FCC Approves C-Band Auction Plan

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WASHINGTON—The FCC’s plan to make C-band spectrum available for 5G development is now official, as the FCC adopted in a 3-2 vote rules to auction 280 MHz within the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.

The C-band auction plan was proposed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and will have 280 MHz of mid-band spectrum available through a public auction. By making the spectrum available, the FCC says it will help close the digital divide in the U.S., especially in rural areas, and help in the country's 5G development. The auction plan is also expected to generate revenue for the U.S. Treasury, while at the same time ensure “continuous and uninterrupted delivery of video programming services and other content” from satellites currently using the C-band.

The auction will consist of the 3.7-4.0 GHz portion of the C-band, which includes the 280 MHz for wireless services (3.7-3.98 GHz) and 20 MHz (3.98-4.0 GHz) to serve as a guard band for the upper 200 MHz of the band that existing satellite operators will be repacked to.

The deadline for satellite operators to exit the 3.7-4.0 GHz band will be Dec. 5, 2025. However, in hopes of speeding up the repack process, the plan will allow eligible space station operators to receive accelerated relocation payments totaling $9.7 billion if they are able to clear the spectrum early. For Phase I payments, operators must clear 120 Mhz of spectrum in 46 Partial Economic Areas by Dec. 5, 2021; Phase II covers the remaining 180 MHz and must be cleared by Dec. 5, 2023. 

The accelerated relocation payments, as well as reasonable relocation costs,  will be the responsibility of new flexible-use licensees. The FCC is creating a Relocation Payment Clearinghouse to manage this process, as well as appointing a Relocation Coordinator.

In addition, the FCC adopted service and technical rules for the flexible-use licensees and rules that require incumbent fixed microwave services licensees to relocate their point-to-point links to other bands by Dec. 5, 2023.

No official date for the C-band auction was announced, though Pai had previously identified December 2020 as a goal.

Chairman Pai and Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr approved the plan. Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks dissented.

Mike Rogers, chairman of 5G Action Now, issued the following statement in regards to the FCC’s approval of the C-band auction plan:

“The FCC’s vote today is a great success for the future of 5G in America. We can not afford to wait any longer to roll out 5G nationwide in America and the approval of a public auction of the spectrum is a great step to unleashing American innovation. China has a head start on cornering 5G, but with this vote we are one step closer to ensuring we don’t lost the race. Getting 5G right is critical to our country’s long term economic and national security and I applaud the FCC’s and Chairman Pai’s actions today.”