FCC chairman ready to put 3.7-4.2 GHz on July agenda

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to put up for a vote a proposal to make "more intensive use" of the C-band spectrum. (Mike Dano/FierceWireless)

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made a lot of terrestrial wireless industry stakeholders happy when he announced Wednesday that he’s ready to put a 3.7-4.2 GHz item on the FCC’s July open meeting agenda.

Last year, the FCC agreed to explore repurposing more midband spectrum, including the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, commonly called the C-band. Satellite companies in the band have proposed a way to make 100 MHz available for 5G, but terrestrial players say that’s not enough. And it sounds like the leadership at the FCC agrees with the terrestrial folks.

“We have done a lot of work on this issue in the time since—enough so that I’m pleased to announce today that at the FCC’s July meeting, I intend to put up for a vote a proposal to make more intensive use of that 500 MHz of spectrum, including seeking additional input on making it available for commercial terrestrial use,” Pai said in prepared remarks at The Wireless Infrastructure Association Connectivity Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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That came as pleasant news to CTIA. “CTIA and the wireless industry agree with Chairman Pai that securing U.S. global leadership in 5G is imperative for our economy,” said Scott Bergmann, CTIA’s senior vice president for Regulatory Affairs, in a statement. “Repurposing midband spectrum to spur America’s 5G leadership against nations like China and South Korea will be a critical part of this effort, and we encourage the FCC to open up the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for commercial terrestrial use as quickly as possible.”

The 3.7-4.2 GHz C-band currently is seen as a critical link in video distribution for national and regional cable programmers. It’s used as downlink from satellites, and the 6 GHz band is used for uplink to satellites. Comcast executives recently met with FCC officials to discuss the critical role C-band satellite transmissions play in the video distribution ecosystem generally and for Comcast and NBCUniversal in particular.

Comcast said it uses hundreds of C-band earth stations at locations throughout the country, and about 80% of video programming is received by Comcast via C-band satellites.

In February, Intelsat and SES announced a proposal that builds off an earlier one put forth by Intelsat and Intel. But the proposal wasn’t exactly widely embraced by mobile operators, leaving open the opportunity for other compromises.

RELATED: FCC’s O’Rielly suggests freeing up 200-300 megahertz of C-band spectrum

Fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has been pushing for a reallocation of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band and last month noted that various ideas on how to clear it are now in the record, including the market-based approach proposed by certain wireless and satellite entities. He also indicated he’s more inclined to go for an industry-based approach rather than a government-led effort that would take too long to implement. He suggested he’d like to get an agenda item teed up this summer, perhaps in June or July.

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