The FCC will vote later this month on a proposal from commission chairman Ajit Pai to auction 280 MHz of spectrum in the C-band. Satellite operators that currently use the band to distribute television programming would be compensated for the costs of moving to a different portion of the band and would be offered additional monetary incentives up to $9.7 billion for doing so promptly.

Pai said late last year that the FCC should conduct the C-band auction and provided additional details in remarks at an event in Washington, D.C. today.

The spectrum that would be auctioned lies between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz and is considered mid-band spectrum, which provides the optimum mixture of bandwidth and range to support 5G deployments, according to some industry observers. A 20 MHz guard band would separate the spectrum from the remaining 2 GHz of the band, which would be used by the satellite providers.

Pai noted that the satellite providers said previously that they would only need 2 GHz for future operations.

Pai C-Band Auction Proposal
If adopted, the Pai C-band auction proposal would settle a long-running dispute about the future of the band. Several of the satellite providers had launched an initiative to sell the spectrum themselves and share the proceeds with the government, but according to Pai, “A public auction is the best bet to ensure fairness.”

Pai estimated that satellite providers would be paid between $3 billion and $5 billion for moving to a different portion of the spectrum band – a task that would require launching new satellites and installing filters on earth stations.

He used the term “accelerated relocation payments” to describe the additional monetary incentives he proposes for satellite providers that relocate promptly. Satellite providers would receive the payments if they complete relocation by September 2023, including clearing 120 MHz between 3.7 and 3.8s GHz by Septemvber 2021 in 46 of the nation’s top 50 partial economic areas (PEAs). According to an FCC fact sheet about the Pai C-band auction proposal, this is much sooner than September 2025 which would be the timeframe without accelerated relocation payments.”

Payments to the satellite providers would not be made by the FCC but by auction winners.

The purpose of the accelerated relocation payments “is not to compensate the satellite providers for the value of the spectrum but to accelerate clearing,” Pai said.

According to Pai, the FCC has the authority to take all the actions detailed in the proposal. Accordingly, no legislative action is required to proceed with the plans outlined, he said.

He added, though, that he would support C-band auction proposals made by federal legislators to use a portion of auction proceeds to support rural broadband and he said nothing in the proposal would prevent that. He cautioned, however, that legislators would need to move quickly, considering the December 8, 2020 date for the start of the auction.

The C-band proposal calls for licenses to be awarded by PEA and each license would include a 20-MHz swath of spectrum, said FCC officials on a call with reporters today


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