A group of cable operators, industry organizations and Google are calling on Congress to help in their fight to have the sharing framework and county-based licenses used for the 3.5GHz CBRS band to also be applied to the upcoming auction for spectrum in the adjacent 3.45GHz band.
Holding that the 3.45GHz band (3.45GHz-3.55GHz) represents critical midband spectrum for 5G-based connectivity across urban centers and rural communities, they argued that the spectrum sharing rules used for last year's auction of the CBRS band, which attracted a record 271 qualified applications, should likewise play a role in the coming auction in the 3.45GHz band.
They believe a CBRS-like framework for the 3.45GHz band will draw interest from a diverse range of wireless carriers, wireless ISPs, cable operators, manufacturers, schools, real estate firms and electric utilities. They argue that the more limited structure of the recent C-band auction drew only 57 qualified applications, producing only 21 successful bidders.
They fear that the FCC's draft report and order on the 3.45GHz band, up for consideration at the Commission's March 17 meeting, will limit participation as well as use cases if the auction remains modeled after the C-band auction. It's unclear how successful or effective their plea will be this late in the game.
"The large partial economic area licenses proposed would not foster the kind of robust participation and innovation that made the CBRS auction a success and could also result in tepid investment and build out in rural areas where Americans need broadband more than ever before," the group told Congress.
In a note issued this week, analysts with New Street Research felt that T-Mobile and Dish are in position to take advantage of the proposed rules for the 3.45GHz auction, calling it "almost as important as the C-band … It's the same spectrum, available sooner."
The cable-focused group also raised concerns that the estimated costs to clear the 3.45GHz band of federal users could jeopardize the success of the auction, noting that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) informed the FCC and Congress last month that federal relocation costs for the band were estimated at more than $13.4 billion. In turn, that would mean the auction reserve price that would have to be met by bidders would need to hit nearly $15 billion in order for it to be deemed a success, they added.
They want Congress to work with NTIA, affected federal spectrum users and the FCC to work out and refine ways to cut down the government's relocation cost estimate. They're also proposing the FCC start the auction in October 2021, two months before the December 2021 deadline set by Congress.
"Wireless providers' large financial commitments in the recent C-band auction and related build-out obligations make it all the more appropriate to encourage other sources of capital in a second midband spectrum auction in the same year," the group said.
Alongside the NCTA, several cable operators are on board with the idea, including Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, Mediacom and Midco. Several of the operators in that group also bid for and won spectrum in the the CBRS auction for the licensed portion of the band.
In a filing with the FCC last month, Comcast emphasized that county-based licenses are the most effective way to encourage competition and network investment in both urban and rural communities, and was a clear reason why the county-based CBRS auction had such strong participation.
Other parties signing the letter to Congress included the American Petroleum Institute, Celona, Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, Edison Electric Institute, Energy Telecommunications and Electrical Association, Enterprise Wireless Alliance, Federated Wireless, Google, HP, Next Century Cities, Open Technology Institute at New America, Public Knowledge, Rural Wireless Association, Southern Line, Utilities Technology Council and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.
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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading