CommLaw Monitor News and analysis from Kelley Drye’s communications practice group Sat, 20 Apr 2024 10:32:57 -0400 60 hourly 1 FCC’s December Meeting Agenda Includes Emergency Alerts, Satellite Broadband and E-Rate Items Sun, 12 Dec 2021 14:31:31 -0500 The FCC released a streamlined agenda for its next Commission Open Meeting, scheduled for December 14, 2021. The agency will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) and Notice of Inquiry regarding how to improve the clarity and accessibility of Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) visual messages to the public, including persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and to seek comment on other EAS improvements, such as redesigns to enable matching visual and audio alert content (“EAS NPRM”). The FCC will next address an Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would grant a petition for rulemaking filed by Space Exploration Holdings, LLC (“SpaceX”) to amend the spectrum sharing rules applicable to non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service (“NGSO FSS”) systems (“Satellite Spectrum Sharing NPRM”). The commissioners will close the meeting by considering a NPRM that would propose to establish a central bidding portal through which service providers would submit their bids to the E-Rate program administrator, the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) (“E-Rate NPRM”).

You will find more information about the items on the December meeting agenda after the break:

Improving Accessibility and Clarity of Emergency Alerts - The EAS NPRM would propose rules to improve the accessibility and clarity of visual messages distributed to the public through the EAS, which advises the public of emergency alerts issued by government entities. The EAS is comprised of a legacy broadcast system that can only relay audio messages and an internet-based Common Alerting Protocol (“CAP”) system that can relay audio, text and visual messages. Due to the fact that alert initiators using the legacy EAS have some discretion regarding the content of the alert message while EAS participants that use video (such as broadcast or cable television operators) must rely on codes embedded in alerts to create a visual message (usually text), the audio and visual messages associated with the alerts may not match. To improve the clarity of EAS test messages, the EAS NPRM would propose the use of the following script as the visual message for all legacy EAS nationwide tests: “This is a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency covering the United States from [time] until [time]. This is only a test. No action is required by the public.” For EAS participants that receive an alert from the CAP system, the FCC would propose to change the nationwide EAS test event code that alert initiators include in the alerts so that the following language is displayed in all visual messages: “Nationwide Test of the Emergency Alert System.” The EAS NPRM would also seek comment on how the legacy EAS can be improved to enable alert originators to relay visual text that matches the audio message and how the EAS can be modified to support greater functionality and accessibility.

Facilitating Satellite Broadband Competition – The Satellite Spectrum Sharing NPRM would grant a petition for rulemaking from SpaceX requesting revisions to the spectrum sharing requirements among NGSO FSS systems. The FCC considers applications for NGSO FSS system licenses, which are used to provide broadband services, in groups based on filing date under a processing round procedure. All NGSO FSS system operators within a processing round that are granted a license must comply with the FCC’s spectrum sharing rules and coordinate with each other in good faith to use commonly authorized frequencies. If the NGSO FSS system operators in a processing round are unable to come to a coordination agreement, then a default spectrum-splitting procedure applies. The Satellite NPRM would propose that the spectrum sharing requirement only be applicable to NGSO FSS systems approved in the same processing round. The FCC would seek comment on a rule that would protect systems processed in an earlier round from being subjected to a certain level of interference from systems processed in a subsequent round and on whether interference protection should end after a period of time. To facilitate analysis of potential interference, earlier-round NGSO FSS system operators would be required to share data regarding their beam locations with later-round NGSO FSS system operators subject to confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements.

Promoting Fair and Open Competitive Bidding in the E-Rate Program – The E-Rate NPRM would propose changes to the E-Rate program rules to improve program integrity. The Schools and Libraries program, or E-Rate, funded by the Universal Service Fund, provides discounted telecommunications and broadband services and equipment to eligible schools and libraries (referenced as E-rate “applicants”). To obtain services and equipment through the E-rate program, an applicant must conduct a competitive bidding process among interested service providers that is commenced by submission of FCC Form 470 to USAC, which then posts the form to its website. Applicants consider bids received directly from interested service providers and then seek funding to pay their chosen service providers by filing an FCC Form 471 with USAC. The E-Rate NPRM would recommend the establishment of a bidding portal through which service providers would provide competitive bidding documentation. The FCC would seek comment on whether applicants also should be required to use the portal to submit other documentation, such as bid evaluation matrices, questions from bidders, and contract documents. In addition, the E-Rate NPRM would ask whether service providers should be required to wait a certain period of time before they could access service providers’ bids. Finally, the E-Rate NPRM would request comment on various issues related to the proposed portal, including how the E-rate’s existing portal could be leveraged to accept service providers’ bids, whether any procurement laws or technical issues would preclude or limit the use of a bidding portal and whether the portal should be used as a repository of documents for purposes of meeting recordkeeping requirements.

