FCC sets out C-band auction procedures

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The US’s Federal Communications Commission has established final application and bidding procedures for the auction of 280 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for 5G and other advanced wireless services.

This auction will offer 5,684 new flexible-use overlay licences based on Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) for spectrum in the 3.7–3.98 GHz band. This spectrum holds the potential to be prime spectrum for 5G services, with the FCC suggesting the procedures will ensure the assignment to auction winners of contiguous spectrum blocks allowing wide channel bandwidths that support 5G deployment.

The Public Notice approved by the FCC details the procedures governing participation in Auction 107. Specifically, the Public Notice establishes:

  • Bidding procedures for the clock and assignment phases of the auction, including two clock phase categories of generic blocks in the 46 PEAs where certain blocks are subject to the first early clearing deadline of December 2021.
  • An assignment phase in which winning bidders for blocks subject to the first early clearing timeline will be assigned both interim and final contiguous frequency-specific licence assignments.
  • Upfront payment and minimum opening bid amounts for bidding on the licenses as well as bidding credit caps for rural service providers and small businesses, including a cap on the overall amount of bidding credits a small business bidder may apply to winning licenses in smaller markets.

According to the FCC, the action is the latest important step toward implementing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s 5G FAST plan for deploying 5G wireless and other advanced spectrum-based services across the country and boosting economic growth, job creation, and America’s global competitiveness.

Pai described the announcement as “a watershed moment” for American leadership in 5G, saying the auction would quickly free up a significant amount of spectrum for 5G and represented the Commission’s most significant action yet to repurpose mid-band frequencies.

He said the C-band element would be the FCC’s largest auction of mid-band frequencies for 5G to date. “Five months ago, the FCC voted to clear the lower 280 megahertz of the C-band and make this spectrum available for flexible use. When we crafted our rules for repurposing the C-band, we prioritised making a large amount of spectrum in this band available for 5G as quickly as possible while still ensuring that incumbents would have access to sufficient spectrum to continue delivering the same services they currently provide over the entire C-band spectrum,” he advised.

“That’s why we rejected politically-motivated calls to do literally nothing until Congress passed a law on the subject (breaking news: It still hasn’t). That’s why we included accelerated relocation payments to incumbent satellite operators that will make spectrum available for 5G two to four years earlier than otherwise would have been the case. And that’s why we proposed an aggressive schedule for holding an auction within the calendar year. I’m proud to say that even amidst a pandemic—and the effective shutdown of Commission headquarters it occasioned just a few weeks after we adopted the C-band Order—the excellent work of FCC staff has kept us fully on track and on schedule,” he declared.

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks approved in part and dissented in part to the C-band Auction Procedures, saying that under the FCC’s majority’s decision from February 2020, nearly $10 billion of taxpayer money was being paid to foreign satellite companies to vacate spectrum that belongs to the American people, based on a formula that has nothing to do with the companies’ relocation costs. “Nearly six months later, and we still have tremendous uncertainty surrounding this bad deal…. All of this confusion affirms what I said back in February. Instead of racing ahead with a half-baked decision, we should have allowed Congress to act here…. Doing so would have avoided this uncertainty and ensured that the proceeds from this auction went towards the needs of the American people and not to the coffers of foreign satellite operators,” he concluded.


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