Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-LA) led other Senate appropriators in tough questioning of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Tuesday over the agency’s plans to begin an auction of C-band licenses this December. Kennedy opposes the amount of money Pai plans to give incumbent satcos to reimburse them for moving from the lower to the upper portion of the band to clear some of the frequencies for wireless use.
Kennedy has been advocating for a legislative alternative, as had Democrats in both chambers. The FCC Democrats opposed the incentive payments. Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and GOP Whip John Thune (R-SD), however, say they’re happy with Pai’s approach.
The Commission is giving incumbent satcos close to $10 billion in incentive payments to exit the spectrum by 2021 and 2023, instead of the 2025 deadline the FCC set, Multichannel News reported.
During a Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee hearing, Kennedy asked Pai why the agency did not just use its authority to mandate they get off in 2021, particularly since it was already giving those operators over $4 billion in relocation costs, whenever they exit.
Pai said the spectrum had more value the earlier it was cleared and would draw a higher price at auction than if the wireless operators did not move out until 2025. Kennedy repeatedly returned to the point that the agency could have mandated satcos exit by 2021 and kept the early move incentives for rural broadband deployment.
Ranking subcommittee member Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), said the money going to the U.S. Treasury from the auction could be designated for rural broadband if Congress decides that. Pai agreed, according to the account.
Coons asked if the satcos agreed not to sue the FCC over the auction as part of the deal to exit early. Pai said no. Coons called the threat of litigation a critical issue. Smaller satcos are fighting the FCC’s ruling, Inside Towers reported. Pai said their case was “weak,” and the incentive payments “dramatically reduced” the risk of lawsuits by the larger carriers.