CBA Outlines C-band Auction Proposal

The C-Band Alliance (CBA) has given the FCC its plan for a private auction of 200 MHz of C-band satellite spectrum to be freed up for terrestrial wireless use. Incumbent users would be repacked in the remaining 300 MHz of the 500 Mhz of available spectrum in the band.

Currently that satellite spectrum is used by broadcasters and cable operators to receive and deliver programming, including broadcast and cable networks from distributors to TV and radio stations and cable systems.

Related: Studios Caution FCC To Protect C-Band Incumbents

CBA has dubbed the auction FUEL (Flexible Use and Efficient Licensing) and says it would be a sealed-bid auction for "packages" of spectrum. (The FCC has its own FAST (Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology) plan for getting spectrum into the hands of wireless broadband companies).

The CBA auction was designed by Auctionomics., which has worked with the FCC on its spectrum auctions.

The FCC has not decided whether to use its own auction or allow for such a private auction, but FCC chair Ajit Pai is looking to get the spectrum freed up for 5G ASAP, so if a private market transaction can do that, it likely has a leg up.

CBA was certainly pitching the process as 'Fast," saying that winning bidders could be determined in 2-4 weeks after the start of the auction and would put the spectrum to use "at the earliest possible date." 

The Alliance said after auction closes, winners can begin building out 5G within 18 months of a final FCC order.

Related: FCC Seeks More Input on Compensating C-Band Incumbents

CBA comprises the four major (international) satellite companies providing satellite service in the C-band--Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat. 

The FCC voted unanimously in July 2018 to find ways to open up the C-band spectrum (3.7-4.2 Ghz) -- either all of the proposed 500 Mhz or some portion of it -- for terrestrial wireless use, but has not yet decided just how to do it.

The FCC said its goal is to balance the need for speed (and efficiency) in freeing up the spectrum with the need to accommodate incumbent operations.

Those incumbents want the FCC to make sure that accommodation is top of mind, given the impact of interference with their primary means of getting programming from distributors. 

Chairman Ajit Pai told Senate Wednesday that the FCC was currently vetting that "complicated" auction proposal.

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.