Broadcasters Urge FCC to Factor in Pandemic Costs for C-Band Move

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Broadcasters and cablecos want the FCC to take the COVID-19 pandemic into consideration as the agency develops a cost catalog to reimburse them for moving from the lower to the upper portion of the C-band. The FCC intends to auction the spectrum their satellite and earth station operators occupy now for future wireless use.

Earlier this year, the Commission adopted rules to make 280 MHz of mid-band spectrum available for flexible use, plus a 20 MHz guard band. New 3.7 GHz Service licensees will reimburse what the FCC calls “reasonable” relocation costs of incumbent licensees. Public comments are due to the Commission by May 12 [to docket 18-122] on the draft reimbursement cost catalog.

Representatives of Charter, Cox, Comcast, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, as well as the NAB and NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, recently discussed specifics with representatives of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, the Office of Economics and Analytics and the International Bureau. Licensees highlighted the importance of quickly establishing a lump sum payment amount, according to a filing. They urged the FCC to consider costs for professional services; hardware and software; and potential cost impacts from supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

They sought clarification that as long as an earth station was registered on the required dates, the operator is eligible for the money, even if the operator begins transitioning earth stations before the payment is established. The licensees support the agency’s suggestion that the lump sum would apply per antenna, rather than per call sign. They noted that earth station operators need to know when they can begin transitioning and incurring costs (including soft costs for engineering, consulting, and legal help) with confidence that they will be reimbursed.

The FCC appears to believe program networks could seek special temporary authority (STA) when they require access to spectrum for live event production. “But given that tens of thousands of live sporting events are produced relying upon transportable/occasional access to the C-Band in the United States each year, seeking STA for each and every event – many of which would contain nearly identical information – would be incredibly burdensome on program networks and on FCC staff,” licensees told the agency.

They suggest the Commission establish a “deemed granted” regime for STA applications that satisfy requirements. They also proposed the agency grant a blanket waiver of its rules that otherwise reserve the 3.7-4.0 GHz band for wireless broadband use, to allow only secondary, non-interfering, occasional use by program networks at live sporting events for limited amounts of time.

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