CBA Proposes Mandatory C-Band Clearing Fee

Now that FCC chair Ajit Pai has signaled he wants to hold a public auction of the C-Band, midband, spectrum for 5G, the satellite operators with licenses in that spectrum say it should make paying them to get off that spectrum ASAP a condition of participation in an auction.

That came in a new proposal from the C-Band Alliance (CBA) , whose members use the band to deliver network programming from producers to MVPDS and broadcast stations.

Related: Pai Proposes FCC Auction of C-Band

Broadcasters and cable operators receive network programming via that C-band spectrum, as well as using it to get remote content, like breaking news, back to the station or news net.

The alliance said the FCC should require bidders to pay for "accelerated clearing" if they want to bid on the spectrum, arguing satellite operators are "uniquely positioned" to provide the speed of repurposing for 5G to help the U.S. win the race to next-gen wireless broadband, a priority for the Trump Administration.

CBA argues that a "mandatory accelerated clearing fee" can free up spectrum in 18 to 36 months, "significantly faster than the customary FCC 10-year relocation period." It also says the move would double the value of the spectrum at auction. citing an analysis by The Brattle Group.

The mandatory fee approach would also remove the specter of protracted litigation holding up the repurposing. CBA members suing the FCC, which they have suggested could be the case if the FCC auctions the spectrum without compensating them beyond moving expenses.

Related: CBA Offers Open Access 5G net

CBA put an ominous exclamation point on that prospect this week, telling the FCC: "Failure to involve the CBA in the transition of the C-band would be legally perilous. Unilateral authorization of new terrestrial mobile operations in any significant portion of the C-band would constitute an unlawful basic and fundamental change to the authorizations held by the members of the CBA."

The new proposal came even as a key congressional committee was mulling the need for speed in C-Band repurposing at a hearing on future tech. FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly told the Hill that speed should be the priority.

Related: Senate Commerce Approves C-Band Auction Bill

Alliance members had wanted private market sales of their spectrum licenses rather than an auction, but legislators on both sides of the aisle have pushed back.

Legislators have been concerned that a private auction, rather than an FCC auction, would deny billions to the Treasury--some estimate an auction could reap up to $60 billion--while putting in in the hands of foreign satellite companies.

The alliance is trying to convince policymakers that its proposal is the best way to free up C-Band (midband) satellite spectrum for terrestrial 5G while protecting incumbent cable and satellite operators and getting money to the treasury for rural broadband buildouts or whatever else the government wants to do with it.

The C-Band is used by, among others, broadcasters and cable operators to receive programming networks and for field-to-studio transmissions.

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.