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C-Band Auction Plan Envisions $9.7 Billion Payments Starting in 2021

By Gary Arlen

Initiating a new "accelerated relocation payments" process, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai previewed his proposal today for a C-Band spectrum auction that would trigger up to $9.7 billion to incumbent satellite operators who use that bandwidth, with initial payments beginning by late next year. Pai said the auction will start on December 8, 2020.

Ajit Pai at ITIF on Thursday

Ajit Pai at ITIF on Thursday

In a speech at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington, Pai offered a preview of the proposed rulemaking, which he will unveil in full tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 7) in preparation for an FCC vote at the Commission's February 28 open meeting.

Pai's draft rules would make the lower 280 megahertz of the C-band (3.7-3.98 GHz) available for flexible use, including 5G. The 20 megahertz above that (3.98-4 GHz) would serve as a guard band. Existing satellite operations (primarily used to carry video programming to cable TV headends) would be repacked into the upper 200 megahertz of the band (4.0-4.2 GHz). band, with relocation costs covered by the auction proceeds, and paid directly by winning bidders to the satellite carriers.

Satellite operators could receive accelerated relocation payments if they are able to clear the lower portion of the C-band on an speeded-up timeline, Pai explained, thus advancing the national priority of making spectrum available for 5G deployment more quickly.

Pai said that these payments "would create powerful incentives for incumbent operators to expedite the transition." His accelerated timeframe calls for clearing the lower 100 MHz of the C-band in 46 of the nation’s top 50 Partial Economic Areas by September 2021 and reclaiming the remaining spectrum by September 2023.