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4G/3G/WiFi

FCC action signals Comcast's and Midco's intent to join CBRS auction

Signaling the possibility that both Comcast and Midco will pursue CBRS spectrum in the upcoming auction, the cable operators are seeking a special waiver at the FCC that would allow them to file separate applications should they indeed decide to join the bidding.

The waiver aims to overcome a rule that prohibits an entity from having a controlling interest in more than one short-form auction application. In this case, the issue stems from Midco's ownership – a general, 50/50 partnership between Midcontinent Commutations Investor LLC (MCI) and Comcast Midcontinent, an indirectly owned subsidiary of Comcast.

Without a waiver, Midco and Comcast could not participate in the CBRS auction (labeled by the FCC as Auction 105) as two separate applicants.

Comcast noted in the original waiver request (PDF) filed April 15 that it does not manage or control the partnership and can't prevent Midco from applying.

"Should Midco file an application, the rules appear to preclude Comcast from participating in Auction 105 absent a waiver," the companies stated in their waiver request. Comcast argued that securing a waiver is its lone option to enter the bidding should Midco also decide to do so.

And Midco's participation appears to be a foregone conclusion. "Comcast understands that Midco may apply to participate in Auction 105," Comcast notes in the original filing.

Safeguards in place
Though Comcast and Midco operate independently, they have, for the purpose of the waiver, installed safeguards that would prevent them from communicating about bids. At the same time, they also stressed to the FCC there is "no risk of collusive or anticompetitive behavior" to worry about in the first place.

Part of those safeguards include establishing what amounts to a firewall between Comcast or Comcast Midcontinent personnel who interface with Midco (including the Comcast Midcontinent managers) to ensure that they don't have access to info concerning Comcast's plans for Auction 105. Midco has implemented similar measures. The Comcast Midcontinent managers have also recused themselves from receiving any information regarding Midco's plans for the auction and from all meetings and discussions related to the auction.

The FCC announced this week it has set a comment deadline on the Comcast/Midco waiver request of May 4, 2020.

Citing the effects of COVID-19, the FCC recently delayed the planned auction of licensed spectrum in the 3.5GHz CBRS band from June 25 to July 23.

Why cable likes CBRS
Comcast, Charter Communications, Altice USA and Midco are among US cable operators that have conducted tests in the shared use band, which will support both new unlicensed and licensed use cases alongside incumbent users such as the US Navy.

Cable operators have been particularly focused on CBRS spectrum as a path to deploy private LTE networks and to help offset some of their MVNO-related costs. Both Charter Communications and Comcast offer mobile services that rely on MVNO deals with Verizon.

Charter has also expressed interest in using CBRS in a fixed wireless scenario to deliver multiple services, including video, phone and high-speed Internet, to residential homes from the edges of its hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks.

CBRS will help Charter "extend beyond the reach of HFC. It's not an overlay of HFC," Craig Cowden, Charter's SVP of wireless technology, said at a Light Reading-hosted event at last fall's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in New Orleans.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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