NCTA: FCC Must Give New Entrants Fair Shot at 12 GHz

5g artistic rendering
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cable broadband operators are telling the FCC that if it opens up the 12 GHz band for sharing between direct broadcast satellite and terrestrial 5G, it should not put a thumb on the scale for incumbent users. Satellite-TV provider Dish Network is the most prominent advocate for getting that expanded access.

The band is currently used for licensed DBS, fixed satellite service multichannel video distribution, and data service (MVDDS). All are co-primary, but DBS must be protected from interference.

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The FCC in January voted unanimously to propose opening up the 500 GHz midband spectrum for unlicensed 5G use in response to a 2016 petition by the Dish-backed MVDSS 5G Coalitions, but said that could only happen if incumbent users are protected from interference.

Dish uses the spectrum to deliver its video service, and wants the FCC to allow it also to use the spectrum to build out its terrestrial 5G service, which the FCC approved as a way to foster a new 5G competitor to AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile after it allowed the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. Dish said it is convinced the spectrum can be shared without interference to its, and others' service.

Among the questions the FCC wanted input on in its proposal included whether to allow 5G sharing throughout the band and whether to modify the licenses of existing MVDDS incumbents (like Dish) to grant them flexible use licenses for terrestrial 5G as well as traditional DBS, or perhaps auction "overlay" licenses in the band. 

In reply comments due this week on the FCC proposal, NCTA-The Internet & Television Association said it was not weighing in on whether or not the FCC should open up the 12 GHz band — suggesting there was still work to be done to conclude sharing would not interfere with current users — but that if it did, the commission should allow new entrants, presumably including its members, an “equal opportunity to access the spectrum.”

It told the FCC that would best serve the public interest — the agency‘s prime directive — by increasing the diversity of licenses and services, and that an auction was most consistent with furthering that diversity.

Dish told the FCC that it should expand incumbent's licensed right to include 5G and that an auction, were the FCC to add a mobile allocation to incumbent's rights, was out of the question.

AT&T and T-Mobile also argued for an auction.

Dish said the FCC has “no authority” to auction mutually exclusive MVDDS licenses because reclaiming MVDDS licenses for auction would create an impermissible 'fundamental change' to these licenses that exceeds the Commission’s authority."

Among the commenters who did weigh in on whether the FCC should allow sharing in the band, Google, which is a Spectrum Access Administrator (SAS) in the CBRS (3.5 GHz) band said it does not think sharing is “a realistic plan to enable materially usable mobile service.”

Microsoft agrees with Google that a workable plan for sharing has not been put forward and adds that sharing would “severely limit the utility of both satellite and terrestrial mobile service.”

Incumbent 12-GHz band users Intelsat and Eutelsat do not share Dish's enthusiasm for sharing or view it as feasible. Quite the contrary. “Adding terrestrial Mobile to the 12.2-12.7 GHz frequency band (the ‘12 GHz Band’) would cause interference to incumbent operations, jeopardize Direct Broadcast Satellite (“DBS”) services to millions of end users, and devalue incumbents’ investments,” they told the commission.

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.