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CBA Says C-Band Revamp Needs Its Members' Buy-In

WASHINGTON — The C-Band Alliance (CBA) told the Federal Communications Commission this week that it can't auction part of their spectrum to wireless carriers without the satellite licensee's permission, and to do so would "run headlong into statutory and constitutional limits on the FCC's authority." 

That came in a filing as the FCC decides how to free up C-band spectrum for 5G, spectrum currently used by broadcasters and cable operators for program delivery. 

CBA wants the FCC to authorize a private auction, arguing an FCC auction would take too long as the country tries to win the race to 5G. 

It says that its members, through their FCC licenses, have an enforceable right to transmit free of the kind of harmful interference terrestrial mobile (wireless broadband) operators might present. But CBA says they can voluntarily waive or negotiate away those rights as part of a private auction overseen by the FCC. 

As to the rights of earth-station operators like broadcasters and cable systems — which receive network programming via satellite — to participate in a government incentive auction, CBA says they don't have any. "The FCC lacks power to compensate receive-only earth stations through an auction or other means because these stations simply have no licensed rights to relinquish in the scenario of a C-band reorganization," the alliance said. 

The FCC sought input on what authority others thought it had to compensate C-band stakeholders. Meanwhile various proposals have been offered up to clear spectrum, including compensating earth station operators in an auction, something broadcasters and cable operators are fine with for obvious reasons. 

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has also acknowledged the repurposing is, well, complicated. But he did tell Congress recently that he hopes to have something ready by the fall.

Separately, legislation has been drafted by House Democrats that would require an FCC auction, plus a hefty contribution to the Treasury ($10 billion) to help close the rural digital divide.   

Cable operators and competitive carriers also have a proposal that would include an FCC auction, as well as possible payouts to cable and broadcasters as well as satellite companies.   

The C-band is the kind of midband spectrum — the sweet spot for 5G — that the FCC is under pressure to start clearing in greater abundance. President Donald Trump has directed his administration to come up with a new national spectrum policy plan with the goal of winning the race to 5G.  

CBA has dubbed its private auction FUEL (Flexible Use and Efficient Licensing) and says it would be a sealed-bid auction for "packages" of spectrum, private but overseen by the FCC, which could put conditions on the licenses if it chose. (The FCC has its own FAST (Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology) plan for getting spectrum into the hands of wireless broadband companies). 

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.