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Joint C-band Proposal Seeks Faster and Greater Spectrum Clearing

Randy Sukow / Jul 3, 2019

To continue the theme of shifting emphasis to mid-band spectrum for 5G, especially potential rural 5G, a group of current or possible terrestrial spectrum users have proposed a plan to speed up clearing a portion (3.7-4.2 GHz) of the C band. The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), Charter Communications and ACA Connects – America’s Communications Association in a filing to the FCC yesterday proposed clearing  370 MHz or more in a sharing system with incumbent satellite users.

“We propose to clear the spectrum on a nationwide basis,” the group said. “First, rural consumers should have the same opportunities to benefit from increased spectrum as urban users. Second, clearing the spectrum at the same time is the most straightforward and efficient path. Finally, clearing the spectrum in rural areas on a stand-alone basis at a later time would be very difficult.”

The group submitted the plan as alternative to a satellite industry-favored “C-Band Alliance” (CBA) proposal that would clear only 200 MHz of spectrum within three years of an FCC re-farming order. The CCA/ACA/Charter group propose to “clear the spectrum as fast as the CBA plan in most areas, and in half the time in urban areas.”

The satellite industry has long used C band for direct-to-home video service as well as network video services to cable head ends. The group claims that over the years the pool of MVPD (multichannel video program distributor) users has become “relatively small.” Growing use of fiber video distribution will not eliminate C-band distribution, but will shrink it significantly, the group said.

Group member ACA, which represents rural cable systems, “has [conservatively] estimated that a total of 100 transponder equivalents, translating into a total of 130 MHz of spectrum, are necessary to accommodate C-band narrowband customers who may wish to continue to need satellite service in the C-band,” according to the filing. “But we believe that information the FCC already has or can obtain from the satellite operators … will allow for the relaxation of these conservative assumptions so that these needs can in fact be accommodated with fewer than 100 transponders, and correspondingly less than 130 MHz of spectrum.”

This less-conservative approach toward the MPVD users would open more spectrum for re-farming, the group said.

“Our proposal is a win-win,” the group concludes. “It satisfies the needs of prospective 5G users by freeing up at least 370 megahertz [and likely more] of the C-band spectrum on a nationwide basis in a quick timeframe, makes whole all incumbents—including the satellite industry, its customers, and earth station users—and provides all of these stakeholders with long-term certainty.”

Update, July 8: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told an audience of the 7th Latin American Telecommunications Congress in Argentina that he expects to move forward on a C-band order this year.  “We’re working on the complicated task of freeing up spectrum for 5G in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, commonly called the C-Band.  I’m optimistic that we will have results to show on this front this fall,” he said according to the written version of the July 4 speech.

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