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FCC opts for public C-band auction

US telecoms regulator disappoints satellite consortium with decision to go to public, not private, auction of spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band to develop 5G

After a period of uncertainly and jostling by the interested stakeholder in the US mobile and satellite comms space, FFC chairman Ajit Pai has announced that the US will go for a public rather than a private auction of a section of the country’s C-band wireless spectrum to hasten the roll-out and development of 5G services.

The US telecoms regulator has been engaged in an ongoing programme to formulate rule-making related to spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, widely seen as a critical in driving the development of 5G wireless connectivity through the country.

As he was assessing the options, Pai said that he would make a decision on how best to utilise the C-Band by autumn 2019, and that he would base his decision on four principles.

These principles comprise making available a significant amount of C-band spectrum for 5G; making C-band spectrum available for 5G quickly; generating revenue for the federal government; and protecting the services that are currently delivered using the C-band, so they can continue to be delivered to the American public.

As Pai was doing so, members of C-Band Alliance, a consortium of satellite operators established to implement a market-based, that is private auction, proposed to the FCC that it would clear 300 MHz of C-band spectrum to support fast 5G wireless deployment throughout continental US to protect existing satellite services from 5G interference.

After what he called a “thorough” review, Pai has now decided, revealed in a letter to US senators, that the best way to advance his principles was through a public auction conducted by FCC staff.

“With a quarter-century track record of transparent and successful auctions, I am confident that they will conduct a public auction that will afford all parties a fair opportunity to compete for this 5G spectrum, while preserving the availability of the upper 200 MHz of this band for the continued delivery of programming,” he said.

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The decision has set shockwaves through those calling for a private auction of the spectrum, and in trading on 18 November 2019 after Pai’s announcement, shares in CBA member Intelsat had fallen by 17.5%.

However, at the same time, fellow CBA member Eutelsat was welcoming the move.

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