Comcast has a shot at winning some of the more than 22K licenses that will be offered up in the FCC’s upcoming auction of Priority Access Licenses in the 3.5 GHz CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service). This week, the Wireless Telecom Bureau granted it a waiver to participate even though it has a controlling interest in fellow auction applicant Midco (the SD operator is 50% owned by Midcontinent Communications Investor and 50% owned by Comcast Midcontinent, an indirectly owned subsidiary of Comcast).
“Comcast and Midco have sufficiently demonstrated that, should they both apply, they will operate independently in the auction based on Comcast’s lack of management and decision-making control over Midco and the additional internal controls on communications they assert they have agreed to. Accordingly, we find that waiver of the rule is warranted because it will not undermine the rule’s purpose and will serve the public interest,” the Bureau said. Comcast’s participation wasn’t contested. The only comment in the proceeding came from NCTA, which naturally supported allowing its largest member to bid.
The FCC has delayed the CBRS auction until July 23, with upfront payments due June 19. The Besen Group, an international mobile industry data management consulting firm, has estimated that the spectrum auction will bring in $3.8bln with the average cost of $0.17 for MHz-POP for the continental US and Alaska. It has developed a spectrum evaluation tool for enterprises interested in participating in the auction.
Among cable operators, Charter has been pretty vocal in its interest in using CBRS technology to offload mobile data traffic from its MVNO with Verizon. “The CBRS spectrum really allows for a more efficient use of the mobile platform, at least the way we look at it,” Charter CEO Tom Rutledge said during the company’s 1Q20 earnings call last week. He was asked if the FCC’s decision to free up 1200 MHz of 6 GHz spectrum for WiFi would impact its valuation of CBRS. The short answer is no, with 6 Ghz to be used more in the home for a whole news set of wirelessly delivered products (all part of cable’s pitch as a connectivity provider).
“Although [CBRS] could be used indoors as well,” Rutledge added. “We see them as separate notions and separate values and … one hasn’t affected the other.” Charter has conducted trials across the country exploring fixed and mobile wireless access technologies using CBRS spectrum, including fixed trials focused on developing a rural broadband solution. Midco also has been active in CBRS testing and plans to use CBRS spectrum to deploy high-speed fixed LTE wireless broadband throughout its rural footprint.