TR Daily Stakeholders Debate Merits of CBA’s 3.7-4.2 GHz Band Proposal
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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Stakeholders Debate Merits of CBA’s 3.7-4.2 GHz Band Proposal

The top lobbyist for the C-Band Alliance today debated the group’s proposal for repurposing 200 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 gigahertz band, defending it against suggestions that the plan amounts to a “monopoly” solution rather than a market-based framework and would produce a “windfall” for satellite companies.

At this afternoon’s event, which was organized by the Technology Policy Institute, Peter Pitsch, head-advocacy and government relations for the CBA, argued that the alliance’s proposal would use market-based mechanisms and result in the spectrum being cleared for 5G services years sooner than if the FCC held an incentive auction of the frequencies, which T-Mobile US, Inc. advocates.

Mr. Pitsch argued that a “decentralized, bottom-up” process proposed by the CBA is the best way to quickly get the spectrum in the hands of wireless carriers, noting that the alliance’s plan calls for 180 MHz and a 20-MHz guard band to be cleared within three years, with 60 MHz in top markets cleared within 18 months. He also said the CBA plan is the only one that addresses the “hold-out problem” of a satellite operator refusing to relinquish use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. Companies that use the spectrum have access to all 500 MHz.

Mr. Pitsch also said that while the CBA has determined that 200 MHz is the existing amount of spectrum that could be freed up while protecting incumbent operations, he said that new compression technologies likely will enable additional frequencies to be made available in the future. “We are very open to doing more, and it will likely happen,” he added.

He also said that the FCC must approve the process that the CBA would oversee. “It’s going to look an awful lot like an FCC auction except we’re going to do it three years faster,” he said.

Mr. Pitsch also argued that T-Mobile’s proposal to allow earth station operators to participate in an incentive auction is “a total no-starter” that is “fraught with legal [and] political problems.”

But opponents of the CBA plan argued that the FCC should not “outsource” the repurposing of spectrum and said that the FCC should auction the frequencies, and one suggested that all 500 MHz could possibly be made available, at least in major markets.

Steve Sharkey, vice president-government affairs, technology, and engineering policy for T-Mobile, said carriers need at least 100 MHz of mid-band spectrum each for 5G.

With T-Mobile’s proposed incentive auction, “as much as the full 500 MHz, certainly in urban areas,” could be made available, he said, while allowing satellite companies and earth station owners to participate in the auction.

He said a key to the plan is to replace use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for video programming delivery with an “alternative transport mechanism like fiber, which is readily available and highly reliable.”

“Moving to fiber is fast,” Mr. Sharkey said, adding that most earth stations are in urban areas and close to fiber and that there is more fiber in rural areas that some people think. T-Mobile plans to submit a study to the FCC soon that concludes that it would cost about $1 billion to serve all earth stations in the U.S. with fiber, he added.

Mr. Sharkey noted that the FCC released a public notice recently to gather opinions on the rights of earth stations (TR Daily, May 3).

Patrick McFadden, associate general counsel of the National Association of Broadcasters, said his group has not endorsed a particular approach for freeing up 3.7-4.2 GHz band spectrum for 5G services.

But he said that incumbent operations that deliver programming to nearly 120 million U.S. households must be protected and any transition must be fully funded and transparent enough so the FCC can enforce it.

He also said broadcasters take a dim view of fiber as a replacement to the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, saying, “We don’t view fiber as a viable alternative to the C-band.”

Colleen King, VP-regulatory affairs for Charter Communications, Inc., noted that Charter has an interest in the spectrum both because of the programming delivered to its customers and because of its interest in deploying 5G services. She agreed that the CBA’s plan isn’t sufficient for 5G competition. She also expressed concern that the CBA proposal is lacking from a technical perspective, including having the power and emissions limits needed for “a robust 5G.”

Ms. King said that Charter is interested in seeing whether fiber would be able to replace use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for video programming delivery.

She also said that the FCC should auction the 3.7-4.2 GHz band and not “outsource” the job. As to how much spectrum should be freed up, she added, “We don’t think the satellite companies should be deciding that.”

Tim Brennan, a professor-public policy and economics at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a former FCC chief economist, acknowledged that he doesn’t know much about the CBA plan or competing proposals. But he said there should be a “market test” to determine the amount of spectrum that should be made available, adding that an auction would accomplish that.

“We have a market test,” Mr. Pitsch argued, but others disagreed.

“The C-Band Alliance approach is a monopoly approach. It is not a market-based approach,” Mr. Sharkey said. “The C-band Alliance process is not a market process. It is a windfall process.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

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