Ajit Pai Does a Good Thing As He Pushes For Public C Band Auction

from the faster,-better,-more dept

You may have read something of late about the battle over so-called "C Band spectrum," the wireless frequencies that lie between 3.7 GHz and 4.2 GHz. This spectrum will be hugely beneficial for deploying 5G wireless, and wireless carriers and activists alike have been pressuring the FCC for years to repurpose much of it for 5G. How this should be done has been a point of contention, however. And given there's upwards of $60 billion to be made off of auctioning this spectrum, the typical alliances you'll see in telecom have been more complicated than usual.

Consumer advocates want the spectrum auctioned off publicly by the FCC, allowing it to be transparently bought by folks in rural areas eager to use it for point-to-point backhaul and rural broadband expansion. Satellite providers, unified under the C-Band Alliance, have been opposed to public auction and instead want the spectrum auctioned off behind closed doors, promising they'd then kick back some of the money to the FCC (read: American taxpayers, who technically own the airwaves in question). Incumbent wireless carriers have split opinions on how to proceed, with T-Mobile backing a public auction.

While this sort of stuff usually is ignored by Congress, the fact this spectrum could net upwards of $60 billion has driven some politicians, like Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, to push for public auctions where the government receives bids (and money) semi-transparently, instead of, as Kennedy has complained, this money being shoveled off privately to satellite providers in "Luxembourg." That money in turn can be used for any number of efforts; in Kennedy's case, a big impractical wall. Kennedy recently met with Trump to try and pressure the FCC, a move that appears to have worked.

Pai, who had seemingly been teetering toward the idea of a private auction, came out this week in favor of a more transparent, public auction of the C Band spectrum instead:

Granted there will still be a fight over how the money is spent. Groups like the EFF want it spent on finishing US fiber deployments incumbents stopped caring about years back as they shifted their focus to digital ads. Politicians in turn will want to use the fund for an array of pet projects like the border wall. Still, the move pleased consumer advocacy firms like Public Knowledge, who issued a statement saying a public auction should be more transparent, legally sound, faster, and more likely to result in benefits to the public:

“Importantly, today’s decision places the Commission on sound legal footing, and ensures that making C-Band spectrum available for wireless use is not unnecessarily delayed. Additionally, the public will benefit from a FCC-led auction that will likely return tens of billions of dollars of proceeds to the Department of Treasury. Congress can then allocate those funds to projects that help close the digital divide by making broadband universally available and affordable, and promoting digital equity."

It's rare you'll find consumer groups and Pai on the same page, so this is probably a moment that should be savored. Harold Feld, who probably knows more about US wireless policy than anybody, has a long but good primer for those interested in understanding the fight in more detail. Granted now the heavy lifting begins; the auction in question isn't expected to happen until next year, after which this valuable spectrum can finally be put toward its goal of faster, better, more uniformly available wireless internet.

Filed Under: 5g, ajit pai, auction, c-band, fcc, wireless


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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 20 Nov 2019 @ 6:02am

    I seldom say this, but…

    I seldom say this, but it must be said: Kudos to Ajit Pai and Republican US Senator John Kennedy!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Nov 2019 @ 7:06am

    Sounds good, now using that money to benefit users...

    I sure hope that if the money gets designated to completing a nationwide fiber deployment that it won't happen by giving the money to Telecom's and other broadband providers as their history of following through with such investment is less than poor. There is no need to contribute the money to them as they will only serve to fund executive bonuses and paying down debt ingloriously acquired buying entities they really shouldn't have been allowed to buy. The money should be payed to some entities that are solely involved with infrastructure deployment (as work is completed), along with whatever necessary rulings that allow them to proceed without interference from incumbent possessors of 'pole rites' or other 'right of way' encumbrances.

    To hope that such a deployment would come with open access would be asking for more than one could reasonably expect from the current playing field. Though hope springs eternal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2019 @ 7:30am

    Politicians in turn will want to use the fund for an array of pet projects like the border wall.

    That's just silly. Mexico is gonna pay for the border wall.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joel Coehoorn`, 20 Nov 2019 @ 7:48am

    WiFi

    I'd really love to see a meaningful amount of spectrum given a "limited use unlicensed" designation, where the use in question is WiFi.

    Right now, most spectrum is licensed to specific organizations. What little is unlicensed is limited to very low-power uses and wide open for any and all comers, no matter how that might impact other uses.

    I want a new "limited use" type of unlicensed spectrum, targeted at WiFi, effectively giving over control of the band to the WiFi Alliance and IEEE 802.11 working group. Any device maker could produce a router or network adapter for the new band, going through a similar certification they do now, but once that device is certified and sold, end users can run them without any additional licensing... just as we do home WiFi right now.

    Organizations such as cellular providers are able to do some AMAZING things with the spectrum they control, because they can count on not getting interference from other kinds of signalling. If the 802.11 working group could design the next WiFi signalling protocols with that same kind of confidence, where the only interference is from other compatible WiFi signalling, it could GREATLY increase the throughput and reliability of the technology, especially in high-density environment that currently have more trouble, such as university campuses, stadiums, and large apartment complexes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    lucidrenegade (profile), 20 Nov 2019 @ 8:11am

    So did the satellite providers pay a lease for the C band spectrum originally, or were they just allowed to use it (like OTA)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2019 @ 10:24am

      Re:

      The C band has been used for microwave relays and other communications systems for nearly 70 years. The portion of the band in question has mostly been used for satellite downlink communications - television networks, etc.