FCC Highlights Reallocating the 5.9 GHz Band at November Open Meeting Tue, 17 Nov 2020 17:35:47 -0500 Headlining the FCC’s next open meeting, scheduled for November 18 is an item to adopt proposed rules to reallocate the 5.9 GHz band. The FCC would repurpose the lower 45 megahertz of the band for unlicensed use, while retaining the upper portion of the band for Intelligent Transportation Systems (“ITS”) operations and transitioning to Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (“C-V2X”) technology. The Commission plans to seek additional comment on proposed technical rules for outdoor unlicensed use and on implementation timelines for transitioning to C-V2X. The November meeting will also consider two satellite items. The FCC plans to streamline its satellite licensing rules by creating an optional unified license system for satellite and earth station operations, and will propose a new allocation in the 17 GHz band for Fixed Satellite Service (“FSS”) space-to-Earth downlinks. Additionally, the Commission will propose expanding the contribution base for the Telecommunications Relay Services (“TRS”) Fund.

FCC regulatory will likely slow in the aftermath of the election and with an upcoming change in Administration. However, the Commission tees up two new rulemaking proceedings with the November agenda, signaling that the FCC may still be moving forward with policy initiatives going into a transition period. You will find more details on the most significant November meeting items after the break:

Reallocating the 5.9 GHz Band: The draft First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Order of Proposed Modification (“FNPRM”) would adopt rules to repurpose the 5.9 GHz (5.850-5.925 GHz) band. The Order would repurpose 45 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.850-5.895 GHz portion of the band for unlicensed use and allow for immediate unlicensed indoor operations. It would designate the upper 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.895-5.925 GHz band for ITS service, and require ITS operations to cease operations in the lower portion of the band within one year of the Order’s effective date. The Commission would also require the transition of the ITS radio service standard from Dedicated Short-Range Communications (“DSRC”) technology to C-V2X technology. The FNPRM would propose technical rules for outdoor unlicensed operations in the 5.850-5.895 GHz band once ITS operations have transitioned out of this portion of the band, and would seek comment on the implementation timelines and technical parameters for transitioning all ITS operations in the revised ITS band to C-V2X-based technology.

Further Streamlining of Satellite Regulations: The draft Report and Order would streamline the Commission’s satellite licensing rules by creating an optional framework for authorizing space stations and blanket-licensed earth stations through a unified license. The unified license would be available to systems operating above 10 GHz, and would eliminate redundancies in the separate licensing process and accelerate new earth station deployment. The FCC would streamline application requirements by allowing applicants to certify compliance with satellite licenses and would eliminate certain reporting requirements. The Order would additionally align buildout periods for qualifying earth stations and the satellites with which they communicate to allow for increased coordination.

Facilitating Next Generation Satellite Services in the 17 GHz Band: The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) would propose to allow use of the 17.3-17.7 GHz band by geostationary satellite orbit (“GSO”) space stations in the FSS in the space-to Earth (downlink) direction on a co-primary basis with incumbent services, aimed at increasing use and efficiency of the 17 GHz band. The Commission would propose to permit limited GSO FSS use of the 17.7-17.8 GHz band on a non-protected basis for fixed service operations. The NPRM would additionally propose technical parameters for an extended Ka-band, and would propose to apply certain uplink power limits to GSO FSS uplink transmissions in the extended Ka-band to protect GSO FSS space stations from interference.

