FCC Transitioning 3.7-4.2 GHz Spectrum for Wireless Broadband Service; FSS Operators Must Update FCC Database

The FCC recently released an Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to transition a substantial portion of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (“Band”), currently allocated to Fixed Satellite Service (“FSS”) and Fixed Service (“FS”) operators, to terrestrial wireless broadband use. While this proceeding will provide numerous opportunities for new uses of the spectrum, it will immediately have a major impact on incumbent earth station and satellite operators, as well as their end users.

The FCC has already imposed a temporary freeze on the filing of new or modified applications for space station, earth station and fixed microwave licenses, as well as receive-only earth station registrations in the Band. The FCC did, however, provide a short window of time, until October 17, 2018, to file applications to license or register existing earth stations in the Band.

In the Order, the FCC requires incumbent FSS earth station and space station operators to provide detailed information about their current operations.  In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), the FCC seeks comment on many issues pertaining to transition of the Band.  Comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register; reply comments are due 90 days after Federal Register publication.  We will post an alert when the comment deadlines are set.

The Order seeks additional information about current users of the Band.  Earth station operators are required to provide information for each antenna, some of which includes:

(a)        call sign (or IBFS file number if a registration is pending);

(b)        licensee and point of contact information;

(c)        geographic location and antenna operating parameters;

(d)        satellite(s) at which the earth station is pointed, transponder used and frequency of use;

(e)        certification that the earth station was constructed and operational as of April 19, 2018.

Satellite operators in the Band are also required to file information, including:

(a)        satellite call sign, name, orbital location and expected end-of-life;

(b)        approximate launch dates for additional C-band satellites with pending applications and which do not yet have pending applications;

(c)        active transponders and frequency of use to serve the United States;

(d)        center frequency and bandwidth of Telemetry Tracking and Command (“TT&C”) beams, and call sign and geographic location of TT&C receive sites.

In the NPRM, the FCC seeks comments on a variety of issues concerning transitioning the Band to terrestrial broadband use, as well as service rules for flexible use of the Band.  The FCC solicits information on many issues pertaining to three broad topics: (1) future incumbent usage of the Band; (2) proposed terrestrial use of the Band; and (3) service rules for flexible use of the Band.

  1. Incumbent Issues

The FCC seeks to protect incumbent earth stations in the Band from harmful interference as terrestrial use increases.  Some of the issues the FCC seeks to address are:

  • What types of incumbents are entitled to protection (g., should protection be limited to those with incumbents with up-to-date information in IBFS)?
  • What rights and obligations should those incumbents have?
  • What types of incumbents should be relocated by terrestrial licensee, if necessary, and what kind of relief are they entitled to?
  • Should the FCC revisit its “full band, full arc” policy, in which earth stations in the C-band are coordinated and authorized to use the entire band, across the full geostationary arc?
  1. Reallocating the Band for Terrestrial Use

The FCC proposes a number of different approaches to repurposing the Band, and seeks comment on a number of its proposals, including: 

  • Should the FCC adopt a market-based approach to transition incumbents from the Band (e., should FSS operators voluntarily make some or all of their spectrum available to terrestrial users in exchange for compensation)?
  • If a market-based approach is adopted, should a Transition Facilitator e., a cooperative entity created by relevant satellite operators) be employed to coordinate negotiations, clearing, and repacking the Band?
  • What auction approaches should the FCC consider in order to expand flexible uses of the Band?
  1. Service Rule for Flexible Use

            The FCC seeks feedback on what service and technical rules should be adopted, including:

  • Should the FCC license the Band under Part 27 of its rules that permits licensees to provide virtually any fixed or mobile service?
  • Are there any services that should not qualify for exclusive licensing in the Band?
  • What is the appropriate spectrum block size that would promote the most efficient use of the Band for 5G and other advanced wireless technologies?
  • The FCC proposes to license flexible-use spectrum on an exclusive, geographic area basis. What size should the service areas be?
  • What approach should the FCC take for licensing in the Gulf of Mexico?
  • What performance benchmarks should be adopted to ensure rapid and reliable coverage in a given service area? Should the FCC adopt alternative performance benchmarks for licensees providing IoT-type fixed and mobile services?
  • What technical rules for should be adopted for licensees operating in the Band, including: power limits for base stations, as well mobiles and portables; out-of-band emissions limits; and antenna heights limits?

This alert presents a very high-level overview of this very complex and critical proceeding.  The summaries presented herein are only the tip of the iceberg regarding the types of information solicited by the FCC. Because this proceeding concerns the allocation of coveted midband spectrum, the big telcos and other behemoths are working to claim their stake in it.  Consequently, it is imperative that small and rural telecom providers, as well as IoT suppliers make their voices heard.

We’ve seen this show before; most recently in the 3.5 GHz proceeding.  Recall that the original rules provided for very small, census tract service areas for the licensed portion of that midband spectrum.  Some large telcos lobbied for larger service areas, and the FCC commenced a second round of rulemaking addressing that issue.  A compromise favoring the large carriers could well be forthcoming.  Don’t let that happen this time – make your voices heard early on.

For further information, please contact Ronald E. Quirk, Head of The CommLaw Group’s Internet of Things and Connected Devices Practice Group at req@commlawgroup.com or 703-714-1305.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING DISCLAIMER: This information may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions under the applicable law and ethical rules. The determination of the need for legal services and the choice of a lawyer are extremely important decisions and should not be based solely upon advertisements or self-proclaimed expertise. No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers