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Spectrum Policy

Getting it Right on C-band Spectrum Will Make 5G Available for More Americans

December 12, 2018

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The power and promise of 5G are helping drive the innovations of tomorrow. Whether it is allowing self-driving cars, enabling patients to be operated on by a doctor who may not be in the same room, let alone the same town, or providing a rural broadband solution, 5G technology is going to facilitate the interconnectivity of billions of devices in homes and offices with fast speeds and low latency unthinkable a few years ago. As a growing wireless leader, Charter is very excited about using 5G along with innovative WiFi and our advanced wireline network to deliver a future of ubiquitous connectivity.

Charter is focusing on an “Inside-Out” wireless strategy. We currently provide wireless connectivity to over 300 million wireless devices attached to our robust WiFi network, primarily inside the home and office. Charter recently launched Spectrum Mobile which combines Charter’s WiFi network with Verizon’s LTE network to offer our customers a reliable, high value mobile service. We are also currently conducting 5G and 4G-LTE trials of wireless technologies in both indoor and outdoor locations. These trials are informing the next step in our mobile evolution, integrating licensed small cells and 5G and other wireless technologies with our existing infrastructure to provide improved wireless service to our customers.

The FCC is currently considering options that will open the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (C-band) for terrestrial wireless use. There is widespread agreement that the C-band is important to 5G spectrum as it can provide both meaningful bandwidth capacity and favorable propagation characteristics. While we are excited about the possibilities of the neighboring 3.5 GHz (CBRS) band, it is limited in ways C-band spectrum isn’t. With wider channels that are not restrained by incumbents, C-band spectrum would enable new entrants like Charter to fully compete and help put 5G innovations in the hands of more Americans.

Charter, like other cable and satellite providers, currently relies on C-band spectrum to deliver video programming to over 16 million homes and almost 500,000 small and medium businesses across the country, including in rural and urban areas. Policymakers should seek to maximize the amount of spectrum in this band that can be made available for 5G while still protecting the delivery of programming to millions of consumers.

Speed is an important objective when it comes to winning the race to 5G. Because C-band spectrum is so important for delivering 5G, the allocation process needs to be as competitive, fair, and efficient as possible. Charter believes all of these objectives can be achieved by the FCC setting the rules and holding an auction on an expedited schedule.

The FCC, backed by Congress, has long recognized the benefit to the public of using market-based auctions to allocate spectrum to its highest and best value in a manner that is efficient and includes the broadest range of interested parties. A FCC-led auction of C-band spectrum will maximize the amount of spectrum that is made available and help ensure competition and deployment of 5G is widespread.

In addition, when the FCC reallocates the band for terrestrial wireless use, it will be worth much more than its current value because of the high demand for wireless spectrum.  Importantly, using a FCC auction to reallocate C-band spectrum therefore would see that the American taxpayer and incumbent users who will incur relocation costs are fairly compensated and put a check on current license holders using the process to reap a financial windfall.

Charter and others therefore have concerns about a never-been-tried-before approach to reallocate this valuable spectrum being put forward by the C-Band Alliance, a consortium of foreign owned satellite companies who are currently licensed to use the band. According to the plan, the C-Band Alliance, and not the FCC, would make far reaching decisions about who will get access to this important spectrum, how much of it should be allocated for 5G and whether there are any requirements to build out to rural areas.

Putting these decisions in the hands of private foreign companies with their own financial interests at play does not enable a free market assessment of the value and distribution of the assets, and there would be no consideration of the public interest. The C-Band Alliance’s current proposal limits the amount of spectrum that would be made available for 5G, potentially resulting in this incredibly valuable spectrum being concentrated in the hands of only a small number of wireless providers.

The race to 5G will not be won if access to C-band spectrum is allocated using an untested, backroom process designed to further the private financial interests of foreign companies. With a fast, fair and transparent auction, the FCC can continue to foster 5G and deliver the benefits to more American consumers.