Expanding the Contribution Base for Accessible Communications Services: The draft NPRM would propose to amend the Commission’s rules to update the funding mechanism for the TRS Fund, and expand the contribution base for Internet-based TRS to Video Relay Service (“VRS”) and Internet Protocol (“IP”) Relay Service. The FCC would propose to expand the contribution base for these services to include intrastate revenues from telecommunications carriers and VoIP service providers. The NPRM would propose to calculate these TRS Fund payments to support VRS and IP Relay by applying a single contribution factor for all three Internet-based services to a contributor’s total end-user revenues, combining both intrastate and interstate revenues. The Commission would seek comment on its implementation proposals and on any alternative approaches for the contribution calculation.

FCC Plans to Realign 900 MHz Land Mobile Band to Include Commercial Broadband Mobile Licenses and Expand Frequencies Available to Earth Stations in Motion at May Meeting Tue, 12 May 2020 17:28:37 -0400 At its May Open Meeting on May 13, 2020, in addition to items on regulatory fees and broadcaster applications notices, the Commission will consider two spectrum related items designed to further expand wireless broadband opportunities. In a draft Report and Order to transition the 900 MHz Band, the Commission would make six of the ten megahertz between 896-901 and 935-940 MHz available on a paired basis for commercial broadband mobile services while reserving four megahertz for incumbent narrowband communications. The Commission would also establish a transition mechanism based on voluntary negotiations to move narrowband incumbents operations to the lower and upper portions of each sub-band. In a draft Second Report and Order, the Commission would add new Ku- and Ka-Band frequencies for Earth Stations in Motion (“ESIMs”) and allow ESIMs, which have always communicated with geostationary orbit (“GSO”) fixed satellite service (“FSS”) satellites, to also communicate with non-geostationary satellite orbit (“NGSO”) satellites orbiting closer to Earth.

Stakeholders in the 900 MHz and Ku- and Ka-Bands should closely examine these two items and the impact on their business. You will find more information on the key May meeting items after the break:

900 MHz Transition: The Commission will consider a draft Report and Order that would realign the 900 MHz Band (896-901/935-940 MHz) to make available six megahertz of low-band spectrum (897.5-900.5/936.5-939.5 MHz) for Part 27 broadband mobile services and technologies, while reserving the remaining four megahertz of the band (896-897.5/935-936.5 MHz and 900.5-901/939.5-940 MHz (the “Narrowband Sub-Bands”) for continued narrowband Part 90 Business and Industrial Radio Private Land Mobile Radio Services that has until now occupied the entire Band. The draft Report and Order would establish a transition mechanism, based primarily on negotiations between prospective broadband licensees and narrowband incumbents, but also allowing a 900 MHz broadband licensee, once certain conditions are satisfied through voluntary relocations, to relocate mandatorily a small number of incumbents (except those with complex systems) by providing comparable facilities and reimbursing incumbent costs. The draft Report and Order would provide that any transition to a broadband segment should not disrupt or harm incumbent narrowband uses of the band. In the Narrowband Sub-Bands, 158 paired 12.5 kilohertz channels would remain available for continued narrowband operations. The draft item would also address license application requirements, transition procedures, and operating and technical rules that will apply to the new Part 27 licensees.

If adopted, the new rules and requirements would be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, with the exception of the application and performance reporting requirements, which contain new or modified information collections that require review by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act.

ESIMs Reorganization: The Commission will consider a draft Second Report and Order to expand the frequency bands available to ESIMs that provide satellite communications to ships, vehicles, trains and aircraft, and advance regulatory consistency between GSO and NGSO bands available to ESIMs. The draft Second Report and Order would expand on the First Report and Order to allow ESIMs to use the following bands to communicate with GSO satellites with certain limitations.

