CBA emphasizes speed, compensation in getting C-band ready for 5G

The C-Band Alliance (CBA) spent many months lobbying for a private auction of C-band spectrum that it would control, but now that the spectrum is headed for public auction, it wants to make sure its members get properly compensated, and that means more than just the costs of relocation.

In filings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week, the CBA stressed the urgency for the U.S. to make C-band spectrum available for terrestrial 5G and the role of the CBA in making that happen. CBA’s members include Intelsat and SES, which represent more than 95% of active C-band satellite services in the U.S.

Compensation to the CBA has been the subject of debate as some argue that foreign satellite companies should not get a windfall from spectrum that ultimately belongs to the American public. That was used in arguments for a public auction. However, the satellite companies say they’ve invested billions of dollars in equipment and they’re not going to shoulder all the costs of clearing and transitioning without fair compensation.

RELATED: C-Band Alliance taken to task in FCC oversight hearing

The organization points to (PDF) Title III of the Communications Act as giving the FCC the authority to require winning bidders of a public auction to agree to pay for accelerated clearing as a condition of their participation and as a condition of receiving an initial license for terrestrial mobile rights.

The speed the CBA can provide in accelerating the transition of a portion of the C-band to 5G equates to more than $600 billion in consumer surplus compared to any transition attempted without the CBA participation, the group told the commission, suggesting litigation if things don’t go its way.

“Failure to involve the CBA in the transition of the C-band would be legally perilous,” the CBA wrote in a January 14 filing (PDF). “Unilateral authorization of new terrestrial mobile operations in any significant portion of the C-band would constitute an unlawful basic and fundamental change to the authorizations held by the members of the CBA.”

The CBA suggests that the FCC divide acceleration payments among C-band satellite operators according to their proportionate transmission to active C-band antennas and it provides an equation for doing that.

Why not just give a number based on estimated relocation and other costs? It’s not that simple, apparently, and the satellite companies, which provide services for clients to deliver audio and video programming to some 120 million Americans, have outlined a detailed coordination and implementation plan so those services are not disrupted.

“The satellite operators have rights under their licenses. We have brought solutions to the table on how we could voluntarily surrender some of those rights to the spectrum, but we ask to be treated fairly for the significant impact to our business,” Dianne VanBeber, vice president of Investor Relations at Intelsat, told FierceWireless. “What we’ve put on the table is, we think, a fair compensation for all of the work that we will be doing and the sacrifice to our business that we will be making in order for the U.S. to deploy 5G quickly and efficiently.”

In another C-band development this week, 5G Action Now, citing the “race to 5G” with China and national security concerns, announced its plans to see that the public auction of C-band happens as soon as possible.

A spokesman for 5G Action Now acknowledged the CBA is a strategic partner in that they share the goal of a 2020 public auction.

CBA said much the same thing. “We’re closely aligned with them and consider their messages to be on target with things that should be important to the United States,” VanBeber said.