Comcast-NBCU Warns FCC That Alliance C-Band Plan Puts Fox in Hen House

Comcast-NBCU has made it clear it has major problems with satellite operators' "market-based" proposal to redistribute C-Band spectrum the FCC is trying to repurpose for 5G, suggesting the FCC would be putting the Fox in charge of the hen house.

The C-Band Alliance, comprising fixed satellite service operators, said last week that its proposal to negotiate secondary-market agreements for up to 200 MHz of C-band spectrum, is the win-win solution the FCC is looking for.

Comcast-NBCU begs to differ, or at least it has major issues, something it made clear in its language about the proposal in comments to the FCC.

The FCC in July voted unanimously to find ways to open up the C-band spectrum (3.7-4.2 Ghz) for terrestrial wireless use, either all of the 500 MHz or some portion of it, and through either an incentive or capacity auction, a market mechanism where incumbents voluntarily strike deals to reduce their footprint, or some other means.

The C-band is currently used for satellite delivery of cable and broadcast network programming to TV and radio stations, satellite radio services, and cable head-ends. The FCC wants to open it up to wireless broadband to help close the digital divide and promote 5G, both prime directives for the commission.

Comcast told the FCC, flatly, that no one has proposed an equitable solution to reallocating C-band spectrum, then proceeded to call the alliance proposal an untested scheme by "foreign-based operators" to clear the spectrum, reimburse the earth station operators who service cable and broadcast networks, then "pocket" the "windfall," which they would maximize by short-changing downstream users.

Again calling it a "scheme," Comcast said it would require the FCC to "abdicate" its role in spectrum allocation--in favor of those deals--risking the reliability the FCC "has deemed important for the public welfare," and cable ops certainly say is crucial to the welfare of their programming distribution system, and "handing over the reins to entities with every incentive to cut corners."

Comcast also says no one has come up with an alternative to C-band satellites for delivering video programming or a plan for fully protecting existing services from interference--Comcast says filters--one suggested fix--are hardly foolproof and in any event are only one piece of the "interference-protection puzzle." Others have suggested moving distribution to fiber, but Comcast says even if it were feasible, it would be a monumental investment in a technology that still "can't replicate the ubiquity and reliability" of C-band satellite distribution.

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.