Chairman Pai Announces Plan for C-Band Auction

By: Henry Rademacher

On Thursday, February 6, Federal Communications Committee Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the FCC plans to repurpose 280 megahertz of C-Band spectrum for 5G deployment. The plan calls for the spectrum to be distributed through a public auction, which Chairman Pai has proposed be held on December 8 of this year.

For the United States to reach a position of dominance in 5G technologies, it is necessary that more spectrum be made available for 5G deployment. The C-Band has been viewed for some time as an ideal source of spectrum that can be freed up for 5G. In addition to being underutilized, the C-Band contains a valuable range of low-band, mid-band, and high-band spectrum. Chairman Pai has referred to the C-Band as a “goldilocks zone.”

The incumbents within the C-Band, primarily satellite companies, do not need the entire band to continue providing the services they currently use it for. Therefore, the primary obstacle to repurposing portions of the C-Band has been the issue of compensation for the incumbents operating within it. 

Throughout the process, the FCC has made it clear they want the incumbents to receive fair compensation. Chairman Pai’s proposal calls for the incumbents to receive up to $9.7 billion in “accelerated relocation payments.” These payments will be made in full by the winning bidders. In order for the incumbents to receive the full amount, the incumbents will be expected to meet certain deadlines to help expediate the process.

The C-Band Alliance (CBA), which includes SES, Intelsat, and Telesat, has been working with the FCC to find a solution that works for all parties. The CBA’s initial reaction to Chairman Pai’s proposal has been positive. They gave the following statement on February 6:

“The imminent issuance of the draft order reflects the tireless efforts of many over the past several years to ensure that this critical spectrum comes to market safely, quickly, and efficiently. Today’s comments by Chairman Pai are a significant development in this important proceeding. We look forward to reviewing the draft order, once issued, to place Chairman Pai’s comments in full context.”

The CBA’s statement of support is encouraging because there has been speculation that they could delay the process if they received an offer that they did not consider to be economically feasible. On February 6, Bloomberg Law reported that, “Satellite providers agreed to the payments plan in private talks with the FCC, two people familiar with the matter said.”

In addition to the accelerated relocation payments, the incumbents will be compensated for the cost of physical relocation, which has been estimated to be between $3 billion and $5 billion. 

The FCC is expected to vote on Chairman Pai’s proposal at their February 28 meeting. It has already received support from FCC Commissioners Mike O’Rielly and Brandan Carr. Earlier this week, a coalition of advocacy groups sent a letter to Chairman Pai thanking him for his leadership on 5G and encouraging him to continue pressing forward.

Photo credit: Sunny Ripert (flickr)