Globalstar and Open Range receive ATC approval

Posted in Globalstar, ICO/DBSD, Spectrum at 9:07 pm by timfarrar

It came down to the wire, but on Friday October 31, the FCC approved Globalstar’s application to offer ATC in conjunction with Open Range Communications. Friday was the deadline for Open Range to secure spectrum under the terms of its $267M USDA rural development loan agreement and as the FCC pointed out in its order, it was faced with a difficult choice between waiving many of the ATC requirements until Globalstar’s next generation satellites are launched, and losing the loan which would facilitate WiMAX deployment in 500 rural communities.

The FCC voted 3-2 to approve the application, over the objection of two (Republican) commissioners who worried about the “inappropriate precedent” it might set. Notably, the CTIA also came out strongly against the application, suggesting that a “grant of the sweeping waivers that Globalstar is seeking would effectively eviscerate the MSS/ATC rules of any meaning and enable Globalstar to ‘game’ the MSS/ATC regulatory scheme to maximize use of MSS spectrum for terrestrial service”.

The FCC has imposed a fairly strict time limit for Globalstar to deploy its second generation satellites and come into compliance with the ATC rules, but it already appears that the door has been opened for other prospective ATC operators to seek a relaxation of the conditions associated with ATC. For example, ICO indicated today that it does not believe it will be necessary to order a ground spare satellite before the FCC will approve its ATC application (merely that a satellite will have to be on order before ATC service commences), despite the fact that the ATC licensing rules require a “substantial showing that a non-operational MSS licensee will soon meet the gating criteria” established by the FCC, including a ground spare being available within 12 months of commencing service.

It also looks like the stage is now set for a bigger fight between the cellular operator community on one hand and the MSS-ATC proponents on the other. This may actually be a good thing from the point of view of the ATC proponents, since at least it shows that cellular operators are once again taking ATC seriously (cellular operators dropped their earlier opposition to ATC several years ago, apparently believing that it would never come to fruition). However, it will be interesting to see who will gain the upper hand in the regulatory battles to come, especially if the change of administration leads to a number of new faces at the FCC.

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