Satellite operators have sweetened the pot, offering to voluntarily clear an additional 100 megahertz of C-Band spectrum, as the Federal Communications Commission continues to mull the band’s future.
In a recent filing with the Federal Communications Commission, the C Band Alliance of satellite operators committed to making available 300 MHz of C-band spectrum at 3.7-4.2 GHz, which includes 280 megahertz of usable spectrum plus a 20 MHz guard band — up from the 200 megahertz that they had previous offered. There are 500 megahertz of C-Band spectrum available, and just how much of it should be kept for satellite operations versus terrestrial wireless use has been hotly debated. A competing band plan from earlier this year, offered up by Charter Communications, ACA Connects and the Competitive Carriers Association, proposed at least 370 megahertz of spectrum to be auctioned for terrestrial use.
In the latest proposal by the CBA, the group said that satellite operators would make 100 megahertz of spectrum in 46 of the top 50 Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) available within 18 months of an FCC order, with the rest of the spectrum in the continental U.S. to be made available within 36 months of a CBA-led auction. PEAs divide the country into more than 400 sections.
The CBA has been pushing to hold what would essentially be a private spectrum auction with rules similar to those of an FCC auction, over ongoing objections from mobile network operators such as T-Mobile US. Because the shift from satellite-based usage to terrestrial wireless use requires the FCC to approve the change in use, the agency has to be involved at some point, so the situation is different than the typical secondary spectrum market transactions.
However, some cellular operators have indicated support for common principles for an auction that would be held by the CBA but in most respects, look similar to an FCC auction. In another ex parte filing from both the CBA and cellular network operators including AT&T, Verizon, US Cellular and smaller operators Bluegrass Cellular and Pine Belt Wireless, the group proposed auction principles that borrowed heavily from FCC auction rules and procedures.
The group said that they submitted the principles “as a result of ongoing discussions, and in an effort to highlight areas of consensus” on a reasonable process for such an auction.
“While we may not agree on all facets of how this proceeding should be resolved, there is strong consensus that all potential, qualified bidders should be welcome to participate and have clarity on the rules and procedures that will govern the sales and licensing process,” the group said in its filing.
The proposed principals included:
-Prior to the auction, auction procedures which are “made public and transparent with FCC oversight.”
-Joint bidding would be prohibited; ownership and agreement disclosures would be made public.
-No sealed bids allowed at any point.
-Release of bid data on a round-by-round basis “consistent with recent FCC auction information practice.”
-The band plan “should consist of at least 280 MHz of interoperable spectrum, divided into 20 MHz blocks based on PEAs.”
-Use of the FCC’s limited information disclosure procedures to safeguard against anticompetitive conduct
-An auction format that resembles the FCC’s format for Auction 102 of millimeter wave: a multi-round ascending clock auction format, “conducted by an experienced and qualified auctioneer,” which “offers substantially the same online functionality as FCC Auction 102.” That clock phase would be “followed by a traditional assignment phase with substantially the same bid assessment formula as Auction 102.”
-The FCC’s prohibited communication and reporting obligation rules would be in force, with enforcement by the FCC.
-A “reasonable aggregate reserve price” should be set to cover auction costs and compensate satellite providers as well as cover their costs for reconfiguration/modification or relocation of their operations in the band. In addition, the group proposed that a portion of the proceeds from the auction, “in excess of those needed to cover the costs for the auction and the transition of the spectrum, should be returned to the U.S. Treasury.” The extent to which an auction of U.S. airwaves should generate revenue for the government has been one of many points of debate around the C-band.
The CBA also filed analysis of potential interference with 5G base stations in 46 of the top 50 PEAs, with an estimate of how many filters would be needed at earth stations in order to address interference from terrestrial 5G service. The analysis concluded that 27,000 filters would be needed for antennas at the 4,000 registered earth stations in that area, with another 7,000 filters needed at an additional 1,000 stations outside the top 50 PEAs.
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