FCC Passes C-Band Auction Procedures

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The FCC Thursday established final application and bidding procedures for the C-band auction, set to begin in December. While the item passed, Democrats voiced their displeasure at the decision and how it came about.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said while the rules are a step toward closing the gap in available mid-band spectrum for wireless use, they reflect the “nitty-gritty” of the auction and “mirror” rules that have been successful in the past.

But, she said, there are reasons this auction will be questionable because, “for the first time, the value of spectrum assigned in an FCC auction will not be determined by an efficient and effective market. Instead, bids in this auction will be distorted by a nearly $1 billion — $10 billion payment that was negotiated far from the light of day. Whatever hazy deal the agency cut with existing licensees it’s hard to square with our clear duty to deposit auction proceeds in the United States Treasury.”  

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks explained: “We are paying nearly $10 billion of taxpayer money that vacates spectrum that belongs to the American people based on a formula that has nothing to do with the company’s relocation costs and nearly six months later we still have tremendous uncertainty in my mind surrounding this bad deal.” He added the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia is now considering two sets of challenges to the February C-band order, Intelsat declared bankruptcy and the former C-Band Alliance has “entered a circular firing squad.”

In contrast, agency Chairman Ajit Pai called the vote “a watershed moment” for American leadership in 5G and said it represents “the Commission’s most significant action yet” to repurpose mid-band frequencies. Pai called the on-going 3.5 GHz CBRS auction “the greatest number of licenses, over 22,000, ever, in a single FCC auction.”

Pai thanked Commissioner Michael O’Rielly for helping to reform the rules to ease 5G deployment and the CBRS band. “I thank him for his long standing and painstaking work on this issue,” said Pai, a nod to O’Rielly, whose re-nomination to the agency this week was rescinded by President Donald Trump. O’Rielly didn’t read a statement on this issue during the meeting.

Pai said he’d expect the Commission to move forward with scheduling the next auction, for 2.5 GHz, in the first half of 2021.

Concerning the C-band auction, Pai said the calls to delay the auction are “politically motivated, as is the opposition to literally every mid-band spectrum initiative we’ve introduced.”

In February, the Commission adopted rules for the C-band (3.7-4.2 GHz), which allocated the lower 280 megahertz (3.7-3.98 GHz band) for flexible terrestrial wireless services (with a 20-megahertz guard band (3.98-4.0 GHz). The rules also required existing satellite operators to repack their operations from the band’s entire 500 megahertz into the upper 200 megahertz (4.0-4.2 GHz). Bidding in the auction, which is designated as Auction 107, will begin on December 8, 2020.  

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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