February 6, 2020 - 2:50 pm
By Ajit Pai | FCC Chairman

February 2, 2020 is a date that I will never forget. For starters, it was the first global calendrical palindrome in over 900 years. That's right. The 8-digit date 02-02-2020 reads the same forward and backwards in both MM-DD-YYYY and DD-MM-YYYY formats. Thanks to this quirk of the calendar, I will always be able to remember the exact date when the Kansas City Chiefs won their first Super Bowl of my lifetime.

And at the Commission's February open meeting in three weeks, I'm hoping to lock in some important dates to look forward to.

The first date is December 8, 2020. That is the day I am proposing to start an auction of 280 megahertz of spectrum in the so-called C-band. The C-band is a 500-megahertz swath of spectrum from 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz. It's mostly used by fixed satellite companies to beam content to video and audio broadcasters, cable systems, and other content distributors.

This mid-band spectrum is well-suited for 5G because it combines good geographic coverage and good capacity. And we can make available much of it because satellite companies don't need all 500 megahertz to continue providing the services they are providing today.

The Commission has been taking a close look at the possibilities for 5G in the C-band since we initiated a formal inquiry on mid-band spectrum in 2017, just a few months after I became Chairman. We launched a rulemaking to repurpose parts of the C-band in 2018. And this morning, I shared a proposal with my colleagues that would make a significant portion of this band available for 5G.

A few hours ago, I delivered a speech where I laid out my proposal in detail. The bottom line is that this would be the Commission's most significant action yet to repurpose mid-band airwaves for 5G. It would quickly free up a significant amount of spectrum for next-generation wireless services. It would generate significant revenue for the U.S. Treasury. And it would protect the services that are currently delivered using this spectrum.

In addition to the C-band order, the Commission's February meeting will also feature a public notice seeking comment on the procedures for the C-band auction. We propose auctioning the lower 280 megahertz of the C-band in 20-megahertz sub-blocks. And to reiterate what I mentioned earlier, this item proposes December 8, 2020 as the start date for bidding.

With these C-band proposals as the cornerstone, we have designated February 2020 as "Spectrum Month" at the Commission. This brings me to then next item on our agenda and the next important date.

Mark June 25, 2020, on your calendar, because that's when we intend to start the bidding in our auction of 70 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band.

I just said that the C-Band auction would be the Commission's most significant action yet to repurpose mid-band airwaves for 5G. But it's hardly the first. With the leadership of Commissioner O'Rielly, we modified our rules for Priority Access Licenses in the 3.5 GHz band to promote 5G deployment. And at our February meeting, the Commission will vote on final procedures for an auction of these licenses. Seven 10-megahertz channels will be made available, for a total of 70 megahertz of spectrum, and we will auction county-sized licenses. Thus, the FCC will offer over 22,000 licenses in this auction, which will be the most ever.

Spectrum Month isn't only about mid-band spectrum for 5G. We'll also consider a proposal to open up additional opportunities for unlicensed white space devices. These devices operate in slivers of spectrum in the TV broadcast bands and 600 MHz frequencies that are not being used for other authorized services. These airwaves have excellent propagation characteristics that make them particularly attractive for delivering communications services over long distance and thus well-suited to deliver wireless broadband services in rural areas.

Last May, Microsoft filed a petition requesting that the Commission provide additional flexibility for white space device operations in the TV bands. The Commission has been reviewing comments in response to this petition, and today, I'm proposing targeted changes to our white space device rules to provide improved broadband coverage that will benefit American consumers in rural and unserved areas while still protecting television broadcasters in the band.

All this talk of expanding access to broadband in rural and unserved areas brings me to the final key date we can start anticipating if the Commission acts this month.

Keep an eye on October 22, 2020, because that's when I'm proposing that we start bidding in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction. The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, adopted by the Commission just last month, is our biggest step ever to close the digital divide and bring digital opportunity to every corner of America. The new Fund will provide up to $20.4 billion over the next decade to support the deployment of high-speed broadband networks, with $16 billion available in Phase I to connect up to six million unserved homes and businesses in some of the least-served parts of the country. Today, I circulated a Public Notice that proposes the procedures to govern the Phase I auction. In addition to setting a start date, this Notice builds on the successes and lessons learned from the CAF Phase II auction to ensure that Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I is our most successful reverse auction yet.

It wouldn't be a monthly meeting without a new entry from our Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, and this month features two such items. We'll first consider a Report and Order that would modernize the carriage election notices that qualified low-power television stations and noncommercial educational translator stations send to multichannel video programming distributors. Instead of sending their notices by snail mail, broadcasters would send notices via e-mail, and after a one-time required notification, would only be required to send notice in the event of a change in election status. The Commission already adopted similar rules for full-power television broadcast stations in July 2019, and we would now bring LPTV and NCE translators into the digital age when it comes to notices.

In a second Media Modernization item, we're seeking comment on our rule requiring that cable operators maintain in their online public inspection file information regarding their attributable interests in video programming services. This rule was originally adopted to aid in compliance with channel occupancy limits. But the Commission's order setting those limits was reversed many years ago by the D.C. Circuit on constitutional grounds. So we're asking if this reporting requirement should be modified or eliminated altogether.

Rounding out our February agenda will be a proposal to enhance public safety through greater information sharing about communications outages. The FCC supports the nation's emergency response and preparedness efforts by collecting and providing timely information on significant communications outages. We collect this information through our Network Outage Reporting System and, during disasters, through our Disaster Information Reporting System. Given the sensitive nature of this data to both national security and commercial competitiveness, we treat this information as confidential. But during disasters, we make this information available to the Department of Homeland Security, which uses it to assess the needs of affected areas and to coordinate emergency response efforts with state and local first responders. Providing additional officials with more information could enhance response efforts and ultimately save lives. That's why the Commission will consider a proposal to establish an information-sharing framework that would provide access to outage information to state and federal agencies where needed for public safety purposes while also preserving confidentiality.

The Commission will be considering all eight of these items on February 28, 2020. Be sure to save that date, too!