FCC’s O’Rielly suggests freeing up 200-300 megahertz of C-Band spectrum

The FCC should move forward this summer to get the ball rolling on more midband spectrum—making at least 200 or 300 megahertz available to start with, according to FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly.

O’Rielly made the comments during an event hosted Thursday by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a Washington, D.C., public policy think tank. The 200-300 megahertz is more than the 100 megahertz that incumbent satellite companies Intelsat and SES have offered in their proposal.

O’Rielly has pushed for a reallocation of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band and noted that various ideas on how to clear it are now in the record, including a market-based approach proposed by certain wireless and satellite entities. He also indicated he’s more inclined to go for an industry-based approach rather than a government-led effort that would take too long to implement.

“This method provides an attractive option that should be thoroughly considered, particularly because of the speed in which it could bring the spectrum to market,” he said in prepared remarks. “But, there are still some unknowns. To make this worthwhile, an adequate amount of spectrum—at least 200 or 300 megahertz to start—needs to be made available in this band. We also need more information about how the licensing would work. The commission needs to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking this summer to explore all the relevant issues.”

During a follow-up Q&A, O’Rielly expanded on his comments, saying it’s important that the U.S. get more midband spectrum in the pipeline for 5G, suggesting perhaps even 400 of the total 500 megahertz available in the short-term would be appropriate.  

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He said the industry-driven mechanism for relieving the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, also known as the C-Band, is one that has a lot of merit and needs to be explored fully. The government could take it to market, but that takes a long time. The conversation around last year’s 600 MHz incentive auction, for example, went on for a good six years before anything ever happened. “We don’t have a long time,” he said.

There are questions about how to handle this midband spectrum, and they should be teed up this summer. “I really look forward to where we go in that midband spectrum, and then also an unlicensed play at 6 GHz. I think the two are tied together … I’d like to move them [forward] in one of the summer months with a ‘J’ in it.”

In his prepared remarks, O’Rielly referenced a recent technical study that demonstrates that reallocating the 6 GHz band for unlicensed services shows such use won’t cause harmful interference to incumbents. “To the extent necessary, interference mitigation can resolve any arising problems,” he said.

RELATED: Apple, Google-led group responds to critics of RKF study

Industry stakeholders have been debating a report that shows unlicensed services can coexist successfully with the range of licensed services present in the 6 GHz band. The Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition (FWCC) pointed out flaws in the study while tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple stand by it.