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FCC Achieves Early C-Band Clearing Agreements

The FCC said that it has commitments from all the eligible satellite carriers to move of their C-band spectrum on an accelerated timetable. 

The FCC offered $9.7 billion in incentive payments to the five eligible carriers moving out of the 300 MHz of spectrum in the lower band (there are 500 total) that the FCC is freeing up for auction to wireless companies for 5G. 

Related: Divided FCC Votes to Proceed with C-Band Auction 

The five--Eutelsat, Intelsat, SES, Star One, and Telesat--have all agreed to take the money and run, as it were, or at least move more quickly, the FCC signaled Monday (June 1). 

Those companies have pledged to clear the first 120 MHz of spectrum in 46 partial economic areas (PEAs) by Dec. 5, 2021, then 120 MHz in the remaining PEAs and the other 180 MHz by Dec. 5, 2023. 

If those five do that, they get the $9.7 billion in addition to their relocation costs paid by the wireless companies. The FCC said that without the payments, the operators would not have to exit until Dec. 5, 2025. 

Related: FCC Seeks Comment on C-Band Exit Costs 

“The acceptance of accelerated relocation by all eligible satellite operators vindicates the FCC’s approach for making C-band spectrum available for 5G more quickly," FCC chairman Ajit Pai said.  

The FCC has taken some heat from Congress--most notably, or at least vocally, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.)--for paying billions to the satellite companies, all foreign based, rather than using that money for closing the rural digital divide or emergency communications. 

Pai had argued that clearing the spectrum early would make it more valuable at auction and more than offset the payments, which were the only way to guarantee that early exit.  

The C-band auction is scheduled to begin Dec. 8. 

The FCC voted Friday (Feb. 28) to free up 300 MHz of the C-band for 5G, 280 of that to be auctioned and 20 MHz to be used as a guard band between wireless users and the incumbent satellite operators that will use the remaining 200 MHz to continue to deliver network programming to broadcast and cable (and other) clients. 

It also voted on auction rules, including minimum payments, default payments, license sizes and more. 

“Today’s announcement by the FCC is a great step forward to getting the 5G challenge right," said Mike Rogers, chairman of 5G Action. "To beat China in this new economic and technological race, we need to unleash the creativity and innovative spirit that made America the entrepreneurial capital of the world. Accelerating the shifting of C-band to 5G innovators is the kind of step we need to get ahead in this competition. I congratulate Chairman Pai and the FCC on a very smart decision.”

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.