The FCC begins its new MSS spectrum proceeding

Posted in Globalstar, ICO/DBSD, LightSquared, Operators, Regulatory, Spectrum, TerreStar at 10:15 am by timfarrar

At today’s FCC Commission meeting, the Commission began its proceeding “to spur mobile broadband investment in MSS bands”, which will take the form of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and a companion Notice of Inquiry (NOI). The NPRM and NOI have now been published along with a press release and accompanying statements from all five of the Commissioners.

The NPRM is focused on two issues: First, it proposes to add co-primary fixed and mobile allocations to the 2 GHz band. Second, it proposes to expand existing secondary market policies and rules to address transactions involving the use of MSS bands for terrestrial services. However, given that the Commission notes that the Globalstar-Open Range lease was already evaluated under this standard, this second issue is more of a streamlining matter than a substantive change in policy.

The NOI “requests comment on further steps the Commission can take to increase the value, utilization, innovation, and investment in MSS spectrum. It builds upon the proposals in the NPRM and addresses, in part, the recommendations of the National Broadband Plan for increasing terrestrial deployment in the MSS bands. The NOI inquires about ways to create opportunities for more expansive and efficient use of the 2 GHz band for stand-alone terrestrial uses. It also asks, if the value of the spectrum increases, what actions the Commission should take to further the overall public interest.
The NOI further requests comment on other ways to promote innovation and investment throughout all three of the MSS bands while also ensuring market-wide mobile satellite capability to serve important needs like disaster response and recovery efforts, rural access for consumers and businesses across America, and various government uses.”

Most of the NOI is focused on the 2GHz band, as I suggested last month, and suggests that either incentive auctions or a voluntary relinquishment of part of the spectrum would be means of providing appropriate compensation for the step up in value for the remaining spectrum. Of course, if part of the spectrum was relinquished, and the license for the remaining spectrum was still based on the MSS rules, it would quite possibly be necessary to continue to operate an MSS satellite. Such an outcome would almost certainly require a merger of DBSD and TerreStar (and disposal of two of their three satellites – 2 in-orbit and 1 ground spare), in order to reduce their satellite operating costs.

What the NOI doesn’t do is make specific proposals about relaxing the ATC rules in the Big LEO and L-bands, although it asks whether there are “any other actions that the Commission could take that would increase terrestrial use of the MSS bands”. To me, the tenor of the NPRM and NOI suggests that the FCC feels it has given ground to Harbinger (in approving the SkyTerra transaction and ATC modifications) and Globalstar (with what will presumably be a near term approval of its ATC waiver requests, for which the deadline is now August 2). Now the FCC needs to sort out the 2GHz band and it appears to be adopting a somewhat harder line than some might have hoped.

In his statement, Commissioner Copps highlights his belief that “charging fees for the ancillary terrestrial use in the MSS bands could provide incentives to ensure that the spectrum resource is used more efficiently and intensively”. However, whether this position will be shared more widely by the other Commissioners is still to be seen.

This must be a disappointment to those who had hoped for a relaxation of the ATC gating requirements without any significant givebacks in exchange. In particular, it may be hard for the FCC to agree to such a relaxation if a hard line is taken over incentive auctions or other compensation for the “step-up in value” in the 2GHz band.

With this proceeding going forward at the same time as MSS-ATC proponents are trying to secure partners and further investment (and in some cases are in bankruptcy or on the verge of it), it is going to be very interesting to see how the regulatory and financing activities affect one another over the next few months.


  1. PCSTEL said,

    July 16, 2010 at 11:31 am

    The harder tone provided to the 2Ghz MSS licensees vs. the L Band, and the Big LEO band plans appears to be a carry forward from the NBP. This I continue to believe is due the ultimate administration of these band plans. FCC vs. ITU.

