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Media Companies and Others Argue Loudly Against Fiber Replacement for C-Band

Calls rejecting that proposal have been loud and clear from radio, TV, religious groups and internet providers

As the industry continues to clarify importance of C-band satellite delivery to radio and TV broadcasters, one alternative proposal in particular is drawing a great deal of ire.

In July 2019 the ACA Connects Coalition submitted a proposal to the Federal Communications Commission proposing to change some users of the C-band spectrum to a terrestrial fiber video delivery network. That proposal would clear 370 MHz of C-band spectrum and transition broadcasters and earth station users from C-band delivery to fiber.

While there has been support in some corners for the ACA proposal, a far greater number of organizations have called on the FCC to flatly reject any such proposal. The National Association of Broadcasters has weighed in as have key U.S. broadcasting networks and two large radio broadcasters.

[Read: NAB Calls ACA Connects’ C-Band Proposal “Ill-Conceived”]

The joint broadcast commenters, which include ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, called the ACA proposal “ill-conceived and untenable” because it would force content providers  to give up the precision and reliability that are hallmarks of fixed satellite service usage in C-band in exchange for what they say is complex, expensive and less-reliable fiber distribution. The ACA proposal risks breaking a ubiquitous video delivery system that does not need fixing, the broadcasters said.

Radio broadcasters have expressed their concerns as well. On Aug. 5, National Public Radio met with FCC staff to clarify the importance of C-band satellite spectrum to distribute public radio programming and emergency alerting information. “C-band satellite service is essential for public radio because of its availability across the country, including in rural and extremely remote areas; its reliability for live radio programming; and its affordability for reaching hundreds of local communities across the continent and beyond,” NPR said in a filing with the commission.

Other radio organizations, like Cumulus Media and Westwood One, have weighed in to express concerns about the ACA proposal both from a timing and reliability standpoint. The groups say that the 18-month time frame that the ACA proposal for installing a reliable fiber optional is unrealistic. A second issue: fiber cannot replicate the 99.99% reliability rating that C-band uplinks provide. “Fiber does not have the same combination of efficiency and reliability as the C-band for content delivery,” said Cumulus and Westwood in their FCC filing. “In order to ensure the necessary degree of reliability, redundancy of fiber lines would be required in most instances, which would multiply the expense.”

Other media organizations, like the North American Broadcasters Association, have called on the FCC to reject the proposal by the ACA Connects Coalition, calling it inapposite to the preservation of cross-border trade in North America. The NABA tracks technical, operational and regulatory issues affecting broadcasters in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The NABA said that not only is C-band the most important mechanism for distribution of programming to MPVDs in those three countries, but the spectrum is necessary for daily cross-border content delivery to individual broadcast stations when those countries’ broadcasters purchase rights for content. The organization said the “deeply flawed” ACA proposal to redirect that distribution to fiber will be highly diminutive to U.S. studios who will bear unnecessary cost and lose flexibility in product delivery to foreign customers, the organization said.

Beyond radio and TV media companies, the importance of C-band is being echoed by houses of worship and internet companies.

Alaska Communications Internet called the proposal from ACA Connects Coalition “simply unworkable in Alaska, as the proponents themselves acknowledge.” Alaska lacks terrestrial alternatives to the C-band satellite communications platform to connect Alaska’s rural and remote communities, the organization said. Of one concern is the cost. The other is the vast distances between some of Alaska’s rural villages.

Religious organizations have also weighed in. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints filed comments with the FCC to say that it uses C-band extensively as part of its religious mission. The church uses its more than 3,000 C-band downlinks to broadcast live meetings, conferences, worship services and trainings around the country.

However the ACA is not alone in its support to migrate operators from C-band to fiber. NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association said it is generally supportive of the ACA proposal to gradually transition the operators from C-band to fiber video delivery, though the organization said the transition should occur cautiously to ensure no disruption of video programming to consumers. Others, like the broadband wireless equipment supplier Airspan Networks, told the FCC that it too encourages thoughtful approaches that provide incentives to transition multichannel video programming distributors to fiber distribution.

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