Charter: CBA C-Band Proposal Equals Backroom Deals, Windfall Profits

Charter is telling the FCC it should auction midband satellite spectrum it wants to make available for wireless broadband, rather than allow for marketplace deals as the C-Band alliance of satellite operators has proposed, calling the latter proposal an "an unprecedented and unlawful private takeover," and going through a parade of horribles that could ensue, from "unlawful subdelegation" to "forced modification."

That is according to a proposal to the FCC Charter made in a lengthy letter to the commission Feb. 22.

Charter is proposing a straight auction, rather than a two-sided incentive auction.

Related: NAB Says C-Band Sharing Isn't a Given

The FCC is definitely going free up some portion of the C-Band (3.7-4.2 GHz) for next-gen wireless, part of a grand plan to free up as much low-, mid- and high-band spectrum as possible, but sought comment on just how to do that, either through a traditional FCC auction or through marketplace mechanisms like deals between carriers and satellite operators, or cutting cable operators and broadcasters in for a piece of the proceeds since they use the spectrum for satellite program distribution.

Charter says the "the quickest, fairest, most efficient [and most "transparent"]" way to do that is for the FCC to decide just how much it wants to reallocate, then auction it and require carriers to reimburse satellite providers and earth station licensees (broadcast and cable operators) for relocation costs, and perhaps even an additional "reserve charge" of some percentage of auction revenues, as determined by the commission.

The C-Band alliance has argued that waiting for the FCC to set up and conclude an auction would take more time than marketplace deals, but Charter begs to differ. "Importantly for the race to 5G, the auction required by the Communications Act is also the most expeditious path."

By contrast, Charter says, "the C-Band Alliance ('CBA') asks the Commission to discard its normal process—and to abdicate its responsibility for overseeing the C-Band and for advancing the public interest—in favor of an unprecedented and unlawful private takeover of the allocation and sale of this critical spectrum."

"The CBA’s plan would artificially limit the amount of mid-band spectrum made available for 5G and plunge the Commission into a legal quagmire that would delay the availability of 5G.," Charter says. "Instead of ignoring the potential national security, economic, and timing risks, the Commission should avoid this quagmire, reject the C-Band’s proposal..."

Related: Intel Plugs C-Band Alliance Proposal

Charter suggests the only beneficiaries of the CBA are its "foreign satellite company" members--comprising fixed satellite service operators including Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat--and that the spectrum would be reallocated via backroom deals and windfall profits under the CBA plan, a "radical proposal to give incumbents with misaligned incentives free rein to allocate and regulate spectrum as they see fit."

"Apparently it was legal and proper for the cable companies to make allocation and sale decisions for critical spectrum in 2012 when they sold their AWS privately to Verizon and kept all the proceeds," said Preston Padden, CBA EVP. "This is the Washington swamp at its worst. Cable is simply trying to protect their monopoly on high-speed broadband in 85% of American homes."

Charter suggests that is an apples-and-oranges argument. It says the AWS deal was a "secondary sale of spectrum that had already been repurposed" and says in that case the FCC did not alter spectrum rights "at the behest of seller or buyer in order to facilitate a private sale of that spectrum."

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.