  • GSO ESIMs in the Extended Ku-band: The draft order would allow communications from GSO FSS satellites to ESIMs in the 10.7-10.95 GHz and 11.2-11.45 GHz bands, where ESIMs are receive-only, on an unprotected basis with respect to non-Federal fixed service stations that have primary status in the bands. A requirement to protect radio astronomy in the bands would also apply to ESIM operations.
  • GSO ESIMs in the Ka-Band: The draft order would allow ESIMs to receive signals from GSO FSS satellites on a secondary basis in the 17.8-18.3 GHz band and on a primary basis in the 19.3-19.4 and 19.6-19.7 GHz band; and allow ESIMs to operate with GSO FSS satellite networks in the 18.8-19.3 GHz and 28.6-29.1 GHz bands on an unprotected, non-interference basis with respect to NGSO FSS satellite systems.
ESIMs have historically communicated with GSO satellites, but the draft item would also adopt a regulatory framework for ESIMs to communicate with NGSO FSS satellites in the Ku- and Ka-bands, including blanket earth station licensing (as opposed to individual licensing for terminals) for ESIM networks and common self-monitoring and network monitoring and control requirements.
  • NGSO ESIMs in the Ku- and Ka-Bands: The framework would also allow ESIMs to operate with NGSO FSS satellites in the 18.8-19.3 GHz and 28.6-29.1 GHz band on a primary basis and in the 11.7-12.2 GHz, 14.0-14.5 GHz, 18.3-18.6 GHz, 19.7-20.2 GHz, 28.35-28.6 GHz and 29.5-30 GHz bands on a primary basis (except they may not cause harmful interference to, or claim protection from, GSO FSS networks). ESIMs would be permitted to receive signals from NGSO FSS satellites in the 10.7-11.7 GHz, 19.3-19.4 GHz and 19.6-19.7 GHz bands on an unprotected basis with respect to non-Federal fixed service stations and in the 17.8-18.3 GHz band on a secondary basis.
If adopted, the new rules and requirements would be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

FCC Seeks Further Information About Satellite Use of C-Band from FSS Space and Earth Station Operators Mon, 29 Apr 2019 17:23:40 -0400 The FCC is requiring fixed-satellite service (“FSS”) operators to provide the Commission with information about their current use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (“C-Band”) by May 28, 2019, according to a Public Notice released jointly earlier this month by the FCC’s International Bureau, Wireless Bureau, and Office of Engineering and Technology. The FCC will use the information to consider potential rules that allow new commercial terrestrial services in the Band while protecting incumbent satellite and earth station operators. The Band is currently allocated to FSS and the fixed service, but the Commission has proposed adding a mobile, except aeronautical mobile, allocation, which would allow commercial wireless providers to operate 5G services in the Band. The amount of spectrum to be reallocated or shared, the extent of protection for incumbents, and the means of protection for incumbents are all, as yet, undetermined, and they are topics of substantial debate among stakeholders.

Unless exempt, licensed and registered FSS earth station operators in the Band, including operators of temporary-fixed or transportable earth stations (those remaining at a location less than 6 months), must provide a signed certification, in a form prescribed in the Public Notice, of the accuracy of all information reflected on their licenses or registrations in the International Bureau Filing System (“IBFS”). Filers may seek confidential treatment. Earth station operators are exempt from this filing requirement if they filed for new or modified licenses or registrations between April 19 and October 31, 2018, using the processes set up by the FCC as an exception to the licensing freeze the FCC issued on April 19, 2018.

The Commission’s requirement that these pre-existing licenses or registered earth station operators will allow the FCC to update its information on those who did not license or register after the April 19, 2018, date. Approximately 15,000 took advantage of that earlier opportunity.

The foregoing exemption does not apply to temporary-fixed or transportable earth station operators.

Such operators that are licensed or registered must provide the FCC with the following information regardless of when they were licensed or registered:

  • Call sign (or IBFS file number if they filed a registration between April 19 and October 31, 2018, and the registration is pending);
  • Address where the equipment is typically stored;
  • Area within which the equipment is typically used;
  • How often the equipment is used and the duration of such use;
  • Number of transponders typically used in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band and extent of use on both the uplink and downlink; and
  • Licensee/registrant and POC information.
All earth station operators would benefit from being reminded that they must update their information in IBFS if there is a change in contact information or any of the station’s operational parameters.

