Substitute C-Band Bill Directs More Auction Money to U.S. Treasury

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The Senate Commerce Committee voted on and passed to the full Senate two bills of interest to the telecom industry yesterday. The measures passed out of committee to the Senate floor include the 5G Spectrum Act (S-2881), and the Telecommunications Opportunities for Workers Engaging in Real Infrastructure Deployment Act (S-2363).

Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Communications Subcommittee chairman John Thune (R-SD) introduced an amended version of S. 2881, which increases the amount of funds the U.S. Treasury would get in an auction of at least 280 MHz of C-band spectrum (3700 to 4200 MHz) and allocate money for rural broadband buildouts.

The initial bill would have required that at least 50 percent of the proceeds from an FCC auction of the C-Band go to the treasury. But an amendment approved by the committee Wednesday raises that amount as the auction proceeds increase.

According to the substitute bill, the Treasury gets at least 50 percent of the first $40 billion in gross proceeds; that’s before before compensation or relocation of incumbent band licensees. If the auction proceeds go higher, 75 percent of the next $10 billion goes to the Treasury. The measure requires 90 percent of the top tier – any revenue above $50 billion – to be returned to the U.S. Treasury. “The choice we make today is whether Congress will play a role in deciding how these very considerable option revenues are spent. The alternative is to forego any input and let the FCC proceed in its own fashion,” said Wicker.  

The auction would begin no later than December 31, 2020. No later than December 31, 2022, the Treasury would recover the gross proceeds less the cost of relocation and compensation of incumbent earth station licensees using the band or grantees of market access rights in CONUS to C-band spectrum. 

In addition, 10 percent of the proceeds would be dedicated to rural broadband build-out, including a set-aside for tribal areas. The measure also states the FCC will ensure that licensed aviation safety equipment is protected from harmful interference.

In reaction, the C-Band Alliance, comprised of Intelsat, SES and Telesat, said in a statement to Inside Towers, the CBA has consistently supported legislative initiatives that advance the FCC’s efforts to safely clear “extremely valuable mid-band spectrum” to enable 5G. “Today’s committee vote represents a good step in that direction. The fast and safe clearing of a portion of the C-band is essential so the U.S. can maintain its global technology leadership and reduce security and defense concerns with respect to our national telecommunications infrastructure, all while protecting the TV and radio services valued by nearly 120 million American households,” said the CBA.

 The CBA continued: “We will continue to work with members of Congress and the FCC to reach the best outcome for the United States: a solution that quickly clears badly-needed C-band spectrum for 5G and acknowledges the CBA member companies’ role in the process, their legal rights and their significant investments over decades in the operating C-band ecosystem.”

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) too, commended the committee. It notes that fixed wireless service providers share the C-band with the satellite industry for point-to-point fixed broadband service.  

“WISPA has urged that as the C-band is cleared for auction, a portion of the remaining spectrum allow for shared use by fixed providers through automated frequency coordination,” said WISPA VP of Government Affairs Christina Mason. “Though S. 2881 does not require any such sharing, it does not preclude it either. This is, we believe, a tacit recognition by policymakers that spectrum sharing models must play an integral and growing role in alleviating the near ceaseless demand for spectrum,” Mason explains. It also keeps open the possibility that the FCC could permit new coordinated, point-to-multi-point uses in the C-band, while protecting broadcast program delivery and bringing broadband to rural areas, according to WISPA.

December 12, 2019                            

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