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Auction 107 (C-band)

The C-band paper has been a long-term research project between eight OSSTP members, but what is the C-band? The C-band is a valuable range of frequency between 3-8 GHz, and it is valuable because its lower half serves as an ideal balance between wireless range as well as speed. Traditionally, satellite operators controlled large swaths of the lower C-band, but the advent of the fifth generation of cellular communication standards (5G) posed an alternative potential for this spectrum. Cellular carriers could use this ideal frequency in conjunction with 5G technology to vastly improve speeds and coverage for their customers. At the same time, technological innovations in transmission, receivers, and filters meant that satellite operators could maintain the same operations in a much smaller piece of bandwidth. Seeing this potential for better use of spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) facilitated the C-band auction (auction 107).


Map of Different Bidding Zones in Auction 107

Auction 107 was revolutionary both for its process and results. The process was unusual because the FCC decided to forgo an initial reverse auction to decide how much to reimburse incumbent operators. As its name suggests, a reverse auction occurs when a buyer sets a lower and lower price until there is one supplier left. This was not possible because satellite operators do not have interchangeable rights to frequency, so it was impossible to have multiple suppliers. Therefore, the FCC decided on a lump sum reimbursement amount with an additional accelerated relocation payment. The accelerated relocation payment was meant to encourage incumbent satellite operators to clear the spectrum as fast as possible, something never before used in a spectrum auction. 


Timeline of Auction 107

It is rare to see an auction with so many different new processes. Therefore, our research team was interested in understanding the outcome of this auction as well as how these changes may have contributed to them. All in all, Auction 107 can be considered a resounding success with over $80 billion dollars in bids from cellular carriers. Our research found that cellular carriers paid 15% more on average to receive licenses available on an accelerated timeline. Furthermore, we found that the accelerated relocation payment succeeded in encouraging all satellite operators to clear their respective spectrum by the first deadline, meaning this auction could serve as a model for future space-to-terrestrial use transitions. Our team of researchers presented our initial results at the Telecommunication Policy Research Conference (TPRC) 2022 conference in Washington D.C. 


Student Researchers at the 2022 TPRC Conference

This was an amazing experience where our researchers were able to hear feedback from fellow academics as well as industry or government experts. The comments received at this conference were incorporated into the final version of the paper, which is now in submission to the journal of information and policy. 

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