FCC approves C-band auction procedures

satellite earth station
Incumbent satellite operators are required to move to the upper part of the C-band to make room for 5G. (Pixabay)

The FCC today approved a Public Notice that outlines details for bidders in the C-band auction, aka as Auction 107, which is scheduled to start December 8.

The auction will offer 5,684 new flexible-use overlay licenses based on Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) for spectrum in the 3.7–3.98 GHz band.

Existing satellite operators that are using the band are being required to repack operations from the band’s entire 500 megahertz and move into the upper 200 megahertz, or 4.0-4.2 GHz. The lower part of the band will be auctioned for 5G.

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Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, whose re-nomination to the commission was abruptly withdrawn by President Trump on Monday, worked diligently on the C-band initiative for years but declined to comment during today’s meeting, referring instead to his written statement on the subject.

RELATED: Trump withdraws Commissioner O’Rielly’s renomination to FCC

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the move to auction the spectrum a watershed moment and noted that it represents the commission’s most significant action yet to repurpose mid-band frequencies.

He also said the commission rejected “politically-motivated calls to do literally nothing until Congress passed a law on the subject,” which it still hasn’t done, and that the accelerated relocation payments to incumbent satellite operators will make the spectrum available for 5G two to four years earlier than otherwise would have been the case.

The vote wasn’t all rosy, however, as the two Democratic commissioners approved but dissented in part, saying they’re not on board with the nearly $10 billion the incumbent satellite players are getting as an incentive to move faster.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said bids in the auction will be distorted by that payment, and “whatever hazy deal this agency cut with existing licensees is hard to square with our clear statutory duty to deposit auction proceeds in the United States Treasury.”

RELATED: Amid heated debate, FCC votes 3-2 to free up 280 MHz of C-band for 5G

The FCC should have worked with Congress on a more transparent path, she added. Both Rosenworcel and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks voiced reservations about the process when the FCC voted 3-2 in February to make 280 megahertz of C-band spectrum available for 5G.

Starks today said his perspective on the fundamentals underlying the item haven’t changed. The $10 billion sum is based on a formula that has nothing to do with the companies’ relocation costs, he said.

“All of this confusion affirms what I said back in February. Instead of racing ahead with a half-baked decision, we should have allowed Congress to act here, as it did with the 700 MHz band nearly 20 years ago,” he said. “Doing so would have avoided this uncertainty and ensured that the proceeds from this auction went toward the needs of the American people and not to the coffers of foreign satellite operators.”

The Public Notice approved today establishes bidding procedures for the clock and assignment phases of the auction, including two clock phase categories of generic blocks in the 46 PEAs where certain blocks are subject to the first early clearing deadline of December 2021. 

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