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CBA Now Proposes to Clear 300 MHz of C-Band Spectrum

As expected, the C-Band Alliance (CBA) has upped its proposal for freeing up satellite spectrum its member use to deliver network programming to broadcast and satellite operators from 200 MHz to almost 300 MHz--there is 500 MHz available.

That came on the eve of a House hearing on the issue. The FCC wants to repurpose as much of the spectrum for 5G without hurting the incumbent broadcasters and cable operators who use it to receive their network programming and field-to-studio programming.

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CBA said that using compression technology, 100 MHz can be freed up in metro areas within 18 months and a total of 300 MHz within 36 months (including a 20 MHz guard band) via a CBA-led private auction.

"The CBA remains committed to ensuring that existing customers continue to enjoy the quality of service they experience now, with no interference from 5G services to be deployed in the future," said the alliance in outlining the new plan.

ACA Connects, representing smaller cable operator clients of CBA members was not cheering. It has its own plan to free up more than 300 MHz by transitioning satellite deliver of programming networks to fiber, but repurposing that spectrum via an FCC auction, not a private market auction as CBA proposes, an opinion shared by many in Congress.

One issue that appears to trouble some legislators is that the private market auction would put the money in the hands of CBA members, who are all foreign companies, rather than the U.S. treasury for things like funding rural broadband.

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“At the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute, CBA has finally come forward with the rough outlines of a proposal to clear 300 megahertz of the C-Band," said ACA Connects president Matt Polka. "Its three-page submission affirms that CBA would rely on the use of video compression to cram all satellite operations into a mere 200 megahertz."

“This would saddle rural operators and their customers with higher prices to use a less reliable C-band that is more prone to interference and is unable to meet future demand for higher-definition video. The transition alone would be grueling and would take longer than three years for rural cable operators, who would need to replace hundreds of boxes in their headends to receive signals in compressed format."

“At any rate, the skeletal outline that CBA has provided is far from a sufficient basis for FCC action to reallocate a multi-billion dollar spectrum asset. Nor does the filing remedy core defects of the CBA plan, including the proposed reliance on an untested, legally unsound private sale of licensed spectrum."

FCC chair Ajit Pai has signaled he plans a vote on an FCC proposal for repurposing some of the band for 5G by the end of the year. Polka says the CBA proposal is too little, too late.

"At any rate, the proposal comes far too late to be incorporated into FCC’s rules adopted by the end of the year.”

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.