FCC 375

The radio industry is pushing back against a new proposal on the table at the Federal Communications Commission designed to clear some of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, commonly called the C-Band. Submitted by the cable trade group America’s Communications Association, the wireless trade group Competitive Carriers Association and Charter Communications, it proposes reallocating 370 megahertz (MHz) of the C-band spectrum and pushing some existing users—like radio and television stations—to on-the-ground fiber networks. The cable and wireless industry says its idea could be implemented in as little as 18 months in urban areas.

Cumulus Media, the parent of Westwood One, which relies on satellites to distribute programming to 8,000 stations nationwide, says it recognizes the proposal would at least in theory allow broadcasters to continue using their existing satellite dishes one a “repack” of the C-band is done. But Cumulus tells the FCC that it has “serious concerns” with the technical viability of the proposal. And it calls the proposed timeline “far from realistic” since it would require design, deployment and testing before a fiber-based network is in place.

But more fundamentally, Cumulus tells the FCC in a filing that it doesn’t think fiber is a viable alternative to distributing programming via satellite. Satellites have 99.9% reliability rates and can cover even the most rural spots where high-speed internet doesn’t yet reach. But the cable and wireless industry’s proposal runs into the reality that the cost of building a fiber infrastructure would be “astronomical” for broadcasters, Cumulus tells the FCC. “In most cases they would be forced to pass the substantial price increases on to their subscribers and advertisers, or cease operations altogether.”

Cumulus goes on to draw a connection between the C-band proceeding and efforts to revitalize the AM band. Because the FCC is currently looking to reduce nighttime skywave protections that clear channel Class A stations have, Cumulus points out the ability to distribute Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages will become even more satellite-dependent.

Like Cumulus, NPR also relies on the C-band. The Public Radio Satellite System distributes programing to 1,265 public radio stations. It has been among the loudest broadcast opponents to allowing wireless companies to carve away some of the spectrum that radio has grown to rely upon. PRSS is also something that state public radio networks have come to rely on, along with several state emergency management agencies. In a presentation to senior FCC officials this month, NPR used a map of where its 464 earth stations are located to illustrate just how difficult it would be to replicate satellite distribution.

NPR has hinted that legal action isn’t out of the question. It has told the FCC that forcing broadcasters to accept interference from new mobile services would amount to a revocation or modification of their license terms without notice—and that’s something the U.S. Court of Appeals has said is unconstitutional.

‘Square Peg Into A Round Hole’

The National Association of Broadcasters has thrown its support behind a proposal submitted by the C-Band Alliance, an industry group made up of satellite providers Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat. It has proposed its members voluntarily auction 200 MHz of spectrum to wireless carriers to be used for terrestrial 5G networks. That’s less than the wireless companies want. But the C-Band Alliance said in a filing with the FCC that a voluntary auction is a way to speed up the process while also preventing disruption to radio and television stations. The C-Band Alliance proposal would also migrate 5G services to the upper 300 MHz of C-Band.

In a filing with the agency, the NAB says the Commission “should seize that unique opportunity” rather than “give oxygen to ill-conceived, self-interested schemes that are out of touch with reality.” And it also urged the FCC not to “cave” to “unreasonable and unjustified pressure” to reallocate additional C-band spectrum for wireless services.

NAB also questions the viability of the new proposal given to the FCC by the cable and wireless companies. “Replacing C-band content distribution with fiber would be a massive, time-consuming and complex endeavor,” says NAB. “While C-band’s one-to-many architecture is perfectly suited for the nationwide distribution of content, particularly in rural areas, fiber’s point-to-point architecture will require content providers to fit a square peg into a round hole.”