfering with clearing of the band. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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