AT&T, Verizon join CBA in backing C-band auction principles

While some lawmakers are turning up the pressure to force the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct a public auction of C-band spectrum, the C-Band Alliance (CBA) announced that it is being joined by several entities on a set of principles designed to guide a CBA-led auction of the airwaves.

Verizon, AT&T, Bluegrass Cellular, Pine Belt Wireless and U.S. Cellular joined the CBA in an FCC filing that details a set of principles to guide a process of auctioning off terrestrial rights to the spectrum.

Verizon and AT&T previously signaled their support for a CBA plan in prior FCC filings. Notably absent from the list is T-Mobile, which has been arguing for a public auction. Indeed, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray met with FCC commissioners last week to discuss the C-band, and noted support in the record for transitioning many of the existing users to fiber.

But the support of the wireless carriers is just one development. The CBA on Monday also announced that it’s increasing the amount of spectrum it’s proposing to release from 180 MHz to 280 MHz, with a 20 MHz guard band retained for the protection of ongoing satellite operations. It’s able to do that after working with customers to ensure enough C-band spectrum remains for content distribution.

The CBA further explained that the increase in the amount of spectrum to be cleared for 5G is made possible by technologies such as advanced modulation, single format transport and advanced video compression, including High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). These technologies improve the efficiency of satellite video delivery, allowing the same content to be transmitted over less spectrum.

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Specifically, the CBA is proposing to clear a first tranche of 120 MHz of spectrum, inclusive of a 20 MHz guard band, in 46 metro zones within 18 months of an FCC order. A second tranche of spectrum would be made available within 36 months of the C-band auction.

Auction principles

The auction principles that the wireless operators and satellite companies are proposing suggest the use of a multi-round ascending clock auction format that is “substantively similar” to other recent FCC auctions, according to the CBA.

The principles call for a single auction that would include all proposed cleared spectrum, divided into 20 MHz blocks based on partial economic areas, regardless of timing or tranche. Other principles detailed in the filing include the setting of an aggregate reserve price and the agreement for participants to be bound by the FCC’s communications rules, reporting obligations and enforcement.

However, because the satellite companies in the C-Band Alliance are headquartered outside the U.S., lawmakers are crying foul and saying the U.S., if it proceeds with a CBA-led auction, will be relinquishing billions of dollars to foreign companies instead of funneling it to U.S. coffers. They also say that an auction that is not conducted by the FCC will be challenged in court, causing further delays in getting the spectrum into the hands of wireless carriers.

Last week, a group of lawmakers introduced the C-BAND Act, which would require the FCC to conduct a public auction of the C-band.

Hearing today

The Senate Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing today on the C-band auction process. Witnesses included Public Knowledge, Citizens Against Government Waste and other groups lobbying for an FCC-led auction.

In light of that hearing, the American Consumer Institute, R Street Institute and others submitted a letter to the committee asking them to support the CBA plan for private auctions in the secondary market. They argued that U.S. tax revenues will diminish if the C-band is not rapidly brought to market and that the CBA repeatedly pledged to make a significant contribution to the U.S. Treasury from auction proceeds.

Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he had not yet made up his mind about how the FCC will handle the C-band, but that he was still optimistic an item will land on the FCC’s agenda before the end of the year.