FCC’s O’Rielly to cable broadcasters: Don’t get greedy on C-band; ties issue to unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Credit: C-Span video
PARIS — U.S. Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly told a U.S. cable broadcast group that its concerns about compensation for lost C-band spectrum in a propose satellite operator-managed clearing were valid but could only be resolved if the FCC approves the proposal.
He also said any clearing of the 3.7-4.2 GHz C-band spectrum now used by satellite operators “will need to be accompanied by efforts to expand unlicensed services into the corresponding uplink band at 6 GHz.
“This spectrum, along with 5.9 GHz, provides the best chance o expand current Wi-Fi and other unlicensed operations,” he said.
Addressing the ACA Connects — formerly American Cable Assn. — conference on March 20, O’Rielly sought to reassure cable networks that their legitimate worries about the Intelsat–SES–Eutelsat–Telesat proposal have been heard.
“If you don’t get greedy or seek unfair enrichment in the allocation, your concerns will have to be fully addressed,” O’Rielly said.
The FCC has made no commitment about when it will decide the issue, but most industry observers expect a decision sometime this year. Outstanding issues that have been raised in recent months include how current C-band spectrum users will be compensated, by how much, and who makes the decision.
The C-Band Alliance of satellite operators has committed itself to compensating customers, including retrofitting thousands of antennas and launching additional satellite capacity for that portion of their mid-band C-band allocation that remains to them, if the alliance’s proposal wins FCC approval.
The current C-Band Alliance proposal is to cede 180 MHz of spectrum, plus a 20-MHz guard band, for terrestrial wireless use as the United States adopts 5G technology.
The alliance has stressed that whatever else may be said about its proposal — and a lot has been said — there is little doubt that its mechanism of private sales to terrestrial network bidders will clear the band more quickly than any alternative.
The alliance has also emphasized the fact that given the FCC’s intention to make a slice of this bandwidth available to terrestrial wireless networks, the alliance-proposed scenario is the most likely one to produce compensation to current C-band users.
C-Band Alliance response to O’Rielly
In a statement issued after O’Rielly’s comments, the alliance said:
“With a huge effort and heavy investments, based on newly launched satellites, tens of thousands of filters on Earth stations, re-groomed spectrum and protecting guard band, we conclude that 200 MHz is what can be delivered for 5G in 18 to 36 months from a final FCC order. The remaining portion of the band is needed for broadcasting.
“The CBA proposal is by far the best and fastest way to clear C-band spectrum for the roll out of 5G in the US. All other proposals are technically unfeasible, unrealistic, legally impossible or far too slow, if not impossible to implement. It would, for example, be extremely difficult to deploy a solution that results in cities having more cleared spectrum than suburban and rural areas. The reason is that the C-band signals blanket the US ubiquitously, and cannot be ‘turned on or off’ in certain distinct zones. We are pleased that the FCC understands that complexity and supports our goal to protect the video ecosystem while clearing a good portion of the spectrum for 5G. We look forward to explaining the technology realities to all stakeholders so that everyone understands the challenge in clearing this spectrum and the unique advantages and benefits of the CBA solution.”
O’Rielly did not lean one way or another in his remarks, but said: “The open issues pertain to the appropriate mechanism and time frame to make the process happen. I ask that you keep an open mind and work with the commission to bring this to a speedy conclusion.”
O’Rielly implied that the FCC could select a band-clearing formula without having settled all the legitimate compensation issues beforehand.
“For instance, many have asked for greater specifics about how the ‘market-based’ or C-Band Alliance proposal can protect incumbents,” he said. “Those details will have to be fleshed out if or when the commission moves forward with that or a similar approach.
“The key is not having a knee-jerk reaction in opposition while the complex issues are being considered and resolved.”