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New Bill Would Force C-Band Auction

Bipartisan House contingent wants money to go for rural broadband, not to satellite operators

A bipartisan quartet of House members want to force the FCC to auction C-Band spectrum rather than repurpose it via free-market deals between satellite operators and wireless carriers, as those operators prefer.

The FCC wants to free up as much of that midband (3.7–4.2 GHz) spectrum for 5G as possible, likely at least 300 MHz. Satellite carriers (most as part of the C-Band Alliance) want to be able to strike deals to free up the spectrum. But many in Congress have argued that the money for the public spectrum — to which satellite operators have licenses — should instead go to the Treasury to help fund rural broadband buildouts among other things.

[Read: C-Band Hearing Scheduled for the House]

That definitely includes the four House members who introduced the Clearing Broad Airwaves for New Deployment (C-BAND) Act Thursday (Oct. 24). They are Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), chairman of the Communications Subcommittee, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), subcommittee vice-chair, and Reps. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), and Greg Gianforte (R-Minn.).

“I am pleased to introduce the bipartisan C-Band Act, which would require the FCC to promptly conduct a public auction to provide more much-needed midband spectrum,” said Doyle. “This bill would ensure a transparent and fair process that would generate billions of dollars in revenue to address the urgent needs of millions of Americans such as building out broadband internet service in rural America while protecting users of incumbent services.”

The FCC would have a September 2022 deadline for auctioning the spectrum.

The act:

  • “Requires the FCC to hold a public auction of C-Band spectrum;”
  • “Allow for no less than 200 megahertz and no more than 300 megahertz of C-band spectrum [with 20 MHz set aside for guard bands];”
  • “Ensures that incumbent C-Band users will be protected” by mandating that they get as good or better service than before. Cable operators, who are also eyeing the C-Band spectrum for 5G, have signaled they could support freeing up as much of that spectrum for 5G as is practicable, perhaps even all of it, replacing the satellite feed with fiber. Broadcasters are concerned that fiber would put their must-have programming at the mercy of an errant backhoe that failed to miss the utility, as it were.

The C-Band Alliance initially propose private sales of 200 MHz, but is likely willing to boost that to 300 MHz if they can be private sales rather than an auction.

Incumbent users include broadcasters and cable operators, who receive their programming network feeds via the satellite spectrum.

The bill will definitely be a topic of conversation at the subcommittee’s C-Band hearing next week.

“ACA Connects salutes the House subcommittee for its introduction of this bipartisan bill,” said ACA Connects President Matt Polka. “The bill appropriately recognizes that any repurposing of C-Band spectrum for 5G must ensure the same or better service for existing users of the band, including the cable operators that rely on the band to deliver video programming to millions of households across the nation. If cable operators encounter any reduction in reliability, capability or quality of that service, or any increase in costs, it is competition and consumers that will ultimately suffer, especially in rural America. To head off these concerns, it is important that any C-Band transition fully compensate cable operators for any costs they incur in opening up the band for 5G, and that receiving programming via fiber instead of satellite is an option. We applaud the subcommittee for its leadership and look forward continuing to work together on this critical public policy issue.”