The Commission also seeks information from satellite operators. Operators with existing FSS space station licenses or market entry grants that currently serve or are authorized to serve United States markets must provide the following information:

  • Satellite call sign, name, and orbital location;
  • Expected end-of-life for satellite;
  • Each C-band satellite planned for launch to serve the United States market, with the approximate date of the launch anda note on whether the satellite is a replacement, whether or not the there is a currently pending application in IBFS;
  • Center frequency and bandwidth of the Telemetry Tracking and Command (“TT&C”) beam(s); and
  • Call sign and geographic location (using NAD83 coordinates) of each TT&C receive site.
Additionally, for each transponder on each operational satellite serving United States customers using the C-Band, space station operators must provide the following:
  • The frequency range of the transponder and the transponder number for the most recent month;
  • The total capacity (megahertz) and in terms of the number of megahertz on each transponder that are currently under contract for the most recent month and for one month in 2016;
  • For each day in March 2019, the average percentage of each transponder’s capacity (megahertz) utilized and the maximum percentage of capacity utilized on that day (parties may supplement this required daily data with historical trend data over recent months up to three years to show utilization variances, but they must also provide the date range for which the data was collected); and
  • For all data reported regarding capacity under contract and capacity utilization, the percentage, if any, for customers outside of the United States for the most recent month.
The Commission originally adopted the information collection requirements in a July 2018 Order, but the effectiveness of the requirements were suspended pending approval from the Office of Management and Budget, which was granted on January 28, 2019.

As issues continue to play out in the FCC’s 3.7-4.2 GHz proceeding, how the Commission ultimately proposes to protect existing licensed and registered Earth stations and related satellites will be closely watched and lobbied intensely.

FCC Sets Stage for Next Spectrum Incentive Auction at April Open Meeting Wed, 27 Mar 2019 17:01:58 -0400 It’s once again full speed ahead on spectrum and 5G deployment at the FCC, as the agency plans to take action at its next open meeting scheduled for April 12, 2019 on a slew of measures aimed at making additional millimeter wave (“mmW”) frequencies available to support 5G wireless technologies, the Internet of Things, and other advanced services. Topping the agenda, the agency expects to propose procedures for the simultaneous auction of spectrum for commercial wireless services in three mmW bands encompassing 3400 megahertz. As we previously reported, the proposal would clear the way for the FCC’s second-ever incentive auction (the first being the March 2017 broadcast spectrum incentive auction) designed to clear out incumbent licensees by offering payments in exchange for relinquishing current spectrum holdings. The agency also anticipates reforming access to mmW bands to facilitate the auction and extending long-standing protections for over-the-air reception devices (“OTARD”) to hub and relay antennas essential to 5G network deployment. Rounding out the major actions on the April agenda, the FCC plans to forbear from certain legacy long-distance regulations in the face of increased competition and eliminate the controversial rural “rate floor” for high cost universal service support.

You will find more details on the significant April meeting items after the break:

Spectrum Incentive Auction: The draft Public Notice would propose auction application and bidding procedures for licenses in the Upper 37 GHz (37.6-38.6 GHz), 39 GHz (38.6 GHz-40.0 GHz), and 47 GHz (47.2-48.2 GHz) bands. In the first auction phase, participants would bid for generic 100 megahertz blocks in the three mmW bands. The first auction phase also would determine the amount of incentive payments due to incumbent licensees that opted to relinquish their existing spectrum holdings. The second auction phase would establish the specific frequency assignments awarded to the auction winners. The actual number of licenses available for auction is not yet settled and will depend upon how many incumbent licensees previously agreed to give up their existing spectrum holdings for payment or accept modified licenses. The FCC would announce the particular licenses available at auction in advance of the auction application deadline. The FCC expects to complete the auction by the end of 2019.

37 GHz/50 GHz Band Access: The draft Order would facilitate the auction of the Upper 37 GHz band by establishing procedures for the Department of Defense (“DOD”) to operate in this spectrum on a shared basis with commercial wireless operators under limited circumstances. Specifically, the FCC would review DOD requests to use Upper 37 GHz band frequencies, contact potentially-affected commercial wireless licensees, and help coordinate shared usage, if possible. The draft item also would permit the licensing of Fixed-Satellite Service earth stations to transmit in the 50 GHz (50.4-51.4 GHz) band to potentially provide faster, more advanced services.

