FCC looking hard at ATC progress and spectrum

Posted in ICO/DBSD, LightSquared, Operators, Regulatory, Services, Spectrum, TerreStar at 10:41 am by timfarrar

On Friday Dec 4 we attended an FCC discussion of the National Broadband Plan here in Menlo Park, at which Carlos Kirjner and Blair Levin presented on various issues being addressed in development of the National Broadband Plan. The most interesting part of the presentation was the assertion that “at least 150MHz” of TV spectrum could be freed up by relocating over the air TV broadcasters to a smaller portion of the UHF band “while keeping all major channels on the air”.

Its been widely discussed how the broadcasters might be incentivized to move, perhaps by offering them a share of the future auction proceeds, so at the end of the presentation I asked if a similar arrangement would be available for other spectrum bands, such as MSS. Blair Levin confirmed that other bands, including MSS-ATC spectrum, were also under review and that historic band allocations may no longer be optimal to meet future wireless spectrum demand. As part of the FCC’s review of Harbinger’s proposed purchase of SkyTerra, the FCC has also asked some very detailed questions about SkyTerra’s progress towards an ATC deal, and the discussions that they have had with different parties.

Will the National Broadband Plan provide an alternative way for MSS operators such as SkyTerra, ICO/DBSD and TerreStar to monetize their spectrum, as it does not look like any of these operators are going to move forward with ATC deployment in the near future? Globalstar’s ATC lease agreement with Open Range is seeing more progress, but is limited to a few million rural consumers (and the Open Range terrestrial rollout is being supported by USDA loan guarantees).

Certainly in the 2GHz band (unlike the L-band) there are no existing satellite services which would prevent operators returning their spectrum to the FCC for re-auction. The National Broadband Plan is due to be published in February 2010, so we will soon see whether the FCC is going to come up with a plan to make sure that MSS spectrum is put to use in terrestrial networks in a more timely manner.

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