C-band lands starring role in WIN 5G Act

The draft legislation proposes a consensus-based, compromise approach to reallocating spectrum between the frequencies of 3.7 GHz and 4.2 GHz. (Getty Images)

A California lawmaker is taking a stab at solving the C-band conundrum with the introduction of draft legislation that seeks a compromise among diverse stakeholders.

Doris Matsui
Doris Matsui

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), who serves as vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, on Wednesday unveiled the Wireless Investment Now in 5G (WIN 5G) Act.

The draft legislation (PDF) proposes a compromise approach that would have some proceeds going to satellite companies depending on how much spectrum is cleared, and another set of proceeds going to a Rural Broadband Deployment Fund.

“Importantly, it embraces elements to ensure that spectrum is reallocated rapidly, that the maximum amount of C-band spectrum is made available for wireless use, and that consumers and C-band distribution are protected throughout the transition,” Matsui said via a press release. “This legislation is necessary to clear the challenges—including legal—that would arise by adopting any existing proposal on record.”

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

The 3.7-4.2 GHz band, also known as the C-band, has been the subject of an FCC review for about a year now. A group of satellite operators using the band, called the C-Band Alliance (CBA), has proposed vacating a portion of the band to enable terrestrial 5G services, but they want to protect their existing customers while selling the spectrum for profit. They argue that their plan will be the most expeditious.

Opponents say the satellite operators don’t actually own the spectrum and therefore should not be eligible to a windfall. They also suggest the CBA’s plan would drag out the process due to legal challenges.

The CBA did not have a response to the lawmaker’s proposal on Wednesday.

Under the WIN 5G Act, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be instructed to designate C-band satellite operators to serve as a transition facilitator that would craft a transition plan for C-band spectrum. The transition plan would include how much spectrum would be made available in the continental United States, together with determinations that end users will continue to receive comparable quality of service after repurposing for terrestrial mobile use; and that the amount of spectrum proposed is the maximum amount that can be made available.

The transition facilitation plan also would include technical, frequency migration, and end-user protection plans and be submitted to the FCC within six months. The FCC would then have 90 days to review the plan to ensure it’s adequate.

In a statement, Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) President and CEO Steve Berry said the organization supports clearing as much of the band as possible—particularly more than 300 MHz.

“I commend Congresswoman Matsui for her work on the Wireless Investment Now in 5G Act, and support for ensuring that the maximum amount of valuable C-band spectrum is brought to market,” he said. “Competitive carriers must have access to additional midband spectrum to provide critical mobile broadband services to their customers, especially in rural America, and CCA supports an auction that makes sure that all carriers have a meaningful opportunity to access more spectrum.“

Some of those in the industry who oppose the “market-based” approach that the CBA has proposed reiterated their concerns, especially since there’s been no explanation of how that approach would benefit U.S. taxpayers.

“This draft bill reflects a growing concern in Congress that the FCC could attempt to authorize a private auction of C-band that deprives the public of $10 to $20 billion or more that could be designated to fund infrastructure and programs to close the rural broadband gap,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute, in a statement. “Since both speed to market and protecting taxpayers are critical, Congress should direct the  FCC to conduct a traditional auction for the lower portion of the band and use a portion of the proceeds to pay the costs incurred to consolidate incumbent users higher into the band.”