Eutelsat CBA exit won’t impact C-band proposal, remaining members say

Satellite operator Eutelsat’s formal withdrawal from the C-Band Alliance (CBA) yesterday won’t impact the group’s ability to deliver on its proposal for selling C-band spectrum for 5G in the U.S., CBA’s remaining three members said Tuesday.  

Eutelsat notified CBA’s other members Intelsat, SES and Telsat, of its exit from the group, saying the company wanted to “take a direct active part” in discussions about clearing and repurposing spectrum.

Eutelsat told the FCC that while it continues to support CBA’s proposal for a market-driven approach, the company did not align with some of its fellow European satellite operators on certain issues.

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“Eutelsat therefore concluded that its disassociation from the CBA would best serve the interests of its C-band satellite customers in the United States and its shareholders,” Eutelsat said the Tuesday filing.  

In response CBA put out a statement saying, “The CBA remains committed to delivering its expeditious, market-based proposal and the departure of Eutelsat does not impact the CBA’s ability to do so.”

The group noted its remaining members represent about 95% of the revenues for the U.S. C-band market and that they “are aligned and committed to the process of engaging with the FCC on the proposal of rapidly clearing C-band spectrum to support the deployment of 5G services in the U.S.”

The lack of open mid-band spectrum for 5G in the U.S. has raised concerns among government officials and operators alike, with a variety of players vying for desirable C-band spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.

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The FCC has accepted comment on opening up and repurposing the C-band, but the process has been complicated. The four satellite operators using the entire 500 megahertz band previously proposed freeing about 200 megahertz of spectrum, but faced opposition, with multiple parties suggesting alternate proposals.

The CBA has maintained that its proposal, which promotes secondary market-based transactions, remains the best option presented to the FCC. The alliance made some changes to its plan, including those following analyses by AT&T, that the group said would provide additional flexibility to mobile operators while still protecting fixed satellite service operations and avoiding interference.

Still, there were hints of fracture within CBA when Eutelsat’s CEO Rodolphe Belmer spoke on a July 31 earnings call, as noted by SpaceNews, in regards to a voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury from a spectrum sale, as well as calculating proceeds for CBA members.

“There is no real agreement and alignment on that question within the CBA, contrary to what has been said,” Belmer said.

A coalition made up of the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), Charter Communications, and ACA Connects, which presented their own plan to reallocate at least 370 megahertz of C-band spectrum, previously said CBA claims obscure the “tremendous private windfall” for the satellite companies and public costs linked to CBA’s proposal.

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T-Mobile, which made its own suggestion for selling the spectrum, had argued the satellite operators shouldn’t even be selling the spectrum because they don’t own it.

It is unclear when the C-band will appear on the full commission’s agenda, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai previously indicated that the agency expects to take action on the C-band front this fall – a timeframe that is quickly approaching.