FCC wants extra info on C-Band scheme

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking the C-Band Alliance (of Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat) to clarify certain key points on the Alliance’s plan to reallocate 180 MHz of C-band (3.7-4.2 GHz) satellite spectrum to speed the roll-out of 5G over the US.

The FCC’s request, made on the eve of the important 2019 Satellite show in Washington DC, also implies that any speedy decision during Q2 on the proposal now looks unlikely. The FCC’s rules are that there’s now a 45-day response time (30 days for initial comments and a further 15 days for responses). Add on a period for reflection and decision-making and that takes everyone into Q3 at the very least.

SES has also seconded its VP of Communications, Markus Payer, to head up media and PR activity for the Alliance.

In essence, the FCC is mulling whether to approve the CBA’s ‘market-based approach’ to sell off the spectrum, or a full auction of the spectrum under FCC rules or some sort of hybrid. Additionally, the FCC is concerned over signal protection and interference risks even to signals to/from outside the US and asks what rights existing Earth station operators have, and finally what compensations might be paid to these operators.

The compensation question could prove to be expensive. The Small Satellite Operators (SSO), that is the operators which have been excluded from the Alliance, are seeking sums as large as $206,000 for each of the approximately 20,000 earth stations currently being served by the Alliance’s members.

The compensation would be payable to those satellite operators (Hispasat, ABS, etc) which are currently licensed by the FCC to beam capacity into the US – even though they currently have no customers. Consequently they are seeking a slice of the ‘windfall’ likely to flow to the CBA as compensation for giving up their spectrum usage rights.

The FCC asks: “We seek targeted comment on the extent to which satellite space station operators have enforceable rights against harmful interference from terrestrial stations in the C-band under their space station licenses and market access grants.  For C-band satellite space station operators, what is the scope of enforceable rights, if any, that they have under their space station licences and market access grants?”

Some non-participants in the CBA’s proposal (notably ABS, Hispasat and Embratel) have separately argued that any scheme properly compensates them because they will not then be able to sell spectrum over the US. Currently, they have no customers.

The CBA put out its response on May 3rd, saying: “The Public Notice’s purpose is to increase clarity on several topics as the FCC continues its work on the C-band clearing proceeding. Clearly, interference protection of satellite services is a key consideration. We look forward to responding to the Commission’s inquiries and working cooperatively to build consensus from the many stakeholders involved. We are convinced – and have received significant support – that our proposal is the best suited way to achieve both protection of the incumbent services to millions of US television households and an efficient clearing of C-band spectrum to enable an accelerated deployment of 5G in the US.”

It is quite likely that the CBA’s proposals will feature in discussions and panel sessions during the Satellite 2019 show in Washington, which opened May 7th.


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