T-Mobile, C-Band Alliance spar over plans for 3.7-4.2 GHz

The C-Band Alliance says other plans for the 3.7-4.2 GHz band would kick some customers, including TV programmers, out of the C-band, whereas its plan would continue to serve them. (Pixabay)

The same day members of the C-Band Alliance met with FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly and his legal adviser, T-Mobile filed a letter with the FCC outlining the problems it sees with the CBA’s proposal to release more midband spectrum for 5G.

The CBA representatives, including CEO Bill Tolpegin and head of advocacy Preston Padden, met with O’Rielly, along with executives from SES and Intelsat. According to the ex parte filing (PDF), SES and Intelsat each presented their respective satellite transponder migration plans to clear 200 megahertz of C-band spectrum for 5G.

The presentations showed that under the CBA proposal, every current customer will continue to be served in the C-band and that 200 megahertz is the maximum amount of spectrum that can be cleared without denying C-band service to some current customers, according to the CBA's filing. The CBA insists that its plan is the only practical one that will protect broadcasters that use the band for content distribution.

T-Mobile argues that the CBA proposal is contrary to the public interest and will result in the alliance members unilaterally deciding how and to whom they will sell assets “they do not own.” T-Mobile insists a public incentive auction is the way to go.

RELATED: C-Band Alliance calls T-Mobile proposal for 3.7-4.2 GHz a delay tactic

“As commenters in this proceeding have explained, an open and transparent auction process will allow market forces to determine the true value of the C-band spectrum for terrestrial mobile services and, based on that value, how much current licensees would relinquish at those prices,” T-Mobile wrote in its Jan. 30 filing (PDF). “This approach is consistent with the Communications Act and would ensure that the spectrum is put to its highest and most efficient use in a manner that fosters competition.”

T-Mobile points to the acquisition of 28 GHz and 39 GHz licenses by Verizon and AT&T as an example of a situation that led to “enormous profits” for the incumbents but prevented others from accessing the spectrum through a public auction. “An auction of the spectrum … could have promoted competition and encouraged innovation by a wider range of entities,” the “un-carrier” wrote.

The CBA counters that any incentive auction must be voluntary. “Here, all C-band satellite operators have overlapping access to the full 500 MHz of C-band downlink spectrum, meaning all operators would need to voluntarily participate in an incentive auction and voluntarily accept the price they were offered for the auction to succeed—an extremely unlikely prospect,” the alliance said, explaining that a single satellite operator that elected not to participate, or participated but was unhappy with the price it was offered, would kill the incentive auction and cause no spectrum to be repurposed.

“Even if miraculously every operator agreed to participate and was happy with the price it was offered, without the CBA members’ voluntary purchase of eight new satellites and the CBA’s voluntary purchase and installation of potentially 100,000 satellite dish filters (voluntary acts that the FCC could not command), any spectrum cleared would result in essential and prominent television programmers and other C-band users being kicked out of C-band distribution—a politically untenable result,” the alliance added.

While the CBA is offering to give up spectrum so that mobile operators can use it for 5G, it presents a bit of a quandary for the terrestrial wireless industry. The alliance is talking about making only 200 megahertz available, whereas the terrestrial wireless industry believes that to make it worthwhile, each mobile operator should get access to 100 megahertz of the spectrum. If the CBA’s offer isn’t accepted in some form or other, it’s going to take more time to get midband spectrum, which is what the industry is currently clamoring for.