Satellite companies propose repacking C-band spectrum to enable sales

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A new consortium of satellite operators announced Monday a proposal to clear satellite spectrum for reallocation by the FCC while protecting public broadcasters and other media outlets that transmit programming via the spectrum.

Four major global satellite operators — Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat— said in a release that they believe their proposal will advance pending efforts at the FCC to reallocate at least some frequencies in the 3.7–4.2 GHz range for use by smartphones and other broadband services.

The FCC launched an inquiry last year to seek comment about how the spectrum, also known as the C-band, could be opened up to wireless companies such as T-Mobile and Verizon. It also asked whether it should consider moving licensees now using the band to other frequencies.

NPR and other programmers who use C-band spectrum have been fighting the effort. In a comment filed with the FCC last year, NPR urged the commission to allow other services to use C-band spectrum “only if the absolute integrity of these current uses is protected and assured.”

The proposal by the satellite operator consortium would free up C-band spectrum by consolidating its users within the band. The consortium would compensate users for any costs with proceeds from the sale of cleared frequencies to wireless operators.

“The proposal establishes a commercial and technical framework that would enable terrestrial mobile operators to quickly access spectrum in a portion of the 3,700 to 4,200 MHz frequency band in the U.S., speeding the deployment of next-generation 5G [wireless] services,” the consortium said.

Known as the C-Band Alliance, the consortium also contends that it would clear the spectrum more easily and efficiently than the FCC would. The commission’s approach could take many years, they said.

“By contrast, secondary market transactions can be completed very quickly with transparency and with regard for the balance of wireless industry competition,” CBA said in a fact sheet. “It is our intention to repurpose spectrum as fast as possible.”

“The amount of spectrum to be cleared and repurposed will be determined by (1) how much spectrum must be retained to continue serving all existing customers and their consumers, (2) the costs of clearing and (3) market demand for the spectrum,” the fact sheet added.

Asked for comment on the proposal, an NPR spokesperson said in an email, “Satellite delivery using these C-band frequencies is the only distribution platform that meets public radio’s requirements of affordability, availability and reliability. We continue to communicate the importance of the Public Radio Satellite System, and public radio stations, to policy makers and with Intelsat, public radio’s long-standing satellite provider.”

Pacifica Radio, which uses C-band for distributing content to affiliates, believes “it would be unfortunate if this service would be taken away from the public radio sector to benefit for-profit interests,” wrote Ursula Ruedenberg, Pacifica affiliate network director, in an email to Current.

In a statement, Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly praised the C-Band Alliance proposal. “This announcement appears to be a great step to quickly and orderly reallocate the spectrum to commercial wireless use,” O’Rielly said. “It also further establishes the private market option as the lead proposal to do so.”

The FCC can’t adopt a final decision on its proposals to reallocate C-band spectrum until after the public has an opportunity to file comments.

Public comments on the FCC’s proposals are due Oct. 29. Reply comments are due November 27.

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