No Commitments, But U.S. Senate FCC Hearing Plays On C-Band Satellite Alliance’s Court

By Peter B. de Selding 13 June 2019 Space Intel Report

PARIS — A U.S. Senate committee spent a full morning grilling the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on its practices but the only comments on C-band spectrum clearing centered on how fast it could be done.

In the latest illustration that the C-Band Alliance of satellite operators may be about to win their case, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee made no comments on how the 500-MHz slice of spectrum would be cleared, or whether allowing satellite operators — all non-U.S.-based companies — to manage the auction and reap the proceeds is justified.

Instead, the few statements made about the issue were about the urgency of clearing spectrum to keep up with other nations in 5G deployment, an advantage that the C-Band Alliance has played up as perhaps its strongest card.

“Mid-band spectrum is particularly important to the initial deployment of 5G. But the United States currently lags behind our competitors in the availability of mid-band spectrum,” Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker of Mississippi said in a statement.

How soon can it be done?

“We are working through some of the very complicated issues with respect to C-band,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said during the June 12 hearing. “We are looking forward to moving forward as quickly as we can. Just a couple of days ago we received a very complex auction design from one of the parties that has offered a solution hat we need to evaluate.”

In his written comments to the committee, Pai said the C-band issue, which concerns spectrum between 3.7 and 4.2 GHz, would be dealt with “in the coming months.”

The C-Band Alliance of Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat submitted to the FCC their auction plan, which they have promised would see part of the spectrum made ready for terrestrial 5G use within 18 months of an FCC order, and the rest 18 months later.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who has spearheaded the FCC’s C-band clearing discussion, said he was optimistic about an early resolution but repeated his hope that the C-Band Alliance could find another 100 MHz in addition to the 200 MHz the satellite operators have agreed to clear.

“I remain hopeful that the satellite incumbents recognize the great need for such frequencies and are willing to part with closer to 300 or more MHz, assuming the requisite technology can accommodate this amount,” O’Rielly said in his written statement.

The C-Band Alliance said June 13 that “the maximum we can do now and fast — an early tranche in 18 months, with the full 406 Partial Economic Areas of the continental US in 36 months — is 200 MHz,” Alliance spokesman Markus Payer said in a statement.

“We’ve done all homework to come to that conclusion. We need thousands of filters and new satellites, and the content companies need to be protected. Longer term, the technology will tell us what’s possible. But for now, we’re focused on [200 MHz].”

Broadcasters back C-Band Alliance proposal as best of the lot, insist on new C-band satellites

On June 7, six large U.S. broadcasters — CBS, Discovery, Walt Disney, Fox, Univision and Viacomjointly urged the FCC to accept the C-Band Alliance proposal and to limit the clearing to 200 MHz, which includes a 20-MHz guard band.

“Only the C-Band Alliance gives serious attention to how the commission could preserve reliable video delivery over the C-band,” the companies said in a joint statement. “A critical aspect of the CBA’s plan is that no more than 200 MHz of spectrum will be reallocated.”

The statement used an example the ESPN sports network, saying that its C-band use has been increasing, not decreasing, in recent years, with an additional 1,300 video feeds provided to the network over C-band. In 2018, ESPN said it acquired nearly 29,000 sports feeds over C-band.

“One one day alone last month, ESPN relied on 143 C-band feeds in the production of content,” the broadcasters’ statement said.

The broadcasters also addressed the need for additional C-band satellites to be launched to accommodate the loss of 200 MHz of spectrum rights.

“Overall capacity available in the industry depends on both the amount of spectrum in the band and the number of satellites providing service over that spectrum,” they told the FCC. “To put simply, the less spectrum that is left for video downlinks, the more satellites we need in the sky…. The FCC should require any plan it approves to ensure that the necessary sateltweis will be launched.”

The C-Band Alliance’s two biggest providers of capacity in the United States, Intelsat and SES, have committed to ordering four new C-band satellites each if the FCC approves their auction plan. Six would be launched with two held on the ground as spares.