FCC to consider C-band proposal at February meeting

FCC headquarters
Commissioners said they're eager to see what the chairman's proposal says. (Ser Amantio di Nicolao/ CC BY-3.0)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will move forward on the C-band with a proposal expected to be made public this week.

Speaking with reporters after the FCC’s open meeting Thursday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reiterated that plans are still in place for a C-band auction to commence in 2020. He did not reveal any details about what will be in the proposal he circulates with fellow commissioners but did say it will be on the February 28 meeting agenda.

The C-band—3.7-4.2 GHz—has been the subject of great debate because while the wireless industry wants to use it for 5G, it's currently being used by satellite companies whose clients deliver video and other content to 120 million U.S. households. The satellite companies have agreed to vacate part of the 500 megahertz band—280 megahertz of it—but want to be reimbursed for the costs of relocating and have tied that to a percentage of auction proceeds.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers argue that the foreign-owned companies should not get a windfall from the sale of spectrum that’s owned by U.S. taxpayers. Parties from multiple sides of the issue have threatened litigation at various points in the past couple of years.

During their separate press conferences Thursday, commissioners said they’re eager to see the chairman's C-band proposal.

Commissioner Mike O’Rielly has been working on the C-band issue for years in an attempt to get something on the table.

“I am looking for something that provides more comfort to the satellite providers so they are willing to participate,” he said, noting that he will have a problem if there’s a mechanism that tries to shove a proposal down their throats. “These are companies that I worked with for multiple years” that were not actually interested in participating in the beginning.  

Fellow Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr pointed to a significant amount of compromise that has been occurring, including through legislation proposed by Senator John Kennedy, (R-Louisiana), which is bi-partisan.

RELATED: Senators introduce C-band legislation to prevent windfall for satellite companies

“I look forward to reading the details” of the chairman’s proposal," Carr said. The time for being reasonable is now and if the incumbent satellite operators maintain reasonable expectations of what the FCC can do within the limits of the law, “I think we have a very good shot at a win-win-win for all parties involved here.” The key is making sure expectations are set at a reasonable point.

During the Democrats’ press conference, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the cleanest and clearest way forward is through legislation, noting the recent bipartisan efforts.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks agreed there’s some legal risk in how it’s all done. Additional Congressional clarity would go very well toward making sure they can earmark some of the auction proceeds for higher purposes like rural broadband.

In a weekend note to investors, New Street Research’s Blair Levin said Pai is due to unveil his plan this Thursday at a lunch time event at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.

Article updated February 3 with additional detail on when the plan will be unveiled.