FCC Accelerates the Process to Make C-Band Spectrum Available for 5G Services

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai ,announced that the repurposing of C-band spectrum for 5G services will move forward on an accelerated timeline. In a public notice, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau said it had secured commitments from all eligible satellite operators to meet an accelerated clearing timeline that will make way for faster 5G deployment in the 3.7 GHz band, also called the C-band.

This marks a big day for American leadership in 5G and for American consumers and businesses. The acceptance of accelerated relocation by all eligible satellite operators vindicates the FCC’s approach for making C-band spectrum available for 5G more quickly. This initiative will enable critical mid-band spectrum to be used for new and innovative wireless services that will be delivered to American consumers years ahead of schedule. The FCC’s work on the C-band is an important part of its 5G FAST plan, a comprehensive strategy to promote American leadership in 5G. This is a national priority because it means millions of jobs, billions of dollars in investment, innovation on our shores, and stronger economic growth.

In February, the Commission majority adopted rules for the C-band that will free up 280 MHz of spectrum for 5G. Specifically, the rules required existing satellite operators to repack their operations from the band’s entire 500 MHz into the upper 200 MHz, allocated the lower 280 MHz for terrestrial flexible use, and provided for a 20-MHz guard band in between. Moreover, the Commission provided five eligible space station operators serving the contiguous United States with the opportunity to clear the lower 300 MHz of the band on an accelerated time-frame in exchange for accelerated relocation payments.

With all five eligible satellite operators—Eutelsat, Intelsat, SES, Star One, and Telesat—having elected accelerated relocation in filings with the FCC, 80% threshold for clearing commitments has been met and consequently, that the accelerated timeline for relocation has been triggered. Specifically, these companies must first clear 120 megahertz of spectrum in 46 Partial Economic Areas by December 5, 2021. In a second phase, they must clear the lower 120 megahertz in the remaining PEAs, plus an additional 180 megahertz nationwide, by December 5, 2023. If the companies fulfil these commitments, they will be eligible for up to $9.7 billion in accelerated relocation payments plus reasonable relocation costs, paid for by the new flexible use licensees. Had the satellite operators not chosen to accept accelerated relocation payments, the deadline for clearing the lower 300 megahertz of the band would have been December 5, 2025.

This Commission’s C-band auction is scheduled to begin on December 8, 2020. The Commission’s efforts in this band will meet its key goals of making a large portion of the C-band available for 5G use, generating significant revenue for the U.S. Treasury, and protecting and preserving the satellite services currently delivered using this band. This effort is an important component of Chairman Pai’s comprehensive strategy to Facilitate America's Superiority in 5G Technology (the 5G FAST plan).