      Whether it was licensed or free to use is a good question, I don't know the answer. But these companies had to invest huge amounts of money in R&D, placing equipment in orbit, and operating it. And there are all kinds of licensing requirements for that.

      It's interesting that even AT&T and Verizon sided with the CBA in order to move the auction along faster, confident for one reason or another that the FCC will take longer than the C Band Alliance to accomplish its goals. So at least on the surface it appears that Pai might be punching holes in his golden parachutes. Not to be a conspiracy theorist, I suspect there is more to this than we're seeing so far.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 20 Nov 2019 @ 8:18am

    I like Ajit Pai's doppleganger better than the original. Can we keep him?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 20 Nov 2019 @ 8:39am

      Re:

      Maybe he’s “Evil Ajit Pai” who actually looks just like Ajit Pai but has a goatee. In other words, “Evil Ajit Pai” is actually a good guy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2019 @ 9:41am

    A modest proposal

    Instead of selling spectrum, it should be rented. The continuing revenue should be directed to the general fund to be allocated along with all other revenue by congress...no strings attached. Spectrum which remains unused could be rented to the lowest bidder, allowing rural applications to be promoted at lower cost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    stine, 20 Nov 2019 @ 10:15am

    i disagree

    Thanks to Rocketlab, SpaceX, etc, the new players in the satellite launch market, the cost of satellites that can use, and require, frequencies in the C band, is dropping. Removing their ability to have a usable frequency band is severely short-sighted. This move gives the current operators a virtual monopoly, which is, in my opinion, contrary to the FCC's charter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2019 @ 2:13pm

      Re: i disagree

      But this 'virtual monopoly' is NOT contrary to Ajit Pai's charter of 'giving everything to the Telecom's'...

      Jedi hand wave... Move along, these are not the spectrum you are looking for...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 20 Nov 2019 @ 5:12pm

    C band is taken..

    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/18/intelsat-stock-drops-as-fcc-will-auction-satellite-spectrum-for-5g.h tml FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a tweet that his agency “must free up significant spectrum” for 5G telecommunications. The FCC said it expects to begin a public auction of C-band to happen before the end of 2020, a blow to satellite operators using the valuable spectrum. “The private auction would generate billions in proceeds for Intelsat and the other C-band operators,” analyst Chris Quilty told CNBC. NOPE.. Ajit tweeted. I've outlined four principles that the @FCC must advance regarding C-band spectrum: we must (1) free up significant spectrum for #5G, (2) do so quickly, (3) generate revenue for the federal government, and (4) ensure continued delivery of services currently using the C-band. No it wont.. C band is the old TV Sat..and is still in use. mostly by cable Corps, that also use K band.. C-band spectrum is a key telecommunications wavelength the FCC regulates. Four satellite operators, including Intelsat, provide C-band services in the U.S. to about 120 million households. The FCC wants to repurpose the C-band spectrum for 5G and an auction is expected to raise tens of billions of dollars. But a public auction would see the proceeds go to the government, an option the satellite operators – organized as the C-Band Alliance – have opposed. Just something stupid going on. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C_band_(IEEE) Do read the first few paragraphs.. The bandwidth is old and used.. but needs a boost. these corps deal with old pricing made years ago..and this would get them out of contracts they are stuck with..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ben L (profile), 20 Nov 2019 @ 8:26pm

    broken clock

    pretty sure there's a saying about a broken clock that applies here

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 21 Nov 2019 @ 12:00am

    Here's a prediction

    Closed doors auction, winner will be AT&T or Verizon, winner will pay closer to $6 than $6 billion, as well as promising to compete fairly (a promise that will be broken 6 days later with no repercussions).

    Then Ajit Pai will make a grand statement about how the free market works great.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2019 @ 3:57am

    Public Safety and ecological impact

    It may be a good idea to fund a few university groups to do some studies on the effects of the use of the higher frequency spectrum on things like human health and ecosystem impact (e.g what happens to insects).

    If the impact on human health and/or ecosystems out weighs the benefits, then perhaps you shouldn't be selling this spectrum.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2019 @ 9:16am

    A shit pie

    On the other hand, its just as likely that Pai is blowing smoke to prevent or at least lessen public criticism and public scrutiny on this matter, while he quietly solidifies the private auction behind closed doors with his real bosses - the Telecoms. Now that is definitely more like the Pai we have come to loathe and distrust.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Terry8887 (profile), 22 Nov 2019 @ 11:21pm

    Review

    What little is unlicensed is limited to very low-power uses and wide open for any and all comers, no matter how that might impact other uses. I want a new "limited use" type of unlicensed spectrum, targeted at WiFi, effectively giving over control of the band to the WiFi Alliance and IEEE 802.11 working group. Any device maker could produce a router or network adapter for the new band, going through a similar certification they do now, but once that device is certified and sold, end users can run them without any additional licensing... just as we do home WiFi right now. https://www.mykfcexperience.onl/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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