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C-Band Alliance Pushes for Private 5G Auction at Congressional Hearing

By Jeffrey Hill | July 17, 2019
Photo: U.S. House of Representatives

Photo: U.S. House of Representatives

The C-Band Alliance (CBA) put up a fight for its 5G spectrum allocation plan at a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing yesterday, as critics cast doubt on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) legal authority to implement a private auction.

At the hearing, titled “Our Wireless Future: Building a Comprehensive Approach to Spectrum Policy,” Peter Pitsch, CBA’s lead government relations advocate (and former associate general counsel for Intel), pleaded the organization’s case for satellite operators who hold the licenses to the mid-band spectrum targeted for reallocation to 5G wireless services.

Pitsch said that the fastest way to repurpose mid-band spectrum was through a “marketplace auction” overseen by the FCC. “Under the CBA plan, 200 megahertz would be cleared by increasing existing transmission capacity through the procurement and launch of new satellites,” said Pitsch. “Every existing customer will be kept whole: they will continue to distribute their programming and not incur the costs of the transition. Thus, the CBA plan protects every service that is currently provided over C-band in the United States.” Pitsch added that CBA members would provide financial compensation to incumbents, covering any expenses related to those who had to move to other bandwidths.

The 200 Megahertz (MHz) spectrum offering is a point of contention among telecom industry stakeholders. The ideal bandwidth-sharing solution would ensure that all operators have adequate access to the spectrum without sacrificing connectivity speed to critical services. The CBA’s plan was criticized at the Congressional hearing by Michael Calabrese from the New America Open Technology Institute’s Wireless Future Project. Calabrese called CBA’s private auction proposal “inefficient,” and tilted to financially benefit international satellite carriers. “Just as Congress in 2012 designated $7 billion to fund [AT&T’s] FirstNet, Congress should require a public auction [overseen by the FCC] and designate $10 billion or more to pay for rural broadband infrastructure,” said Calabrese.

The FCC manages the commercial use of spectrum, but the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) manages federal uses of the U.S. spectrum supply. Derek Khlopin, the NTIA’s Senior Policy Advisor and liaison to the Trump Administration, dropped a bit of news regarding government coordination on the lower portion of spectrum ranging from 37 Gigahertz (GHz) to 37.6 GHz. Khlopin said that the NTIA expects that federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), will be, “eager to test and deploy, in cooperation with commercial entities, new and emerging flexible solutions to address existing and emerging use cases important to their mission.”

NTIA and its government agency partners are also eagerly awaiting the launch of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) standard for shared mid-band of 3550 to 3700 MHz (3.5 GHz). “Testing and certification work involving the FCC, NTIA, and the DoD for the Spectrum Access Systems (SAS) and associated Environmental Sensing Capabilities (ESC) is nearing final stages. The ESC will work with the SAS to enable Dynamic Protection Areas, instead of static exclusion zones to protect incumbents including military radars, to make far more efficient use of this CBRS band,” said Khlopin. “In addition, NTIA and DOD are studying the feasibility of shared access by commercial systems to the neighboring 3450 to 3550 MHz band. The Commission, of course, has its own proceedings open to look at other mid-band spectrum opportunities.”

CBRS Alliance President David Wright just confirmed to make the business case for 5G during a speaking appearance at the DC5G 2019 event in November, joining executives from Verizon, SES, Sprint, General Dynamics IT, and T-Mobile in a series of 5G use case presentations to potential customers and investors.

Khoplin also voiced NTIA support for, or at least awareness of, the commercial space industry interests. “These recommendations recognized that a healthy satellite industry, equipped with sufficient access to radio frequency spectrum, is essential to the global competitiveness of the United States space sector,” said Khoplin. “Among the recommendations made in the report is support of appropriate policies that can help speed the delivery of satellite broadband solutions to global markets in both served and underserved areas. This ties in well with the U.S. 5G push as satellite technologies will support, and integrate with, 5G networks, including helping to bring these services to rural and other remote areas where the economic challenges in serving these markets persist.”

Critical 5G spectrum negotiations are set to take place in the Fall at the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. WRC-19 will tee up important agenda items, including one addressing harmonization of spectrum in the millimeter wave bands for what the ITU calls “International Mobile Telecommunication (IMT),” which we know as advanced mobile broadband, including 5G. “These bands are also of great value for communications satellite services that can serve rural and less developed areas of the world, often beyond the reach of traditional terrestrial infrastructure,” said Khoplin. “Our approach will be to advocate for space and terrestrial services that most effectively meet the needs of consumers, wherever they may be.”