FCC Postponing 3.5 GHz Auction on Account of COVID-19; Agency Hopes to Keep 3.7-4.2 GHz Auction on Track

On March 25, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission announced a one-month postponement of the 3.5 GHz auction (3550-3650 GHz) in the Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service (“CBRS”), a.k.a. Auction 105. The Commission cited the need to protect the health and safety of Commission staff during the auction and [the ancillary benefit” that parties have additional time to prepare to participate.” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reiterated the agency’s commitment to hold the auction this summer. The band is the first in the so-called mid-band, a range of spectrum seen as critical to the roll out of 5G wireless applications. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly tweeted today that a further delay would be unlikely absent absolutely compelling circumstances. The start of the auction has been postponed to July 23, 2020, (from June 25, 2020), and the new short-form application filing window is April 23 through May 7, 2020.

The Commission also postponed indefinitely its Auction 106, which was set to begin April 28, 2020, and was selling through competitive bidding construction permits in the FM broadcast service.

So far, Auction 107, which will be used to license through competitive bidding 280 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz range, is still slated to begin December 8, 2020, and it is too early to suggest that the coronavirus pandemic will have an impact on timing. However, there is still something of a race against time. The regulatory framework for the band the FCC just adopted in its February 28, 2020, Report and Order is riddled with a sequence of deadlines until the auction begins, and the first dates are fast approaching. In an effort to keep things on track, the Commission has asked the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB’s”) for emergency review of the information collection requirements in certain rules adopted which impact impending deadlines, that require OMB’s approval under the Federal Paperwork Reduction Act. Tomorrow, March 26, 2020, the FCC is scheduled to publish in the Federal Register its notice seeking comment on several rules for purposes of OMB Review. We expect the resulting (30-day) comment date to be Monday, April 27, 2020. The rules for which the Commission seeks emergency review require eligible space station operators” that elect to commit to clear satellite operations in the 3700-4000 MHz band on the accelerated schedule set out in the Report and Order in exchange for accelerated relocation payments to make their written election with the Commission by May 29, 2020. Further, all space station operators with operations in the 3.7-4.2 GHz Band must submit their transition plans by which they would clear the band, whether on the accelerated or regular schedule, by June 12, 2020. The Commission hopes for expedited OMB review to permit these rules to become effective in a timely fashion and keep the rest of the schedule, which we describe in detail in a companion post, intact.