The status quo may be the preferred outcome. But with the prospects all but certain that the Federal Communications Commission will allow mobile services to tap into the C-band spectrum currently used by radio and TV stations, the National Association of Broadcasters is backing a proposal to carve off a portion of what the wireless companies want, under an industry plan that would leave some spectrum for current users.
The C-Band Alliance, an industry group made up of satellite providers Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat, has proposed its members voluntarily auction 200 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum to wireless carriers to be used for terrestrial 5G networks. In exchange, the satellite companies could use the proceeds to help pay for eight new satellites. That’s less than the wireless companies want but by doing so the C-Band Alliance said in a filing with the FCC that it’s 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.
NAB Vice President of Strategic Planning Patrick McFadden said that “consensus” proposal would allow the remaining 300 MHz to accommodate broadcasters’ programming distribution.
“A 200/300 split has emerged as a bird in the hand that would allow the FCC to move forward quickly without running the risk of programming disruptions,” he wrote in a blog post, adding that it doesn’t mean that additional spectrum cannot be reallocated in the future. “This does not have to be the end of the process,” McFadden said. “The Commission can revisit the C-band as technology evolves and alternative distribution mechanisms become more viable. But forcing a messy, disruptive and delayed result for multiple industries for the sake of a higher number of megahertz right now seems to benefit no one.” He also acknowledged that some details still need to be worked out, such as the mechanism for the sale of spectrum to wireless companies and the interference rules to ensure “a peaceful coexistence” between wireless and satellite operations.
As Inside Radio reported last month, the C-Band Alliance’s proposal has its critics. Some in the wireless industry think they’ll need all 500 MHz to make the development of new mobile services worthwhile. And some public interest groups argue the spectrum isn’t the satellite industry’s to sell in a private auction that could bring in between $10 and $30 billion. They say that money should instead go to the U.S. Treasury in an FCC-run auction.
McFadden said in the face of that criticism, the FCC has been “reluctant to take the win” and embrace the C-Band Alliance’s proposal. And because of that its satellite company members are now feeling “undue pressure” to come with up even more than the original 200 MHz to reallocate to the wireless services. And that could be a deal-breaker for the NAB since it could disrupt how radio and TV programming beams to stations across the country.
“This pressure will lead to bad results for consumers across the country. As they themselves have insisted to the FCC and their customers, there is simply no reasonable way for satellite operators to provide the same level of service to their existing customers if they must immediately surrender more than 200 MHz,” McFadden said.
How close the FCC is to a decision on the C-band, which covers the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, isn’t entirely clear. When she was asked last month by reporters about the status, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the agency was still sorting through a number of ideas. “We will have to see how much spectrum we get back,” Rosenworcel said, saying protecting incumbent users like radio must be taken into consideration. “We will figure a way forward if we figure those things out,” she said.
As the FCC contemplates its next moves, it now has in its hands more information about how radio and television rely on the mid-band spectrum. Stations were required last year to submit information about their satellite download links, including the receiver’s call sign, file number and applicant or registrant name.