OTARD Reform: The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would reform the FCC’s OTARD rule, which currently protects only end-user antennas (e.g., satellite TV dishes) from state, local, or private restrictions. Under the FCC’s proposal, the OTARD protections would be extended to hub or relay antennas used by fixed wireless providers that represent the backbone of emerging 5G networks. The FCC would seek input on how reforming the OTARD rule would impact small antenna infrastructure deployment, particularly in rural areas. The FCC anticipates retaining OTARD rule exceptions for state, local, and private restrictions on antennas based on public safety issues or historic preservation objectives, so long as the restrictions are not overly burdensome and apply in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Legacy Regulation Forbearance: The draft Order would partially grant a petition filed by USTelecom asking the FCC to forbear from enforcing certain legacy long-distance service regulations applicable to former Bell Operating Companies (“BOCs”) and other incumbent carriers. First, the FCC would no longer require incumbent rate-of-return carriers to offer long-distance service through a separate affiliate. Second, the FCC would grant incumbent carriers relief from the “provisioning interval” requirement obligating them to fulfill telephone exchange service and exchange access requests within the same period that they provide such services to affiliated entities. Third, the FCC would refrain from requiring incumbent carriers to submit reports about their legacy “special access” services. Finally, the FCC would eliminate a BOC-specific requirement to provide nondiscriminatory access to poles, conduits, and rights-of way, finding the obligation duplicative of a similar access rule already imposed on all local exchange carriers. The FCC plans to hold off on USTelecom’s request that it forbear from enforcing its incumbent carrier network element unbundling and resale mandates, but the agency likely will take up this issue before the end of the year.

Rate Floor Elimination: The draft Order would abolish the USF “rate floor” that limited the amount of Connect America Fund support received by some rural carriers to build and maintain networks in underserved areas. Today, if a carrier elects to charge its customers less than the rate floor set by the FCC for voice service, the difference between the amount charged and the rate floor is deducted from the amount of USF support received by the carrier. The FCC plans to conclude that this process results in artificially-inflated rates for rural customers and should be eliminated, along with all of the rate floor’s associated reporting and customer notification requirements. The FCC previously froze the rate floor for two years while it considered reforms and the rule’s elimination would prevent a nearly 50% increase in the rate floor scheduled to take effect in July 2019.

FCC Consolidates Rules and Extends Frequency Bands for Mobile Earth Stations on Aircraft, Ships and Vehicles Mon, 15 Oct 2018 15:01:11 -0400 At its open meeting on September 26, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) unanimously voted to adopt a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to consolidate the agency’s rules governing three different types of mobile earth stations that operate in the Fixed Satellite Service (“FSS”) and communicate with geostationary satellites (“GSOs”). The consolidated rules will apply to all categories of Earth Stations in Motion (“ESIMs”). More importantly, the Commission extended the frequency bands on which ESIMs can operate on a primary basis into the conventional Ka-band. It also seeks comment in the FNPRM on expanding ESIMs operations into additional spectrum in the Ku-band and Ka-bands, potentially on a secondary or unprotected basis. However, the Commission left addressing ESIM operations with non-geostationary satellite orbit (“NGSO”) FSS systems for a separate NPRM.

Rule Consolidation

In this Report and Order, the FCC consolidates its heretofore separate Part 25 rules governing Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (“ESAAs”), Earth Stations on Vessels (“ESVs”), and Vehicle-Mounted Earth Stations (“VMESs”) into a single rule section covering technical and operational requirements for all ESIMs. The new rules will be broken down into (1) core rules applicable to all ESIMs, (2) vehicle-type specific rules across multiple frequency bands, (3) frequency-band specific status and coordination rules, and (4) vehicle-type specific rules that apply to a single frequency band. The proposal by the FCC to consolidate these already similar ESAA, ESV and VMES rules was uncontroversial and should streamline the ESIMs license application and review process somewhat.

Additional Spectrum for ESIMs

Providing ESIMs with increased opportunities to access spectrum is a key element of the Report and Order. ESIMs were already authorized on a primary basis to operate in 3700-4200 MHz and 5925-6425 MHz (“the conventional C-band”); 11-7-12.2 GHz and 14.0-14.5 GHz (“the conventional Ku-band”); and 10.95-11.2 GHz, 11.45-11.7 GHz and 13.75-14.0 GHz (“the extended Ku-band”). The Commission extended the frequency bands on which ESIMs can operate on a primary basis to the 18.3-18.8 GHz, 19.7-20.2 GHz, 28.35-28.6 GHz and 29.25-30.0 GHz bands (“the conventional Ka-band”).

