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Cable Ops Say FCC Is Lowballing C-Band Lump Sums

Cable operators are in agreement that the FCC's proposed lump-sum payment estimates for moving off C-Band spectrum are too low. 

Comments were due this week on how much earth station operators, which include cable and broadcasters, should get in those upfront sums if they decide to transition from their own earth stations either to new ones of some other technology--like fiber--rather than continue with the satellite delivery model, leave the transition costs and logistics to satellite operators, and not get any payment. 

Related: FCC Provides Guidance for C-Band Payment Clearinghouse 

Once the FCC has come up with a final sum for transition costs in different categories, MVPDs will have 30 days to take it or leave it. 

Earth station operators and satellite companies are using the 500 MHz C-band band for network program delivery, but the FCC is reclaiming 300 MHz for a December auction of the midband spectrum for 5G. 

In its comments, ACA Connects said some of the FCC lump sum payment estimates are only a third or less of ACAC estimates. Plus, if the FCC does not sign off on tech upgrades as part of the transition an operator who makes the "irrevocable" choice of a lump sum payment may wind up having to cover the difference. 

ACAC said language in the FCC lump sum proposal suggests the FCC make decisions about whether tech upgrades are covered after an irrevocable lump sum payment has been accepted. It said that will undoubtedly deter cable ops from electing that option and the expeditious transition the FCC had in mind when offering the upfront payment. 

ACAC President Matt Polka said the lump sum, properly priced and implemented, is a "win all around." But that win depends on the FCC recalibrating its prices so they reflect "all the activities and equipment associated with relocating earth stations," he said. 

Related: FCC Won't Delay C-Band Auction

In its comments, NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, agrees with ACAC that the FCC has seriously underestimated video provider earth station transition costs and "carefully reevaluate its proposed lump sum amounts and determine whether they should be brought more in line with what commenters suggested will be required in an average earth station transition." 

It also said the FCC should not adopt a proposed "demonstration or verification" process for determining what tech upgrades are covered and should ensure that "the election of a technology upgrade lump sum by an MVPD does not preclude any programmers (or the satellite operators acting on their behalf) from receiving reimbursement for their actual, reasonable technology upgrade costs." 

NCTA had asked the FCC to delay the Dec. 16 comment deadline until next week, after the satellite operators' June 19 deadline for turning in their transition plans. The FCC did not move that deadline, though it did move the satellite plan deadline from June 12 to that June 19 date. 

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.