A top House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrat blasted a proposal before the Federal Communications Commission to let four foreign satellite companies sell their rights to airwaves sought by wireless carriers for 5G and potentially pocket billions of dollars.
It seems “irresponsible and unconscionable” for the agency “to give money to four different satellite companies when the broadband needs of our nation are so great,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said at a May 15 oversight hearing.
Intelsat S.A., SES S.A. and two other companies have formed a consortium to propose selling their rights to a portion of the airwaves to carriers in private transactions, which they say would be quicker than holding an airwaves auction—and help the U.S. beat China and other countries in the race to 5G. The agency is also considering whether to auction the airwaves instead.
At issue is a swath of airwaves known as the C-band, which are valued at tens of billions of dollars. Verizon Communications Inc. and other carriers say C-band spectrum is crucial to powering 5G networks. The airwaves are currently used to transmit TV programming between satellites and earth.
The satellite consortium didn’t immediately respond to a comment request.
Doyle, who chairs the panel’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said some of the proceeds from the sale of C-band airwaves should be used to support broadband infrastructure deployment in rural areas.
“I’ve seen this band valued as high as 70 billion dollars, and I think making a part of this band available for 5G service is important for meeting the nation’s mid-band spectrum needs,” Doyle said. “But given that so much of the country has no Gs, shouldn’t we try to use the value of this band to fund the deployment of broadband to unserved areas as well as to help with adoption and affordable?”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency is weighing the need to quickly repurpose the airwaves, amid concerns about proceeds. Pai said he’s faced pressure, including from lawmakers, to move faster to open up the airwaves for 5G.
“We have to trade off the time value of the spectrum, and the need for spectrum for broadband deployment, versus some of the concerns you’ve identified,” Pai said.
Democratic FCC commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks said the agency should consult with Congress before moving forward with a plan to repurpose the C-band.
Pai said waiting for Congress to pass legislation could lengthen the process for transition the C-band.
“My concern would be, with respect to waiting for Congress to legislate on this particular matter, is we’ve been criticized by some, including members of the commission, of not moving quickly enough to free up mid-band spectrum,” Pai said.
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) said she’s working on a bill aimed at being a “compromise consensus-based approach to rapidly reallocate this spectrum.”
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(Updated with Pai comment )