Nov 18, 2019

Pai: FCC will auction coveted 5G spectrum

A photo of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaking into a microphone.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will direct his agency to auction sought-after airwaves for 5G services estimated to be worth up to $60 billion.

Why it matters: The path the FCC chooses will affect how quickly 5G services can be deployed using the airwaves, which are key for both wireless capacity and coverage, as well as how much of the money raised will go to the government.

Driving the news: In letters to key lawmakers Monday, Pai said he wants FCC staff to auction 280 megahertz of C-band spectrum for 5G services.

  • Pai said his decision is in line with his priorities of speed, generating revenue for the government, making a significant amount of spectrum available for 5G, and ensuring that current users are protected.
  • "With a quarter century track record of transparent and successful auctions, I am confident that [the commission] will conduct a public auction that will afford all parties a fair opportunity to compete for this 5G spectrum," Pai wrote.

Details: A group of satellite operators that currently hold the licenses formed the C-Band Alliance and pitched a plan to privately sell the airwaves for 5G services.

  • Some wireless companies, including Verizon, support a private sale as the fastest way to bring the airwaves to market. However, AT&T warned in a recent filing with the FCC that a private auction could become "mired in legal challenges, or to fail altogether."
  • Lawmakers — including Republican Sen. John Kennedy and House Energy and Commerce communications subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle — have called for the FCC to hold the auction, with proceeds going to the U.S. Treasury.
  • Kennedy has been particularly vociferous on the topic, holding a hearing with Pai to press him on the issue as well as giving two speeches on the Senate floor about his concerns with a private sale.

What's next: The FCC will have to vote on Pai's plan, the details of which have not yet been made public.

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