C-Band contenders ramp up fight over fiber as replacement

In their latest round of comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), both users and would-be users of the C-Band—3.7-4.2 GHz—argued whether fiber is the best alternative for delivering the types of services for which the band is currently used.

According to entities like the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the C-Band Alliance (CBA) and ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates, the idea that fiber would replace the bulk of the current U.S. content distribution architecture is ridiculous.

The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), Charter Communications and ACA Connects, collectively known as the Coalition, proposed a plan, called the 5G Plus Plan, that would reallocate at least 370 megahertz of the C-Band spectrum from satellite to terrestrial use. They say their plan guarantees a monetary return to American taxpayers and would provide a future-proof fiber delivery system that also would serve as a platform for driving high-speed broadband to rural and remote areas.

Broadcast and content companies disagree. “Content providers oppose the plan that would force them to abandon the reliable, efficient C-band distribution that serves over one hundred million American households today,” NAB told the commission in its August 14 filing (PDF). “We urge the Commission to reject this proposal, which seeks to use auction proceeds to construct a fiber network that will operate as a money printing machine for members of the ACA Coalition for decades to come.”

In response to earlier feedback about the unreliability of fiber, the Coalition said fiber networks are typically designed with redundancy to ensure that fiber cuts don’t diminish the quality of service to customers or disrupt the network more generally. “Indeed, over-the-top video providers like YouTube TV and DIRECTV NOW rely primarily on fiber networks and data centers to deliver reliable service,” the Coalition told the commission (PDF).

The Coalition added that it shares the interests of video programmers in ensuring a robust, reliable video distribution network. Two of the Coalition’s members, Charter and ACA Connects, are or represent multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) whose business is dependent on ensuring continued high- quality video distribution services.

The Coalition said claims by the CBA, which continues to lobby for its plan to voluntarily release 200 megahertz of C-Band spectrum, obscure the “tremendous private windfall” and public cost associated with CBA’s “market-based” proposal. “The continued drumbeat for rapid adoption of the CBA’s proposal may foster the financial interests of its foreign-owned members and their investors, but at a substantial cost to the public,” the Coalition said.

RELATED: CBA, NAB bash fiber-based plan to replace C-Band

The CBA asserts that its proposal remains the best among all of those that have been presented to the commission for releasing more mid-band spectrum for 5G. The alliance has made some adjustments to its plan, including those prompted by analyses by AT&T. It said the changes will provide further flexibility to mobile operators while still avoiding interference and protecting fixed satellite service (FSS) operations.

For its part, AT&T reiterated (PDF) that it favors a satellite operator-led transition, potentially including a satellite-operator conducted auction, although any such an auction would need to be subject to FCC-approved procedures substantially similar to prior commission auctions.

AT&T also said C-Band users should be permitted to make their own decisions regarding potential replacement technologies for C-Band FSS, noting that video content companies and others disagree that fiber is an adequate substitute for C-Band services, which WarnerMedia uses for both the distribution of video programming and mobile production of content on location.

Verizon said (PDF) the record reflects “substantial progress on a technical framework to enable 5G to flourish in repurposed 3.7 to 4.2 GHz spectrum” while ensuring that traffic delivered over existing C-Band earth station receivers is protected from harmful interference. The CBA constructively revised several elements of its interference protection framework, and Verizon said it welcomes CBA’s recognition that certain of its original proposals can be adjusted to provide increased flexibility to mobile operators without increasing the risk of interference to FSS operations.

RELATED: T-Mobile, CBA exchange C-band arguments

T-Mobile acknowledged (PDF) that while some parties are questioning the viability of fiber as an alternative transmission mechanism to free up C-Band spectrum, “those concerns are overstated and are fully addressed in the record,” it said. “Indeed, the record demonstrates that the majority of incumbent earth station operators can be transitioned to fiber because it is widely available and can provide reliable service.”

The FCC last month put out a call (PDF) for public comment on a host of issues related to the C-Band; the reply comments came due August 14. It's not clear when a plan will get teed up for the full commission to consider.