Rural Groups Push FCC C-Band Auction

As the FCC considers how to repurpose C-Band spectrum, a sextet of rural broadband associations and others is telling it to stick to an auction, whose proceeds could help close the rural digital divide. 

NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Rural Wireless Association, The League of Rural Voters, National Organization of Black County Officials and Michigan Broadband Cooperative joined in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. along withe chairs of the relevant FCC oversight committees--Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Commitee and Frank Palone (D-N.J.) chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

The FCC is considering a number of options for opening up spectrum in the band, including one by satellite service providers (the C-Band Alliance) to use private market deals rather than an auction, which it argues could free up the spectrum more quickly and efficiently.

The commission in July voted unanimously 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 auction, a market mechanism where incumbents voluntarily strike deals to reduce their footprint, or some other means.

"The Rural Representatives urge law and policy makers to consider how proceeds from a C-Band auction could ease the transition to terrestrial use and help deploy broadband throughout the nation. A C-Band auction is expected to generate tens of billions of dollars. Congress could direct the Commission to set aside a significant portion of the auction proceeds to support the deployment and sustainability of both fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure," they told Pai and the legislators.

As to private deals between satellite service providers and mobile broadband companies, the associations are not sanguine about the prospects.

"There is much concern among those most vested in serving rural areas that a transfer of the spectrum via an unprecedented private market transaction will lack the transparency, expediency, fairness and necessary oversight of an FCC-led auction – and thus ultimately lead to a spectrum transfer to the largest, most well-financed mobile wireless providers," they told the chairmen. "A Commission-led auction of cleared C-Band spectrum and thoughtful consideration of the appropriate use of the proceeds to help support widespread deployment of broadband

infrastructure will confer extraordinary benefits to the American people."

“There is increasing bipartisan interest in Congress to find a way to pay for an ambitious effort to close the rural broadband and homework gaps," said Michael Calabrese, director, Wireless Future Program, at New America's Open Technology Institute. "Since the C-band proceeds would otherwise go to four foreign companies [the C-Band Alliance], we are among the many rural broadband advocates urging Congress to legislate a public C-band auction.”

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.