FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed to reporters Thursday the agency will take up an item on its plans to auction off a portion of C-band spectrum for wireless use at its February 28 monthly meeting. Pai said he intends to circulate the item to his colleagues and release a draft this week.
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has been working on the issue for some time, Inside Towers reported.
He said to be successful, the agency needs to get the majority of incumbent satellite companies on board.
Commission officials told congressional staff the agency believes it could cost about $4 billion to $5 billion to move the satcos. It’s considering proposing “low-single-digit billions” in incentive payments to speed the transition, a source with knowledge of the issue told Reuters. The FCC is deliberating funding the payments with a surcharge paid by winners of the spectrum action. It plans to finalize auction procedures in the coming months with the goal of beginning the auction by year-end.
Pai said Thursday he could not comment on specifics. In November, he said he supported a public auction of 280 MHz of C-band spectrum. That means incumbent satellite companies, who use the spectrum to deliver live radio and television programming, would be repacked into the portion of the 500 MHz not being auctioned off.
Incumbents Intelsat, Telesat and SES, who comprise the C-Band Alliance, said last week they seek “fair compensation” to quickly clear the spectrum, Inside Towers reported. They assert that without their cooperation, “this critical 5G spectrum will not be made available for at least 10 years.”
The CBA previously proposed selling the spectrum privately to wireless carriers, saying that would be the fastest way to clear the band for 5G. A spokesman for the CBA said the proposed incentive payments are too low, reported Reuters.
Preston Padden, who used to represent the CBA and is now a consultant, tweeted: “The C-Band carriers should be lauded – not threatened – for offering to give up 60% of their spectrum usage rights for a higher value use for our society/economy. How FCC treats C-Band carriers will send an important signal – for good or bad – to other spectrum rights holders.”