The Great Airwaves Robbery II

Will Taxpayers or Satellite Companies Receive $15-40 Billion?

Senator John McCain once described the free grant of digital TV channels to broadcasters as "one of the great rip-offs in American history. They used to rob trains in the Old West, now we rob spectrum."

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) later decided to give local TV stations a large share of the auction revenue from reallocating underutilized TV spectrum to mobile carriers, McCain spearheaded legislation (Auction Reform Act of 2002) that overturned the FCC’s order and ensured that all $20 billion in winning bids went to the U.S. Treasury. In 2012 Congress passed another bill authorizing an “incentive auction” for more TV spectrum that minimized payments to broadcasters (and returned $10 billion to the Treasury).

Fast forward to 2019: More high-quality spectrum is needed for emerging, ultra-fast ‘5G’ wireless networks, both mobile and fixed. This time the FCC wants to reallocate underutilized satellite spectrum in the C-Band (3700 – 4200 MHz). C-band currently carries live TV and radio programming from content producers to local stations and cable systems nationwide. In July the FCC opened a rulemaking that proposes to reallocate at least the bottom 200 MHz of C-band for exclusive licensing to mobile carriers and potentially others for emerging 5G wireless services.

The FCC is deciding whether the agency should conduct a public incentive auction – as it did for 600 MHz TV spectrum in 2017 – or, instead, to authorize a consortium of foreign satellite companies to sell the spectrum directly to mobile carriers. Under the proposal, the satellite companies could receive an estimated $15-to-40 billion or more for spectrum they licensed at no cost.

Please join us for this timely discussion on the future of spectrum auctions and 5G. Lunch will be served.

Follow the conversation online using #AirwavesRobbery and following@OTI.

Opening Remarks and Moderator:

Michael Calabrese, @MCalabreseNAF
Director, Wireless Future Project, Open Technology Institute at New America


Deborah Collier, @dcolliercagw
Director of Technology and Telecommunications Policy, Citizens Against Government Waste

Colleen King
Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Charter Communications

Ross Lieberman, @ROSSatACA
Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, American Cable Association

Staci Pies, @slaynepies
Senior Policy Counsel, Google LLC