FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday, Nov. 18, disclosed his plan for reallocating part of the C-band spectrum (3.7–4.2 GHz) for 5G use.
In a letter to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Pai said the FCC will auction 280 megahertz of spectrum for 5G. An additional 20 megahertz will be used as a guard band with the remaining upper 200 megahertz available for the continued delivery of programming for radio and television.
The FCC told reporters on Monday that with broadcast satellite services being downsized to just 200 MHz of spectrum a repack of the space will be required. There are more than 16,000 registered receive-only dishes in the field that currently use the C-band, according to NAB. They are used to receive national and syndicated programming for TV and radio.
The order is expected to be considered by the full commission early next year, according to an FCC official. FCC staff will be tasked with carrying out the public auction, which is expected to commence prior to the end of 2020, according to an FCC official. The FCC will accept public comment before any new rules are adopted.
On Nov. 18, the FCC called the process a “complicated rulemaking” that took over two years and raised a number of economic, legal, engineering and policy issues.
Pai in his letter to Congress outlined four principles that the FCC should advance in the rulemaking: “First, we must make available a significant amount of C-band spectrum for 5G. Second, we must make C-band spectrum available for 5G quickly. Third, we must generate revenue for the federal government. And fourth, we must protect the services that are currently delivered using the C-band so they can continue to be delivered to the American people.”
The public auction of the 280 megahertz for 5G (3.7 to 3.98 GHz) will be administered by the FCC. The commission determined an auction is preferable to a private sale, according to the FCC official. The C-Band Alliance, led by Intelset, SES and Intel, had previously proposed to split the band frequency to accommodate 5G services, with the alliance handling the private sale of spectrum.
The FCC on Nov. 18 said the repack of broadcast services to the upper 200 megahertz (4.0–4.2 GHz) has yet to be defined. The FCC official suggested that with the use of high-resolution video compression, the 20 megahertz guard band, the installation of filters on earth-stations and the launching of several new satellites, can compress all of the existing services and content currently delivered over the C-band into the upper 200 megahertz.
The FCC did not disclose whether incentive payments would be made to incumbent satellite providers affected by the repack. It is also not clear if there will be an independent facilitator appointed to oversee the clearing of the band.
NAB asked the FCC in an early filing during the proceeding to ensure “costs for implementing such a plan should be entirely borne by the beneficiaries of any private or public spectrum transaction: either the satellite operators or the mobile carriers who acquire spectrum usage rights.”
National Public Radio earlier pressed the FCC for clarity in its final decision when it comes to the financial ramifications of a massive C-band migration of satellite earth-stations caused by a repack. The Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS) depends on C-band for distribution of programming to approximately 1,275 public radio stations, said Adam Shoemaker, counsel for NPR, according to an FCC filing.
While the FCC’s plan on the repacking of broadcast services is unclear, the commission does expect to fully protect all incumbents currently relying on the C-band for video and radio programming, the FCC official said.