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FCC Votes to Open C-Band For Wireless Broadband

The FCC has unanimously voted 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 auctions, 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 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.

The combination order and notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) would do four things: 1. collect information from those broadcast and cable operators to help guide the repurposing/sharing; 2. propose to add a mobile allocation to the entire 500 Mhz, which is currently designated for nonexclusive fixed satellite use; 3. seek comment on allowing shared fixed use in a portion of the band; and 4. seek comment on service and technical rules.

Related: FCC Opens Door to C-Band Auction

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a big fan of movie and song references, likened the FCC's search for more spectrum to the observation in Jaws once the size of the shark became obvious: "We're going to need a bigger boat."

Pai said the item was another recognition that the U.S. needs a bigger spectrum pipeline.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel agreed, but said the FCC is playing catch-up in the midband spectrum clearing space, and needed to be less opaque about what spectrum it is freeing up, and when. 

"With today’s rulemaking and order we are doing something about it. We explore a variety of mechanisms for clearing the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for 5G use," she said. "And if we make headway here, we can start to reclaim lost leadership in spectrum that is critical for success in 5G networks."

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly supported the item, but had some issues, including with an auction route. He said it made more sense to let market players resolve the issue among themselves rather than through FCC mandates and mandatory clearing.