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

The debate over a proposed private sale of valuable airwaves that are key to companies' 5G plans will get aired before Congress Thursday.

Why it matters: Midband airwaves are coveted for 5G service because they can carry more data than lower-frequency spectrum while traveling greater distances than high-frequency airwaves.

  • Satellite companies, wireless providers and nearly every other sector the FCC regulates have been wrangling for months over midband spectrum known as the "C-band."
  • A Morgan Stanley research note this month estimated the C-band spectrum is worth between $10 billion and $30 billion.

Driving the news: Republican Sen. John Kennedy is using his perch on the Senate appropriations financial services subcommittee to press FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on spectrum auction programs at a Thursday hearing.

State of play: A group of satellite providers is pushing the FCC to allow them to privately sell their spectrum licenses. But cable companies — and Kennedy — want the FCC to run a public auction, with a portion of the proceeds going to government coffers.

The players: Broadcasters and cable companies currently use the spectrum to receive programming and are worried about losing access.

  • Some of the foreign satellite operators that hold the licenses — Intelsat, SES and Telesat — formed the C-Band Alliance and pitched a plan to move their customers to a smaller portion of the spectrum and sell the extra airwaves for 5G services.
  • Verizon and AT&T see a private auction as the quickest path to buying the airwaves, although AT&T wants an auction to be run like a traditional FCC auction.
  • Meanwhile, small cable companies oppose the private sale and have offered an alternative proposal of their own, which Charter Communications also supports.

The big questions: How much spectrum will be freed up, who will run the auction, and whether any of the proceeds will end up in the U.S. Treasury.

  • The C-Band Alliance said it could free up 200 MHz of spectrum, but is revising that estimate after FCC commissioners called for 300 MHz to be made available.
  • CBA also said it would make a “contribution” to the U.S. Treasury, but have not said how much. Previous airwaves auctions run by the FCC have raised billions to pay down government debt.

Bottom line: The wireless industry says these airwaves are essential for U.S. 5G deployments, but an airwave auction that doesn't send sizable proceeds to the U.S. Treasury is proving to be a tough hurdle with Congress.

Go deeper

Texas Republicans pass new congressional maps in their favor

Photo: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Texas House voted 84-59 late Monday to approve new congressional district maps that reduce the number of districts with Black and Hispanic majorities, per the Texas Tribune.

Why it matters: The legislation comes after recent census figures found Texas' growing diverse population doesn't bode well for Republicans, who then worked to protect incumbents with the redrawn maps.

2 hours ago - World

North Korea's military fires another ballistic missile into sea

A woman in Seoul, South Korea, walks past a television image if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired at least one ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast on Tuesday, per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Pyongyang's latest in a series of recent missile launches happened hours after U.S. officials emphasized their commitment to restart negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which have stalled since talks broke down during the Trump administration, AP notes.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump sues National Archives, Jan. 6 committee to block records request

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block the National Archives from releasing White House records to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, citing executive privilege.

Why it matters: It's the latest escalation in Trump's campaign to disrupt the committee's sweeping probe into the circumstances surrounding Jan. 6, including his actions and communications leading up to the Capitol attack.