Rural organizations lobby for FCC-led C-band transition

In the latest row over how C-band spectrum should be handled, nine entities with ties to rural broadband are urging the FCC to oversee the transition of the spectrum rather than allow the type of private sale put forth by the C-Band Alliance (CBA).

Noting that the C-band (3.7-4.2 GHz) is an essential tool for several providers serving rural and remote areas, the group said any introduction of terrestrial use in the band must ensure that these current uses continue or transition uninterrupted to another band.

“There is much concern among those most vested in serving rural areas that a transfer of the spectrum via an unprecedented private market transaction will lack the transparency, expediency, fairness and necessary oversight of an FCC-led auction—and thus ultimately lead to a spectrum transfer to the largest, most well-financed mobile wireless providers,” the group wrote in its March 25 letter (PDF). The letter was addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation; Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee; and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“For more than two decades, policymakers have consistently recognized that a properly structured Commission-led auction provides the most efficient and effective mechanism for assigning spectrum licenses, and with appropriate protections avoids excessive concentrations of spectrum in the hands of a few providers that could leave rural consumers without access to spectrum-based services," the group said. "The Rural Representatives urge Congress and the Commission to develop laws and rules that ensure a smooth transition to terrestrial use and an assignment of licenses via a Commission-led spectrum auction.”

The “Rural Representatives” include NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Rural Wireless Association, The League of Rural Voters, National Organization of Black County Officials, Michigan Broadband Cooperative, Fredericksburg Area Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Rural Health Association and Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association.

Others are advocating for rural interests to be served by the band as well. “There is increasing bipartisan interest in Congress to find a way to pay for an ambitious effort to close the rural broadband and homework gaps. Since the C-band proceeds would otherwise go to four foreign companies, we are among the many rural broadband advocates urging Congress to legislate a public C-band auction,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at Open Technology Institute at New America, in a statement.

RELATED: C-band debate poised to pivot: analysts

The comments come as analysts at New Street Research recently surmised that the CBA debate could be poised for a pivot. At one point, a proposal by the CBA to voluntarily free up 200 megahertz of C-band appeared to be the only horse in the race, but other ideas are surfacing. And some speculate that big time advantage of the CBA proposal, which was framed as the fastest way to get spectrum for 5G even if it wasn’t the most spectrum, would be lost if it only leads to litigation.

Through agreements with satellite operators, cable companies and broadcasters use the C-band to deliver content to millions of Americans, and they don’t want to see any of their services disrupted. The CBA says all four satellite operators access the entire 500 megahertz in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, so it can only be cleared if all four are on board, which any other proposal likely wouldn’t consider.

Of course, smaller satellite operators have their own interests in mind, and they’re reiterating their position that regardless of how a sale is conducted, the FCC should adopt a distribution and scoring model (DSM) that “sets common sense into motion” with respect to the allocation of proceeds generated by repurposing the band.

A DSM would “allocate proceeds fairly among all satellite operators with space stations authorized to transmit in the U.S. C-band, and not just the four members of the CBA,” the group wrote in its recent filing (PDF). “A DSM would compensate these satellite operators without shortchanging earth station owners (unlike the current CBA proposal), and it would compensate earth station owners without shortchanging satellite operators (unlike T-Mobile’s latest auction proposal). Critically, it would recognize taxpayer interests in this important public resource.”