Satellite operators defend plan for C-band

satellite earth station
The CBA asserts that because they don't hold licenses, receive-only antenna owners are not eligible to participate in an incentive auction. (Pixabay)

In a surprise to no one, the C-Band Alliance (CBA) is sticking to its guns, saying a proposal by the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), Charter Communications and ACA Connects would delay getting precious midband C-band spectrum into the hands of carriers that can use it for 5G.

The CCA/Charter/ACA group is proposing that at least 370 megahertz of spectrum in the C-band be freed up for 5G, and they say their plan considers the needs of all stakeholders, not just the one-sided proposal it says the CBA is making. They presented their plan (PDF) to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday.

The first part of the plan would have video programmers and MVPDs transition video programming backhaul from C-band delivery to terrestrial fiber video delivery. Separately, a fund tied to auction proceeds would be used to reimburse satellite operators for relocation.

RELATED: CCA, Charter, ACA present alternative for C-Band

In a statement, the CBA said the Charter/ACA/CCA proposal suggests it could clear spectrum in cities within 18 months based upon building out fiber networks. “However, this approach ignores that in order to create contiguous cleared spectrum—a requirement for 5G deployment—other noncable satellite services must also be relocated,” the CBA said. “This is not possible without installing filters and launching new satellites to protect existing service and support the end state. This step alone would take 18 to 36 months. And, until all antennas in a city are transitioned to fiber or to the upper portion of the band, the spectrum is not cleared.”

The bottom line, according to the satellite operators, is “any proposal that relies on building fiber simultaneously in cities across the country would delay up to five years the availability of C-band spectrum for a meaningful, nationwide, 5G service deployment.”

The CBA has argued that because of the way the satellite operators use the entire 500 megahertz band, any proposal needs the sign-off of all four of the satellite operators that use it, and their proposal—which would free up only about 200 megahertz—so far is the only one to garner that.

Other proposals for how to divvy up the spectrum have been made, including by T-Mobile, which argues that the satellite operators shouldn't be selling the spectrum they're using because they don't own it. That argument has been made by others as well. 

According to the satellite operators, using fiber to distribute content to earth stations would be cost-prohibitive. 

“Fiber-based proposals recently submitted to the FCC fail to consider the significant complexity at the heart of their approach,” the CBA said in a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech. “This is not a task to simply connect antennas to fiber. These proposals require a complete re-architecting of the U.S. media distribution landscape, including changes to broadcast distribution technology, operations and business models.”

The alliance added that to varying degrees, the other proposals that have been presented “vastly underestimate” the amount of time that it will take to clear spectrum nationwide, or even on a city basis.

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

On Wednesday, the CBA submitted a new filing that blasts the idea that small satellite operators would be compensated as part of a proposed C-band repurposing, saying they’re not entitled to any compensation.

“These operators, by their own admission, do not provide C-band service transmission in the continental U.S. In some cases, they even lack the technical capability to viably do so, as their satellites were not designed to serve the U.S.,” the CBA stated.

The CBA also pointed out that some parties have argued that receive-only earth stations have noninterference rights that deserve protection and therefore should be compensated in any clearing process. The CBA refutes those claims, saying that receive-only earth stations registered in the C-band do not have any independently enforceable right against harmful interference; being that they are “receive-only,” they don’t actually transmit signals.

The CBA proposal for clearing spectrum in the band is designed to ensure that earth stations can receive satellite transmissions in an interference-free environment, the alliance said.