Rival plan to C-Band Alliance calls for spectrum auction, fiber switchover for satellite broadcasters

Space

WASHINGTON — Cable and broadband giant Charter Communications has teamed up with two telecom-sector trade organizations on a pitch to repurpose almost double the amount of C-band spectrum offered in the satellite operator-led C-Band Alliance plan.

Charter, ACA Connects and the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) on July 1 filed a counterplan with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, urging the commission to make 370 megahertz out of 500 megahertz of satellite C-band spectrum available through a public auction. The FCC released the plan July 2.

The plan would leave satellite operators with 130 remaining megahertz instead of the 300 megahertz they say is necessary to continue providing television broadcasts and other services while making spectrum available for next-generation 5G cellular networks.

Opening up 370 megahertz of spectrum is possible, Charter and its partners say, by shifting the vast majority of satellite-enabled C-band television broadcasts in the U.S. over to fiber. The counterplan calls for the FCC to lead an auction and use a portion of the proceeds gained to pay for the transition from satellite to fiber — a cost estimated at $6 billion to $7 billion for video programmers and television channel distributors.

Alexi Maltas, senior vice president and general counsel of the CCA, told SpaceNews the 370 megahertz includes a 20 megahertz guard band to prevent signal interference.

Charter and its partners say their plan will free up spectrum for 5G as fast, if not sometimes faster than the C-Band Alliance. ACA Connects, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based organization representing rural cable networks and communications services providers, estimates the flip from satellite to fiber would take 18 months in urban areas. The majority of the country could complete the switchover in three years, with a few outlier regions needing five years, according to ACA Connects.

The C-Band Alliance — comprised of fleet operators Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat — has proposed a private auction it would run for 200 megahertz of spectrum — 180 usable megahertz plus a 20-megahertz guard band. The C-Band Alliance would use some of the proceeds of that private auction to pay for eight new satellites, plus antenna filters and other costs associated with providing the same services through a smaller swath of spectrum.

Charter, ACA Connects and the CCA are not the only dissenters to the C-Band Alliance plan. T-Mobile is also pushing for an FCC-led auction with a switchover from satellite to fiber, and has supported studies of freeing up the entire 500 megahertz of C-band for use in terrestrial 5G networks.

The C-Band Alliance responded to the counterplan July 2, calling it unrealistic.

“Fiber-based proposals recently submitted to the FCC fail to consider the significant complexity at the heart of their approach,” The C-Band Alliance said in a statement provided to SpaceNews. “This is not a task to simply connect antennas to fiber. These proposals require a complete rearchitecting of the U.S. media distribution landscape, including changes to broadcast distribution technology, operations and business models.”

The C-Band Alliance further said that clearing contiguous blocks of spectrum for 5G requires moving cable and non-cable satellite services to the remaining C-band frequencies, which it argues would take far longer than the counterplan suggests.

“This is not possible without installing filters and launching new satellites to protect existing service and support the end state,” the C-Band Alliance said. “This step alone would take 18 to 36 months.”

The C-Band Alliance said plans that rely on swapping satellite broadcasts for fiber would delay the implementation of C-band for 5G services by up to five years.

All three proponents of the counterplan have previously voiced their own issues with the C-Band Alliance’s proposal.

Charter Communications’ Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Colleen King said in February that the company preferred an FCC-led auction to the C-Band Alliance’s private auction. ACA Connects voiced concern that the C-Band Alliance wouldn’t sufficiently cover harms incurred by its members as a consequence of a private auction. And the CCA said in December that it wanted to see at least 320 megahertz of C-band cleared for 5G.

Charter, T-Mobile and others have decried the C-Band Alliance’s private auction as a murky process that only benefits satellite operators who stand to gain tens of billions in windfall proceeds. An FCC-led auction would be transparent, they say.

Under the counterplan from Charter and its partners, auction proceeds would go to the U.S. Treasury or to whatever function Congress assigns.

Charter and its partners say they realize their plan won’t work for rural parts of Alaska. Special care would also be needed for incumbent C-band operators who provide critical services, they said.

C-band is used for emergency response and other functions, though its primary use in the U.S. is for satellite television.

Charter, ACA Connects and the CCA say 370 megahertz is a “conservative” estimate. More spectrum could be made available as the FCC better understands how heavily C-band is utilized, they said.

Should the FCC accept the counterplan, the fiber buildout and other tasks would generate around 100,000 jobs directly, plus up to another 100,000 indirect jobs, Charter and its partners say.

Industry anticipated the FCC would decide on an approach to allocating C-band spectrum for 5G by June, but that didn’t happen. The FCC has stressed the need for speed in deploying spectrum for 5G, but also slowed down on C-band in May when it unexpectedly asked for more input on determining the best approach.

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