Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Marty Stern recently hosted in our Washington, D.C. office a Federal Communications Bar Association program on issues surrounding proposals to repurpose for 5G, satellite spectrum that is currently used by programmers for the delivery of video programming and other content to cable operators, broadcasters and others.  Known as the C-band, the spectrum is being sought by wireless broadband providers for 5G services and is the focus of a highly contentious and complex policy debate before the FCC and Congress on how to rapidly reallocate a portion of the band for 5G while still ensuring the uninterrupted delivery of programming content to the viewing and listening public.  Womble attorney Marty Stern organized the program together with E. Barlow Keener of the Summit Ridge Group.   

The program featured two industry panels.  The first, moderated by Keener, offered a broad overview on C-band policy issues.  The second, moderated by Stern, focused on the FCC’s role in auctioning a portion of the C-band to wireless carriers.  One of the key questions the panels focused on is the FCC’s authority to incentivize satellite operators to vacate the spectrum and move programmers to a smaller swath of the band, and the reimbursement mechanisms to cover the significant costs to satellite companies, programmers and their distributors related to the transition.

Stern noted that with a recent FCC announcement that it will hold a public auction for the sale of spectrum that would be vacated by satellite operators, as opposed to a private auction that had been proposed by satellite operators, “there are some real questions surrounding the mechanism by which satellite operators would retain funds from the sale beyond the payment by auction winners of relocation costs. While the FCC itself is considering these issues, there are also various bills being hotly debated in Congress to confirm the FCC’s authority.  No clear consensus has yet to emerge, with certain factions looking for a path to get something done before Congress recesses for the Holidays.”bc

The program drew an overflow crowd of over 70 attendees, garnered significant interest, and was widely covered in the communications trade press.  The FCC is expected to issue an initial C-band decision in early 2020.