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AT&T: FCC Should Tie C-Band Early Exit Payments to Moving Deadline

AT&T said it is generally pleased with FCC chair Ajit Pai's plans for the auction of C-Band midband satellite spectrum for terrestrial 5G, including billions of dollars of incentive payments to incumbent satellite carriers for early clearing, but says those payments should be tied to a "date certain" for that early exit.

"Satellite companies propose to require 3.7 GHz Service licensees to pay nearly $10 billion—over and above what they will pay for transition costs and spectrum rights—for early clearing, forward auction bidders must have certainty that they will get what they are paying for—the right to use the spectrum early," AT&T told the commission.

Related: C-Band Auction Would Pay $9.7B Starting in 2021

That came in a series of proposed modifications offered up to the FCC this week, according to a copy of the letter proposing them.

While AT&T said Pai got the balance about right in the C-Band draft proposal, it also said the "overarching policy goals" would be even better served if the FCC tweaked it in a number of ways, starting with 1) guaranteed "date-certain" access to 3.7 GHz "if accelerated relocation payments are triggered, as well as 2) a guarantee of "turnkey migration" for programmers and other C-Band satellite customers, as well as a role in the transition; 3) requiring the multi-stakeholder technical working group to finish its work "in a timely fashion"; and 4) implementing "a single assignment auction for permanent spectrum positions."

AT&T's interest in programmers getting turnkey support and a say in the proceedings is understandable, given that it owns Time Warner and its program assets. For example, it said the FCC should make sure that the service quality of programming delivered after the migration is at least as good as before and, agreeing with the National Association of Broadcasters, said the migration should not abrogate any current contracts between satellite operators and programmers.

The C-Band is used for distributing network programming to cable operators and TV and radio stations.