Congress Favors Public Auction for C-Band Spectrum

WASHINGTON—Perhaps not surprising following the announcement of a bipartisan bill last week that would mandate a public auction led by the FCC of the C-band spectrum to make way for 5G services, but the key takeaway from the C-band hearing in Congress on Tuesday, Oct. 29, was the support for that plan of action.

The hearing, hosted by the House Communications Subcommittee, took a close look at the Clearing Broad Airwaves for New Deployment (C-BAND) Act introduced by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and others. It also examined the proposal from the C-Band Alliance that was released on Monday, which would see spectrum cleared through a private auction.

Doyle, who presided over the hearing, called CBA’s proposal “deeply disturbing,” explaining that in a private auction the funds from selling the spectrum would go to CBA’s member companies rather than the U.S. Treasury, which is preferred by most legislators to help pay for broadband deployment and next-gen 911. He also called the C-band spectrum a “precious national resource.”

Other witnesses at the hearing supported Doyle and the preference for a public auction. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said that he did not believe that a CBA-led auction would deploy 5G any faster, and that an FCC-led auction would be fairer and more transparent. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), who also helped write the C-BAND Act, reaffirmed his support of a public auction.

Witnesses from outside of Congress also voiced their support for a public auction, including representatives from ACA Connects, Citizens Against Government Waste and Public Knowledge.

James Frownfelter, chairman of ABS, was one of the only witnesses to support a CBA-led auction, saying the FCC reclaiming and auctioning satellite spectrum in a public auction would be like satellite operators having their spectrum “largely confiscated without compensation.” He also said that about 25% of any proceeds from a CBA-led auction would be directed to the Treasury.

A witness for Cisco did not definitively take a side, but did point out that government-led spectrum transitions have been slow and difficult in the past, and that a private-led auction would be a carrot rather than a stick for band operators.

Claude Aiken, president of WISPA, which represents fixed wireless service providers, used his testimony to remind people that there were additional options beyond an auction, specifically a proposal by the Broadband Access Coalition that uses an auction and sharing spectrum to open up C-band.

The FCC is tasked with determining its plan for the C-band spectrum by the end of this year.

For a full roundup of Tuesday’s testimony, read Multichannel News’story.