The most controversial aspect of the extension of ESIMs into the conventional Ka-band was access to the 29.25-29.3 GHz band because ESIMs will need to share the band with GSO FSS operations and feeder links for the NGSO Mobile Satellite Service in the 29.25-29.5 GHz band. Specifically, Iridium operates feeder links in that band. It had asked the FCC not to permit ESIMs operations in the 29.25-29.3 GHz band, or alternatively allow land and marine ESIMs in the band now, but defer consideration of aeronautical ESIMs until more work on coordination can be done. As another alternative, Iridium had argued that the FCC could allow all ESIMs to operate in the band, but mandate strict protection mechanisms by ESIMs to protect Iridium feeder links that would operate such as protection zones. While the FCC recognized that coordination between ESIMs and NGSO space stations is more complex than with GSO space stations, it determined that coordination is possible. Therefore, the FCC declined to provide Iridium with any special affirmative technical protections beyond the procedural coordination obligation requirements in the current rules. The Commission did, however, remove some language regarding Iridium potentially refusing to engage in required coordination.


In the FNPRM, at the request of SES and O3b, the FCC seeks comment on extending the ESIMs operations into additional spectrum bands:

  • 10.7-10.95 GHz and 11.2-11.45 GHz bands on an unprotected basis;
  • 17.8-18.3 GHz band on a secondary basis;
  • 19.3-19.4 GHz and 19.6-19.7 GHz on a primary basis; and
  • 18.9-19.3 GHz and 28.6-29.1 GHz on an unprotected, non-interference basis with respect to NGSO FSS satellite systems.
In the ESIMs Report and Order and FNPRM, the Commission has made substantial procedural and substantive changes to the licensing of ESIMs and is considering further expansion of the spectrum in which ESIMs can operate. While the satellite industry fought hard for the additional access, it remains to be seen whether the numbers of ESIMs in operation rise and how swiftly. While the FCC moved quickly to this Report and Order—only 16 months after the NPRM was released—how quickly the industry responds to exploit this new access may impact how rapidly the FNPRM leads to even further spectrum access.

Comments will be due 45 days after the FNPRM is published in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 75 days after publication.

Beyond the Latest Frontier: Licensed, Unlicensed, and Experimental Operations above 95 GHz Thu, 08 Feb 2018 15:58:11 -0500 Fulfilling a promise made by Chairman Pai in the fall that the Federal Communications Commission would give a close look to opening up licensed operations in the bands above 95 GHz, the FCC announced tentatively on February 1 that it will consider commencing a rulemaking to do just that at its next Open Meeting on February 22. The Commission released a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Draft NPRM”) with the announcement that details how the Commission may go about fostering investment and innovation in the 95-275 GHz range and beyond. If approved, the so-called Spectrum Horizons NPRM would seek comment on potential rules for fixed point-to-point use of tens of gigahertz of new spectrum, more than 15.2 gigahertz of unlicensed spectrum, and more flexible experimental licenses in the 95-3000 GHz range.


Use of spectrum above 95 GHz is largely uncharted territory. Apart from several minor authorizations for amateur radio and industrial, scientific, and medical (“ISM”) operations under Part 18, all non-Federal operations in these frequency ranges have only been permitted by the FCC via experimental licenses. Various parts of this extremely broad range of bands are used by radio astronomy and other passive services.

The Commission has used its Spectrum Frontiers proceeding to gauge interest in spectrum above 95 GHz. While several parties filed comments in that proceeding touting a range of both communications and non-communications applications services (including spectroscopy, imaging, and sensing), the Commission took no meaningful steps toward making the band more available. The Draft NPRM would seek comment on (I) possible licensed operations in various frequency ranges; (II) making particular frequency bands available for unlicensed use; and (III) creating a new framework for experimental licenses for spectrum above 95 GHz.

I. Licensed Allocations

The Draft NPRM would seek comment on possible rules for fixed point-to-point operations in approximately 36 gigahertz of spectrum, namely all of those between 95 and 275 GHz where there are already fixed allocations but there are not Fixed Satellite or Mobile Satellite Services (“FSS” and “MSS”,” respectively): 95-100, 102-109.5, 111.8-114.25, 122.25-123, 130-134, 141-148.5, 151.5- 158.5, 174.5-174.8, 231.5-232, and 240-241 GHz. However, the FCC also seeks comment on potentially adopting service and license rules where there are shared allocations with FSS or MSS in a substantial number of other bands totaling more than 65 gigahertz between 158.5 and 275 GHz.

