FCC's Pai Predicts C-Band Item by Fall

An informal shot clock of sorts has now started on the FCC's final proposal for repurposing C-Band satellite spectrum for 5G terrestrial wireless broadband.

Fall began Sept. 23, and in a speech Sept. 24, FCC chair Ajit Pai told the America's Spectrum Management Conference in Washington: "I’m optimistic that we will have results to show on this front this fall."

That front is the 3.7-4.2 GHz spectrum the chairman says is "critical" for 5G.

The C-band is the kind of midband spectrum — the sweet spot for 5G — that the FCC is under pressure to start clearing in greater abundance. President Donald Trump has directed his administration to come up with a new national spectrum policy plan with the goal of winning the race to 5G.

The FCC voted unanimously back in July 2018 to find ways to open up the C-band spectrum (3.7-4.2 GHz) — either all of the 500 MHz or some portion of it — for terrestrial wireless use.

Related: NAB Says Current FCC Band Plan Needs Fixing

The C-band is currently used by broadcast and cable operators to get their network programming from distributors and video from the field to the studio.

Cable operators, wearing dual hats as broadband providers and potential 5G providers, are more sanguine that broadcasters about being able to free up spectrum and protect against interference.

Some cable operators, most notably ACA Connects members, want the FCC to auction the satellite spectrum, and wants the program distributors now sending out network programming to cable operators and broadcasters from satellites to earth stations to transition to fiber delivery, so that most, and perhaps eventually all, the spectrum can be auctioned for 5G.

Satellite operators want a private auction of some of their spectrum, and aren't looking to be replaced by fiber, so are pushing back on the ACA proposal, with some help from broadcasters.

Related: House Gets C-Band Earful

Congress is also wading into the C-band debate, including with a legislative plan, but action is unlikely in the near term given the political divide and the dwindling working days in the current session. 

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.