C-Band spectrum: Private auctions are the quickest way for 5G consumer benefits
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Even if you’ve never heard of the “C-Band,” pending federal government decisions about what to do with it are almost certainly going to affect you. C-Band is critical mid-band spectrum that is the key to putting next-generation 5G wireless into the hands of U.S. consumers and businesses before our foreign competitors beat us to the punch.

5G is the state-of-the-art wireless technology that’s going to change the lives of consumers, employers, students and workers. It will connect everything from the devices that control your living and work environments to telemedicine tools that will enable remote health care treatments or even robotic surgeries performed by specialists thousands of miles away from the operating room. Smart Cities will be safer, less congested and cleaner, while smart grids are poised to save $1.8 trillion dollars in energy costs over the next seven years, and smart farms will grow the food we need to feed the rapidly growing global population.

5G will be a boon for consumers. The “Internet of Things” will provide us with more life-enhancing options than we could have imagined even just a few years ago, in diverse fields from entertainment, to distance learning, to virtual reality, to health care and so on. Superfast, low-latency 5G will make it possible to watch high-def videos on your handheld device, in your self-driving car, while you’re dropping off the kids at their high-functioning, Virtual Reality-empowered school.

As China, South Korea and Europe aggressively look to get this mid-band spectrum deployed, it is crucial for America to keep ahead. It is the race to 5G, and the nations that win stand to gain huge advantages.

Obviously, the economic benefits of the technologies 5G will make possible are essentially limitless. The economics on this is clear -- just developing the network to deploy 5G will generate $275 billion in private sector U.S. telecom investments, create more than 3 million new jobs for American workers, add $533 billion to the U.S. economy, and provide American consumers $1.2 trillion in benefits.

To deploy 5G, wireless providers need to have access to more radio spectrum, which is allocated by the FCC. The C-Band represents 500 megahertz (MHz) of mid-band spectrum, which can be quickly repurposed for 5G without disrupting the existing satellite radio and video services it currently supports.

There are different schools of thought about the best way to make the C-Band available to wireless providers, but the most practical proposal comes from a group called the C-Band Alliance (CBA). The CBA wants to reallocate a significant amount of the C-Band spectrum through private auctions, a method that will quickly put it to work for consumers. Concerns about the lack of public revenue this plan would generate have been put to rest by the CBA’s strong pledge to make significant contributions to the U.S. Treasury from auction proceeds.

None of the other plans currently being considered by the FCC would clear C-Band spectrum as rapidly as the CBA’s. In fact, a government-run auction, with all of its delays and required rulemaking, would add another three or more years to get this spectrum to market, compared with private auctions. That is too late.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on the C-Band, entitled “Repurposing the C-Band to Benefit All Americans.” On behalf of consumers everywhere, our hope is lawmakers will listen carefully to the arguments in support of C-Band private auctions and use their influence with the FCC to move the CBA’s plan forward.

Steve Pociask is president and CEO of the American Consumer Institute, and chair of the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee. The views expressed here are solely his own.