A draft bill released by Rep. Doris Matsui (D., Calif.) today proposes what she calls “a compromise, consensus-based approach” for repurposing at least a portion of the 3.7-4.2 gigahertz band for terrestrial 5G services. The measure also would propose a path forward for reallocating the 3.45-3.55 GHz band for commercial use and establish a Rural Broadband Deployment Fund.
Under the draft WIN 5G Act, the FCC would designate satellite operators using the spectrum as a transition facilitator to develop a plan for repurposing the frequencies. The FCC would then auction the spectrum identified with at least some, and possibly all, of the proceeds – after relocation costs and other expenses – going to the satellite operators.
Ms. Matsui is hoping to find a middle-ground approach in a controversial FCC proceeding that has pitted the C-Band Alliance, whose members are incumbent satellite operators that have proposed to repurpose 200 megahertz of spectrum, including a 20-MHz guard band, via a private sale, against other parties that want the FCC to auction the spectrum.
“The U.S. needs to win the race to 5G and beyond. The WIN 5G Act will get us there,” said Rep. Matsui, vice chair of the House communications and technology subcommittee. “This legislation allows C-band spectrum to be reallocated in an efficient and equitable way so that we can take meaningful steps to facilitate the nationwide deployment of 5G. This draft proposes a compromise, consensus-based approach that accounts for the comments and concerns that many diverse parties placed on the record since 2017. Importantly, it embraces elements to ensure that spectrum is reallocated rapidly, that the maximum amount of C-band spectrum is made available for wireless use, and that consumers and C-band distribution are protected throughout the transition. This legislation is necessary to clear the challenges – including legal – that would arise by adopting any existing proposal on record. I look forward to working with all stakeholders on a consensus path forward.”
A news release noted that “the WIN 5G Act requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to designate C-band satellite operators to serve as a transition facilitator that will craft a transition plan for C-band spectrum. The transition plan will include how much spectrum will be made available in the continental United States, together with determinations that: 1) end users will continue to receive comparable quality of service after repurposing for terrestrial mobile use; and 2) that the amount of spectrum proposed is the maximum amount that can be made available. The transition facilitation plan will also include technical, frequency migration, and end-user protection plans and will be submitted to the FCC within 6 months. The FCC will then have 90 days to review the plan to ensure it is adequate.
“To ensure the transition facilitator also proposes to make the maximum amount of spectrum it can feasibly make available, the FCC would, within 6 months, auction the spectrum, allowing the transition facilitator to recover an escalating amount of the proceeds from the auction based on how much spectrum is cleared for mobile wireless use,” the news release added. “It also creates an opportunity for the transition facilitator to receive an additional incentive payment if they submit a sufficient transition plan on the first instance and begin to procure new satellites necessary for C-band distribution capacity not more than 30 days after the plan is found to be sufficient by the FCC.”
If all 500 MHz of spectrum in the band is made available, the satellite companies could get 100% of the auction proceeds, minus the relocation costs of end-users and other expenses, according to the draft measure. However, if less than 100 MHz is freed up, the satellite operators would not get any proceeds. Under the sliding scale plan, the other percentages of auction proceeds that the satellite incumbents would get, after expenses, would be 100 MHz to less than 200 MHz (10%), 200 MHz to less than 300 MHz (35%), 300 MHz to less than 400 MHz (75%), and 400 MHz to less than 500 MHz (90%).
The news release noted that the draft legislation also would (1) allow “the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to use existing – otherwise unused – resources in the Spectrum Relocation Fund to support research-related activities that examine the feasibility of federal spectrum users relocating or sharing spectrum with non-federal users”; (2) require “within 6 months, agencies operating on 3.45-3.55 GHz to submit a Pipeline Act study to assess whether that spectrum could be made available for commercial use”; (3) require, if there is “a finding that the 3.45-3.55 GHz band can be made available for commercial wireless services, that this band be identified for auction and reallocated for commercial use”; (4) require “NTIA to consult with the FCC and relevant federal agencies on whether spectrum subject to a plan could be made available on an unlicensed basis, if a study reveals it could not be made available for auction on a licensed basis”; (5) allow, if spectrum “auctioned for non-federal use is the result primarily of NTIA’s research and development, OMB to transfer funds from that auction to go to independent research and development intended to improve the efficiency of federal spectrum use to make available frequencies that have not previously been identified for reallocation and auction”; and (6) establish “a new Rural Broadband Deployment Fund to be used by the FCC to expand rural broadband access with proceeds generated by the auctions required by the WIN 5G Act.”
Any remaining funds from the 3.7-4.2 GHz band auction would go into the Rural Broadband Deployment Fund.
Yesterday, Rep. Matsui was among a group of members of the House and Senate from both parties to introduce the Supplementing the Pipeline for Efficient Control of The Resources for Users Making New Opportunities for Wireless (SPECTRUM NOW) Act, which also would attempt to facilitate the repurposing of the 3.45-3.55 GHz band (TR Daily, June 25).
“I commend Congresswoman Matsui for her work on the Wireless Investment Now in 5G Act (WIN 5G Act) and support for ensuring that the maximum amount of valuable C-Band spectrum is brought to market,” said Competitive Carriers Association President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Berry. “Competitive carriers must have access to additional mid-band spectrum to provide critical mobile broadband services to their customers, especially in rural America, and CCA supports an auction that makes sure that all carriers have a meaningful opportunity to access more spectrum. CCA supports clearing as much of the band as possible – particularly more than 300 MHz. Additionally, CCA strongly supports using a portion of auction proceeds to support wireless broadband deployment in rural America. I thank Rep. Matsui for focusing on this important issue and support the WIN 5G Act moving forward.”
Charter Communications, Inc., said it was “excited about the power and promise of 5G and using it along with our innovative WiFi and advanced network to deliver the next generation of connectivity. We appreciate Rep. Matsui’s draft legislation as it is an important and positive step towards making important 5G spectrum, the C-band, available for terrestrial wireless use. Rep. Matsui’s draft rightly recognizes a public auction as the fastest and fairest process to ensure the timely and widespread deployment of 5G. Charter looks forward to working with her, other policy-makers, and stakeholders to maximize the amount of available 5G spectrum and win the global race to 5G.”
“This draft bill reflects a growing concern in Congress that the FCC could attempt to authorize a private auction of C-band that deprives the public of $10 to $20 billion or more that could be designated to fund infrastructure and programs to close the rural broadband gap,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “Since both speed to market and protecting taxpayers are critical, Congress should direct the FCC to conduct a traditional auction for the lower portion of the band and use a portion of the proceeds to pay the costs incurred to consolidate incumbent users higher into the band.”
“We appreciate the efforts by Congresswoman Matsui to draw attention to the ongoing and critical need to unleash more spectrum for 5G technologies and services. We look forward to reviewing the legislation in detail and working with all members of Congress to ensure we get spectrum policy right so American consumers can start reaping the benefits of our 5G future,” said AT&T, Inc.
The following entities declined to comment on Ms. Matsui’s draft bill: the CBA, NCTA, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, Verizon Communications, Inc., and T-Mobile US, Inc. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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