By Matthew M. Polka
President and CEO, ACA Connects
In math, it’s important to show your work so the instructor knows you get it. It’s even more important when making important policy decisions in Washington, D.C., that will impact the future of wireless and video services for decades to come.
If I told you I had a plan to quickly free up spectrum for 5G, incentivize fiber deployment in unserved and underserved areas, and build a path for fast and widespread deployment of 5G, including to smaller communities in rural areas, you’d be right to ask some questions. You’d be right to ask for some proof. As it happens, there’s a plan in front of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that could do just that. And we’ve done the work to prove it.
In July, ACA Connects – America’s Communications Association, together with the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) and Charter Communications, proposed our 5G Plus Plan, a comprehensive proposal to free up a large portion of valuable C-band satellite spectrum for 5G wireless services. Through an FCC-led auction, at least 370 megahertz of C-band spectrum would be put to work for 5G, while raking in billions of dollars to the U.S. Treasury. A portion of these auction proceeds would be used to create a reliable, future-proof fiber distribution network for cable operators and video programmers so this industry can end their dependence on the C-band for transporting programming. Building this network would involve extensive deployment of new fiber in rural areas, which can be used to provide additional advanced services, and the creation of thousands of jobs. The 5G Plus Plan is the only proposal before the FCC that delivers this broad range of benefits to the American public.
Naturally, those groups most affected by the plan have sought assurances that the plan is right for them. Video programmers in particular have asked questions about the transition to fiber. Why go to fiber, when the C band already meets our needs for video transport? Will fiber give us the same reliability, capability, quality? Will we be reimbursed for all the costs we incur in the transition? And what will we have to pay to distribute our signals via fiber in the future?
Our members share an interest in preserving a healthy ecosystem for video delivery, so we took these questions very seriously. After dozens of individual conversations with more than 10 programmers of different sizes, and a series of webinars with even more, we supplemented our plan with additional details that incorporate programmers’ feedback. Among the changes, we have increased our proposed amount of reimbursable funds for programmers by approximately $800 million. We hope these amendments, filed with the FCC earlier this week, will give programmers an increased comfort with our proposal — and regulators the assurances they need to adopt with the 5G Plus Plan.
A hallmark of the 5G Plus Plan is reliability. We know that video programmers will not settle for a fiber network that is less reliable than the satellite service they rely on today to deliver video. Taking from the best practices of ultra-reliable networks that support critical communications services, we have proposed an architecture for the fiber network that would guarantee a level of reliability that is higher than what the C band provides.
Enhanced reliability is not the only benefit of the transition to fiber. The capacity available over fiber connections will allow programmers to offer their customers more and higher-definition video content. Fiber can also support new and innovative services, like virtual reality. The move to fiber also means no more worries about the risks of interference or the government seeking to reallocate more C-Band in the future. Because programmers’ operational costs of distributing their content via fiber will be cheaper than what they pay for satellite, they will be getting more, while paying less.
The wide-ranging benefits of the 5G Plus Plan are abundantly clear. The plan will turbo-charge deployment of 5G, expand fiber connectivity in rural America, create thousands of American jobs and collect billions in auction revenues for the U.S. Treasury. No other plan comes close to matching these benefits. And we have “shown our work.” Our recently filed supplement makes clear beyond doubt that the 5G Plus Plan the only proposal on record that appropriately balances the interests of all affected stakeholders – pay television providers and cable programmers, other C-band users, satellite companies, prospective 5G deployers, and the public at large. The FCC should pour some nitro to the nation’s 5G deployment engine by adopting and implementing the 5G Plus Plan without delay.