FCC denies petition seeking delay to C-band auction

The FCC last week denied a petition from several smaller satellite companies that wanted the commission to delay the C-band auction while their challenge is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The satellite companies – ABS Global, Empresa Argentina de Soluciones Satelitales S.A., Hispamar Satelites S.A., and Hispasat S.A. – argued that the FCC’s 3.7 GHz Report and Order will trigger a chain of events that will harm them by benefiting larger space station operators that are eligible for relocation and accelerated relocation payments. At the same time, they argued, the smaller operators would be deprived of spectrum access rights without compensation.

The commission applies strict criteria to determine if it’s going to grant a stay to one of its orders, and in this case, it found that the petitioners did not make the cut. For one thing, the petitioners, which are international satellite operators, are authorized to use C-band but are ineligible for relocation and accelerated relocation payments because they have no existing operations to clear.

“The record reflects that Petitioners do not provide any services via C-band satellite transmission to incumbent earth stations in the contiguous United States,” the commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau stated (PDF).

Furthermore, the FCC concluded that the petition (PDF) for stay doesn’t persuade the agency that the foreign-owned satellite companies’ arguments are likely to succeed in court any more than they did before the FCC.

RELATED: C-band clearing to move ahead on accelerated timeline

The commission voted 3-2 in February to adopt rules for the C-band that will free up 280 megahertz of spectrum for 5G. Last month, the FCC secured commitments from all eligible satellite operators – Eutelsat, Intelsat, SES, Star One and Telesat – to meet an accelerated clearing timeline. If the companies meet certain commitments, they are eligible for up to $9.7 billion in accelerated relocation payments, plus “reasonable” relocation costs, paid for by the owners of the new licenses.

Wireless operators like Verizon are eager to get their hands on mid-band spectrum for 5G. T-Mobile just acquired a trove of 2.5 GHz spectrum through the Sprint merger, but others are in need of that middle layer. They'll get a chance to bid on the C-band (3.7-4.2 GHz) spectrum when that auction starts on December 8.

Verizon has been lobbying (PDF) at the FCC for “targeted modifications” to the C-band auction design that it says will allow for the most successful use of the spectrum. For example, it supports having product categories based on when the spectrum will become available, simplifying bidding and facilitating an assignment phase that allows for contiguous blocks of spectrum.