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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Attempts to Broker Agreement Between Satellite and Broadband for the C-Band



Photo of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and ITIF Director Doug Brake by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, February 6, 2020 – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced a reimbursement plan for incumbents offering satellite service in the C-Band in order to facilitate a public auction that is scheduled to begin December 8, 2020, Pai said Thursday.

Speaking at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Pai discussed preliminary details of the FCC’s plan to free up C-Band spectrum in light what he called a rapid race for 5G deployment.

Pai said 280 megahertz airwaves within the C-Band, from 3.7 GigaHertz (GHz) to 4.2 GHz, will be repurposed for 5G deployment.

The 600 megahertz within the C-Band is currently primarily used by satellite companies, and Pai said the C-Band was “an enormous opportunity” because satellite companies do not need the entire spectrum.

He also said he wants the repurposing to be “consumer friendly” and the FCC has explored all options in this complicated debate.

He laid out four principles for repurposing the C-Band.

  • First, “make a significant amount spectrum in the C-Band available for 5G.”
  • Second, “quickly” move efforts to free the C-Band spectrum.
  • Third, “generate revenue for the federal government.”
  • Fourth, “ensure that the services that are currently delivered using the C-Band continue to be delivered to the American people.”

The FCC decided public auctions would be the best approach, as “bidders would be less likely to participate in an untested private auction,” said Pai. The FCC also has more legal control over public auctions.

Pai also announced that successful bidders will reimburse the satellite companies for relocation. Pai said this is meant to incentivize incumbent satellite companies to move quickly and meet deadlines.

“I am proposing to give satellite operators the opportunity to receive accelerated relocation payments of $9.7 billion if they meet [the] accelerated clearing milestones,” explained Pai.

“At the FCC, we are determined to lead the world in pushing out mid-band spectrum for 5G, just as we have led with high and low-band spectrum,” said Pai.

In an effort to secure American leadership in the race to 5G, Pai said, “we must and we will continue to take bold and aggressive action to make more mid-band spectrum available for the commercial marketplace.”

Reactions to the plan from legislators, industry and think tanks

Although Pai said he was expecting disapproval from both sides of the aisle, generally positive comments were received.

Pai said he believed this is a happy medium between incumbents’ asking price and the urgency for 5G.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, released a statement: “[Pai’s] announcement today made clear that he understands the importance of this race to our country’s national security and economic future.”

However, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., expressed concern and, together with subcommittee chairman Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn., suggested legislation on the issue.

“The questionable legal basis for the satellite incentives will likely result in litigation, which will delay the deployment of 5G,” they said.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Associations said it was heartened by the moves because of the current way in which the C-Band is “grossly underutilized, especially in our spectrum-constrained world.”

Referred to spectrum sharing technology, WISPA Vice President Louis Peraertz said, “This sharing has been proven. Satellite earth stations have coexisted with point-to-point fixed wireless services for decades. It is also a potent way to open the remainder of the band to fixed wireless providers and other competitive innovators.”

“The plan Pai announced today is a thoughtful effort to balance the various interests in a way that advances overall consumer welfare and the national interest,” said Randy May, president of the free-market Free State Foundation. “Because speed in repurposing the C-Band spectrum is all-important, providing sufficient compensation to the incumbent satellite operators to incentive their active cooperation and avoid litigation that might derail implementation is a key objective.”

Pai is expected to release the official plan for C-Band spectrum on Friday.


Agency Leaders Urge Improvements to Spectrum Management

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel advocated for bills that would make better use of spectrum.



Photo of Matthew Pearl of the FCC, Derek Khlopin of the NTIA, Anna Gomez of Wiley Rein LLP (left to right)

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2023 – Agency leaders at speaking at a Public Knowledge conference Thursday said more needs to be done to bring spectrum management up to speed, as a issues outlined by a decades-old task force report are still pertinent today.

Receiver standards continue to prohibit innovation, barriers remain for a national spectrum strategy, and spectrum frequencies are becoming more crowded and valuable, said panelists at the event, pointing to challenges outlined by the 2002 Spectrum Policy Task Force.

“[The task force recommendations] were spot on but they also identified a lot of persistent challenges that remain today,” said Derek Khlopin of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “I don’t think that it means we haven’t made progress.”

