C-Band Alliance cites Straight Path, FiberTower deals as examples of precedent for spectrum management

satellite earth station
The C-Band Alliance says the FCC has previously approved private secondary market mechanisms to direct spectrum to its highest and best use as fast as possible and without the risk of litigation. (Pixabay)

In defending its plan to make more midband spectrum available for 5G, the C-Band Alliance is pointing to some deals that have benefited the wireless industry—as well as Comcast and Charter Communications—as part of FCC-approved secondary market transactions.

In a Jan. 2 ex parte filing (PDF), the C-Band Alliance notes the criticisms by Comcast, Charter and others alleging or suggesting the CBA’s plan is improper or a departure from commission precedent.

The CBA has offered to make 200 megahertz, including a 20 MHz guard band, available for 5G through secondary market transactions largely organized by the satellite companies that are members of CBA. They have insisted, however, that the FCC has the final say and oversight. 

The CBA was formed last fall by the four satellite entities—Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat—most affected by changes in the band. The C-Band is occupied by the satellite companies whose customers use it to distribute broadcast radio and TV programming to more than 100 million U.S. households and radio listeners. They argue that their plan is the fastest way to make the spectrum available for terrestrial mobile services, although the terrestrial mobile community generally agrees 200 MHz is not enough of the 500 MHz band and they'd like to see more.

Both Comcast and Charter (PDF) are urging the commission to conduct its own auctions to promote the best use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz spectrum. Comcast in particular warned (PDF) that permitting private entities to fundamentally transform a band and transfer new rights to others with only minimal commission oversight and without Congress’ authorization would be “extraordinary.”

But CBA scoured the record for examples where the commission has granted flexible rights to licensees, and in its latest filing, it cites the 2018 decision by the commission to grant Verizon’s application to acquire 28, 29, 31 and 39 GHz licenses from Straight Path. Likewise in 2017, the FCC granted Verizon’s application to acquire 28 and 39 GHz licenses from XO Holdings upon recognizing the public benefit of expediting access to 5G. Also in 2018, AT&T acquired 24 and 39 GHz licenses from FiberTower, which also had to be approved by the commission.

RELATED: C-Band Alliance reiterates 200 MHz is the ‘right number’ at 3.7-4.2 GHz

In addition, the CBA notes the 2012 FCC approval of the private sale of AWS spectrum from a consortium of cable companies called Spectrum Co—an entity 63% owned by Comcast—to Verizon. “In approving this multi-billion transaction, the Commission found no violation of anti-trafficking rules and once again emphasized that these deals would ‘result in an expeditious transfer of valuable spectrum into the hands of multiple national service providers that will put it to use in providing the latest generation mobile broadband services,’” the CBA wrote.

RELATED: C-Band Alliance calls T-Mobile proposal for 3.7-4.2 GHz a delay tactic

Perhaps the most assertive among mobile carriers arguing for an alternative to the C-Band Alliance’s proposal is T-Mobile, which says the CBA’s claims for the speediest remedy are overstated, and whatever little time difference there may be between its proposal and T-Mobile’s is more than outweighed by the benefits (such as more spectrum and an open process).

According to T-Mobile (PDF), the C-Band Alliance’s proposal provides no portion of the auction proceeds to taxpayers; does not provide economic or other incentives to satellite users to vacate the band, including payments from the auction proceeds to users; and violates multiple provisions of the Communications Act.

For its part, the CBA argues that T-Mobile’s “convoluted proposal” for auction would produce years of regulatory and legal challenges and only serve to delay the availability of C-Band spectrum for use by its competitors.  

Story updated Jan. 3 to reflect that the C-Band Alliance’s proposal for 200 Megahertz is inclusive of the 20 MHz guard band, not on top of it.