Business & trade, Europe, New in Lobbying

Former telecomms agency chief registers to lobby for Luxembourg satellite giant in $15 billion 5G spectrum shakeup

The former head of the US Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has registered to lobby on a massive shakeup of the US electromagnetic spectrum on behalf of the US subsidiary of Luxembourg satellite giant SES SA months after he started advising the company.

David Redl’s consulting firm, Salt Point Strategies, registered to lobby for SES Americom Inc. effective June 1. Redl is slated to lobby on “issues related to C-Band auction” as the US government looks to incentivize satellite companies to free up space for next-generation 5G networks by moving to another part of the spectrum.

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 in late February on rules to auction off 280 megahertz of satellite C-band spectrum to 5G cellular networks by the end of the year. To help speed up the transition, satellite companies are eligible for $9.7 billion in incentive payments and up to $5.2 billion to cover the costs of new satellites and other technology to make the transition.

“We want satellite operators to vacate the lower portion of the C-band quickly,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in February. “And this transition will be much faster if we align the incentives of satellite operators with the incentives of wireless providers who want expedited access to that spectrum.”

The move however has sparked pushback on Capitol Hill. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) have introduced legislation to give the proceeds of the auctioned public spectrum to taxpayers.

“The real winners here are the American taxpayers who not only own the C-Band, but stand to reap the benefits of 5G,” Kennedy said in a statement when he introduced his bill in January. “Rather than bailing out foreign satellite companies, money from the auction of this spectrum should go to American priorities. This bill gives us the chance to pay down the national debt, improve public safety and get broadband to rural communities that are still handcuffed to dial-up internet.”

Companies on the other side of the debate include SES SA and Intelsat, also based in Luxembourg, along with Canadian satellite communications company Telesat, Paris-based Eutelsat and Brazil’s Claro. The FCC announced on June 1 that the five companies had committed to clear the band on an accelerated basis.

“Rather than bailing out foreign satellite companies, money from the auction of this spectrum should go to American priorities.”

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.)

Public records filed with the FCC by SES outside counsel Sheppard Mullin show Redl had been acting as an “adviser” to SES for months before his registration as a lobbyist. On Feb. 20, before the commission voted on the auction rules, Redl and SES CEO Steve Collar met with Pai and FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. Redl also participated in calls with SES and FCC officials in March and April.

Redl told Foreign Lobby Report that he registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) as stipulated by law and had no other comment. Since Redl left the federal government in the fall of 2019, Salt Point has registered to lobby for Facebook, Comcast, Broadcom, Broadnet, Hewlett Packard and ​Revolution Corporate Services.

Before the satellite companies struck out on their own in February, they had been working together as the C-Band Alliance, a now-defunct umbrella group comprising satellite companies SES, Eutelsat, Intelsat and Telesat that was formed in 2018. The group has been lobbying since October 2018. The alliance paid its advocacy head, Peter Pitsch, $250,000 in 2019; Hogan Lovells $150,000 in 2019; and Boulder Thinking $60,000 in 2019.