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FCC to auction C-band spectrum for 5G

Chairman Ajit Pai supports auctioning mid-band spectrum for 5G rather than allowing satellite companies to sell licenses privately to carriers.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Monday the agency will hold a public auction of mid-band wireless spectrum, known as C-band, to support the deployment of 5G.

“After much deliberation and a thorough review of the extensive record, I’ve concluded that the best way to advance these principles is through a public auction of 280 megahertz of the C-band conducted by the FCC’s excellent staff,” Pai said in a tweet.

The decision disappoints the members of the C-Band Alliance (Intelsat, SES, and Telesat) who also saw the bad news hit their stock. They had argued that their plan to sell the spectrum was the fastest way to compete with China on 5G without disrupting US broadcast services. Satellite providers use the C-band spectrum which includes 500 MHz between 3.7 and 4.2 GHz to deliver video programming to cable providers.

Following Pai’s decision, the C-Band Alliance said in a statement that the chairman’s announcement “does not address the critical involvement of the incumbent satellite operators in executing the complex task of reconfiguring and transitioning their networks,” and it also does not “address the fundamental modification of the rights afforded by the existing FCC licenses held by the CBA members which would be required under a public auction approach.”

Lawmakers have pushed back at the idea of private companies receiving revenue from the sale of a public asset.

Pai said today that the FCC plans to auction 280 MHz of the block of spectrum while preserving about 200 MHz that will continue to be used for TV programming. This mid-band spectrum is considered important for 5G because as Pai explained, it “offers both geographic coverage and the capacity to transmit large amounts of data.

He was also quoted as saying, presumably without irony: “With a quarter century track record of transparent and successful auctions, I am confident that they [FCC staff] will conduct a public auction that will afford all parties a fair opportunity to compete for this 5G spectrum,” he said.

READ MORE: Will C-Band survive the next spectrum grab?

With this move, Pai is meeting his own previously announced deadline to make a decision about C-band, by this fall. At the time, he outlined four principles that he believed needed to be achieved through the FCC’s rulemaking on the matter: 1) that a significant amount of C-band spectrum be made available for 5G; 2) the spectrum must be made available quickly; 3) revenue must be generated for the federal government; and 4) the services currently using C-band must be protected so as to still serve the Americans who rely on them.

READ MORE: Understanding and controlling RF interference

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