US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai defended a plan to pay satellite service providers billions to free C-Band (3.7GHz to 4.2GHz) spectrum for 5G, as politicians slammed the scheme for setting a bad precedent and mulled legislative action to correct perceived defects.

Last month, the FCC approved a plan offering satellite companies reimbursement for relocation costs and up to $9.7 billion in incentives to rapidly free up 280MHz of spectrum in the band.

During a congressional hearing, Senator John Kennedy questioned why the FCC is offering satellite companies billions “to do what they’re required to do anyway”. Pai said the offer was made based on the value mobile operators placed on gaining early access to the spectrum for 5G.

In response to a question from Senator Chris Coons about whether he was confident the package would help clear the spectrum faster and avoid litigation from satellite companies, Pai said “we believe it will work”.

But Kennedy pointed out small satellite companies already stated they will take the case to court: “If you’re going to be sued anyway, I don’t understand why you just don’t get tough.”

“We’re setting a precedent here. Spectrum is a finite resource…You know what’s going to happen the next time we have to go to someone and move them? They’re going say pay me or trade me. That’s why it’s very important we get this $10 billion figure right”.

Coons hinted Congress might step in to correct the FCC’s path, asking Commissioners to explain what they believe would need to be included in potential legislation to eliminate the need for incentive payments and minimise the threat of litigation.