The FCC announced that clearing of C-band spectrum will move forward on an accelerated timeline, making the first phase available by the end of 2021.
In a public notice released on Monday, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau said it had secured commitments from all eligible satellite operators – Eutelsat, Intelsat, SES, Star One and Telesat – to meet an accelerated clearing timeline that will make way for faster 5G deployment in the 3.7 GHz band, also called the C-band. The deadline for the companies to accept the faster timeline was May 29.
The commission voted 3-2 in February to adopt rules for the C-band that will free up 280 megahertz of spectrum for 5G. The satellite operators have been using the entire 500 megahertz in the band but will be moving to the upper 200 megahertz. The FCC allocated the lower 280 megahertz for terrestrial flexible use and provided for a 20-megahertz guard band in between; an auction is scheduled to start December 8.
Basically, the commission had offered the five satellite companies the chance to clear the lower 300 megahertz of the band on a faster schedule in exchange for accelerated relocation payments, and they’re taking it.
Specifically, the satellite companies must first clear 120 megahertz of spectrum in 46 Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) by December 5, 2021. In the second phase, they’re due to clear the lower 120 megahertz in the remaining PEAs, plus an additional 180 megahertz nationwide, by December 5, 2023.
If the companies fulfill these commitments, they’ll be eligible for up to $9.7 billion in accelerated relocation payments plus “reasonable” relocation costs, paid for by the new flexible use licensees. If the operators had chosen not to accept accelerated relocation payments, the deadline for clearing the lower 300 megahertz of the band would have been December 5, 2025.
Before the FCC’s vote in February, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was criticized for offering accelerated relocation payments but argued that they’re necessary for the simple need for speed. Wireless operators want the spectrum for 5G as fast as possible, and by providing incentive payments, the FCC can expedite the process.
A group opposed to the new C-band rules, which includes ABS Global, Arsat and Hispasat, collectively known as the Small Satellite Operators (SSOs), have challenged the FCC’s decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. They assert that the FCC engineered “extraordinary payments” of about $15 billion to their larger competitors, chief among them SES and Intelsat, and that the commission’s “giveaways” will reduce auction proceeds that could be returned to U.S. taxpayers.