Technology, use cases, and standards will constantly evolve, added Matthew Pearl of the FCC. “We need to constantly assess them and be very nimble while at the same time honoring the principles like flexibility to all users.”

Suggested steps for improvement

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, speaking at the event, suggested three areas of improvement for spectrum innovation.

First, she advocated for the Spectrum Innovation Act, a bill introduced to the House in September and awaiting committee approval that would make available new airwaves for commercial wireless broadband.

Second, Rosenworcel suggested that the FCC update the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act, which encourages federal users to clear spectrum by establishing a spectrum relocation fund to reimburse agencies operating on airways that are allocated for commercial use.

She also suggested that federal relocators can be given a broader range of options to update their capabilities when they relocate. These changes could “help avoid spectrum disputes and smooth the way for reallocation of airways.”

Third, “we should explore receiver performance.” The efficient use of our airways is a two-way effort and low quality receivers will make it difficult to introduce new services in the same frequencies. The FCC recently launched a new inquiry on receiver performance.

These suggestions come a week after a House subcommittee on communications and technology advanced two bills for floor votes that would provide the NTIA with resources to develop “innovative spectrum management technologies.”

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House Committee Pushes Through Bills to Improve NTIA Spectrum Management

Markup of bills comes after much discussion about federal spectrum management.



Photo of Mike Doyle, D-PA

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2022 – The House subcommittee on communications and technology advanced two bills for floor votes providing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration with resources to develop “innovative spectrum management technologies” at a subcommittee markup Wednesday.

Spectrum management is essential to minimize interference on radio spectrum and optimize the use of the finite resource.

The first, the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences Codification Act, provides statutory authority to the ITS, an arm of the NTIA, authorizing the ITS to implement certain spectrum legislation on behalf of the NTIA. The institute will be required to establish an initiative to support the development of emergency communication and tracking technology.

One amendment clarified the role the ITS plays in supporting spectrum advancements and promoting effective use of spectrum.

The second bill – Simplifying Management, Reallocation and Transfer of Spectrum Act, or the SMART Act – was introduced by Representative Brett Guthrie, R-KY, requiring “the assistance of the secretary of communications and information at NTIA to develop and implement framework to enhance the sharing of spectrum between federal entities and non-federal users as well as between multiple federal entities,” said Chairman Mike Doyle, D-PA.

The SMART act will establish a common platform for sharing spectrum use across federal agencies and other users. An amendment was passed to ensure that the coordination with spectrum would support a broad range of users in many industries.

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FCC Auction Authority Bill Ensures No Disruption in Spectrum Distribution: Lawmakers

The Extending America’s Spectrum Auction Leadership Act of 2022 was introduced last month.



Congressman Frank Pallone, D-NJ

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2022 – Legislation introduced last month that would extend the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to conduct spectrum auctions is needed to ensure a seamless process when the agency comes to close out existing auctions, lawmakers said last week.

The Extending America’s Spectrum Auction Leadership Act of 2022, or H.R. 7783, was introduced on May 16 in the House, giving the FCC an extension on its spectrum auction mandate – which ends this September – to March 31, 2024. It was referred to the energy and commerce committee.

“We cannot let the FCC’s auction authority lapse under any circumstances,” said Representative Doris Matsui, D-Calif., at an energy and commerce committee hearing on May 24. “Congress has extended the FCC’s spectrum auction authority on a bipartisan basis several times over the last three decades and has never let it lapse.

“Even a brief lapse in FCC auction authority could jeopardize licenses from being awarded and delay the carriers’ ability to supercharge their networks with this 5G-ready spectrum. That cannot happen,” said Matsui.

With a long history of auction authority, the FCC has conducted auctions of licenses for spectrum since 1994.

“Congress has never let the FCC’s spectrum authority lapse since authorizing it in the early 1990s, so I am pleased we are taking this important step forward today,” said committee chairman Frank Pallone, D-NJ. “As a result, the FCC will be able to hold its planned auction of the 2.5 gigahertz band in July without disruption and also fully close out auctions that have already occurred.”

In May, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel talked about the importance of upcoming spectrum auctions to fund infrastructure projects and the transition to a next-generation 911 system. In this hearing, Matsui and Pallone agreed that this authorization from Congress will be crucial for the FCC to carry out its spectrum authority.

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