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By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said on Monday he backs a public auction to free up spectrum in the C-Band, currently used mostly to deliver video programming to cable systems and other providers, for next-generation 5G wireless networks.
Pai said on Twitter he supports a public auction of 280 megahertz of the C-band.
"I'm confident they'll quickly conduct a public auction that will give everyone a fair chance to compete for this #5G spectrum, while preserving availability of the upper 200 MHz of the band for continued delivery of programming," he wrote on Twitter.
Many see C-band as the most likely short-term source of spectrum for 5G use, although it it is just one part of the spectrum that policymakers want to free up.
Major satellite service providers including Intelsat SA , Telesat and SES have proposed selling the spectrum privately to wireless carriers, arguing a private sale would make the spectrum available for 5G faster. But that has drawn criticism from some U.S. lawmakers.
Mid-band spectrum is critical for 5G because it offers "both geographic coverage and the capacity to transmit large amounts of data — a combination that is appealing to entrepreneurs and wireless consumers alike," Pai said in a letter to lawmakers.
He said the FCC "must make C-band spectrum available for 5G quickly," adding that he proposed "preserving the availability of the upper 200 megahertz of this band for the continued delivery of programming."
Verizon Communications Inc said in October it backed a private auction with "open and transparent auction procedures with proven guidelines and rules that are fair to all participants," calling it the "best and fastest way to put this important spectrum available for 5G."
Still, AT&T Inc said earlier this month a private auction could lead to extensive legal challenges and said the FCC would have to be closely involved in developing and supervising the auction. (Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Tom Brown)