The Draft NPRM would propose that rules in these bands may be based on the light-licensing fixed point-to-point rules that currently apply to the 70/80/90 GHz bands which provide for:

  • Non-exclusive nationwide licenses in any portion of the bands in question with 10-year terms
  • Registration of links through a system maintained by a database manager
  • A twelve-month construction requirement (after registration)
  • Interference protection based on registration priority
The Draft NPRM would seek comment on utilizing a different transmitted power limit than in the 70/80/90 GHz bands for fixed operations above 95 GHz, and would invite comment on any other deviations from the 70/80/90 GHz regime that interested parties believe would be necessary or appropriate.

As written, the Draft NPRM requests feedback on whether to permit fixed point-to-multipoint systems in addition to fixed point-to-point links in these bands, and on whether there is any interest in deploying mobile services in spectrum above 95 GHz.

Noting that almost all of the bands in the 95-275 GHz range that would be under consideration are shared bands, the Draft NPRM devotes considerable space to raising issues regarding shared operation of licensed fixed links with other allocated uses, as applicable, including not only FSS and MSS, but radio astronomy, Earth Exploration Satellite Service (“EESS”), the Space Research Service (“SRS”), the Inter-Satellite Service (“ISS”), radiolocation, and radionavigation, as well as sharing between Federal and non-Federal users.

II. Unlicensed Operations

The Draft NPRM is written to propose creating four unlicensed-specific bands under a framework generally based on the regime governing unlicensed operations in the 57-71 GHz band: 122-123 GHz, 244-246 GHz, 174.8-182 GHz, and 185-190 GHz. The rulemaking would also inquire whether other bands in the ranges above 95 GHz should be made available for unlicensed operations, such as 116-122 GHz.

This anticipated proposal comes in the wake of the Commission declining in the November 2017 Spectrum Frontiers orders that, in general, turned a deaf ear to please by Microsoft and others to increase unlicensed opportunities in the range between 24 and 86 GHz. In contrast with that action, the Draft NPRM states that “[p]otential future [unlicensed] applications in these bands [might]include ultra-high definition video, and high-speed data transmission, such as temporary fiber optic line replacement, chip-to-chip communication within computer equipment, and replacement of computer data cables in data centers with wireless links.”

Further, given that these frequencies enable certain non-communications applications of potential interest to industry and research, such as emerging terahertz spectroscopy applications, the Draft NPRM includes queries whether unlicensed operations more properly fall within the Part 18 ISM rules, and what changes in that rule part may be appropriate to accommodate these uses.

III. Experimental Licenses

Finally, the Draft NPRM is written to consider creating a new subpart to the FCC’s Experimental Radio Service (“ERS”) rules to better encourage experiments in the spectrum range between 95 GHz and 3 THz (3000 GHz). The Draft NPRM posits that current experimental licensing rules do not provide adequate incentives for investment, development, and commercialization in that frequency range. Accordingly, the Commission would consider a variety of options for liberalizing experimental rules above 95 GHz, including:
  • Greater Marketing Flexibility by allowing direct sales of experimental equipment used in market trials to trial participants (whereas existing ERS rules only allow limited equipment sales to other ERS licensees during market trials).
  • Broader Geographic Scope by giving experimental licensees “substantial flexibility to conduct ... experiments over a wide geographic area ... and adapt their program of experimentation as needed.”
  • Longer License Terms namely ten-year term instead of the two- and five-year terms currently available for other ERS licenses.
What’s Next?

The FCC is tentatively scheduled to vote on the draft item during the Open Commission Meeting scheduled for February 22. Assuming the item is approved, the Draft NPRM suggests that comments will be due 30 days (and reply comments 45 days) after the date of publication in the Federal Register. The mere issuance of the Draft NPRM is welcome news for a number of equipment and service developers who have been pushing for greater access to these frequency ranges and, if the Commission’s expectations reflected in the draft item are fulfilled, may give others reason to pursue plans that have not been fully ignited because of the lack of formal encouragement to develop a regulatory framework, and greater certainty, in these bands.