    The interesting data point appears to be the NPRM’s inclusion of the entire Big LEO Band into the proceeding. Specifically, noting that Iridium possesses licensed L Band, but has not requested ATC authority. This opens the possibility of localized leasing of larger portions of the Big LEO L and S Band. For instance, todays “spectrum crisis” is a more localized event, effecting only the more densely populated markets. These densely populated areas are those that require minimal MSS services, except in times of natural and man-made disasters when localized terrestrial based connectivity is interrupted. So it would be maximizing the “public interest” in providing larger amounts of spectrum in the Big LEO Band Plan for lease in those areas of higher population densities. Preemptive and Priority technologies could assure local availability to first responders and law enforcement during times of need. This could provide increased spectral availability in the highly populated areas maximizing the “public interest” and “spectrum utilization”. MSS services would still be available in the more rural areas, and provide lower terrestrial spectral resources for Fixed/Mobile Broadband terrestrial services in these areas to support MSS.

    Needless to say that for those operational MSS operators, the ATC/MSS Operational Gating requirements (coverage and service) will continue well into the future even when streamlined flexibility in leasing arrangements is ultimately provided. The user terminal “integrated service offering” gating requirement was always subject to interpretation.

    For example, the Gemtek WiMax CPE modem’s being distributed with Open Range provides a connector to allow the addition of the yet to be manufactured MSS connectivity module. According to Globalstar and Open Range. This makes the devices, MSS Capable. So it fulfills the gating requirement by providing the ability to connect to another module, which in this case is housed within the same enclosure. So would a user terminal with a mini-USB port that CAN connect to a MSS USB modem module make the user terminal, MSS Capable? Or will it be MSS Capable by simply providing a Wireless Connection (Wi-Fi/Bluetooth) that CAN connect to a MSS Modem. So I really have little resistance to the continuation of the “Integrated Offering” gating requirement, as it has become merely a matter of interpretation, and in reality will have minimal impact on the user terminal eco-system in my opinion. The FCC appears more interested in getting the spectrum into the main-stream than debating exactly what the definition of an integrated service offering actually is.

    In the mean time. The Euro traded over $1.30 today, and the Iridium € denominated manufacturing contract with Thales, which has not been locked in yet, gets more expensive by the day. Already up nearly $120 million since the announcement.


  2. dane1234 said,

    August 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Forget Globalstar not being able to use the top 5 MHz of its S-band MSS allotment because of BRS Channel 1 at 2,496-2502 MHz, that’s nothing compared to Globalstar’s conflict with about 100 indefinitely grandfathered, co-primary TV Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) licensees on TV BAS Channel A10, also 2,483.5-2,500 MHz. Seven of the top-ten cities where Globalstar wants to build its MSS ATC have grandfathered A10 operations. Between co-primary users, the newcomer is obligated to protect the earlier-in-time incumbent. Since about 90 of the 100 grandfathered A10 stations are mobile TV Pickup stations (that is, used for electronic news gathering (ENG) mobile operations), it does not seem possible for the cellular-like ATC architecture that Globalstar wants to build could ever be able to protect co-channel ENG operations. It was exactly that incompatibility why the FCC had to clear the bottom 35 MHz of the 2 GHz TV BAS band (ET Docket 02-55). The 2 GHz TV BAS band was originally 1,990-2,110 MHz, and is now 2,025-2,110 MHz, but only because CMRS entities (mostly Sprint Nextel) had to pick up the tab for shifting broadcasters to the new band. Sprint Nextel had to pay the $1.6B or so cost for that conversion, by providing broadcasters with new microwave gear using 12 MHz wide digital channels instead of the former 17 MHz wide FM video analog channels. That transition was completed in July of 2010, so now Sprint Nextel/AWS/MSS can do what they want at 1,990-2,025 MHz. But 2,483.5-2,500 MHz is still encumbered spectrum in most of the top ten metros.

    These issues are still being played out in the ET Docket 10-142 rulemaking, with Petitions for Reconsideration filed by both Globalstar and Engineers for the Integrity of Broadcast Auxiliary Services Spectrum (EIBASS). The public notice regarding those recon petitions was printed in the Federal Register on August 10, so the comment deadline is August 25, with reply comments due September 6 (since September 4 is a Sunday, and September 5 is Labor Day). Should make for interesting reading.

    Also, Open Range has now be officially notified that its operations in NW Indiana were causing harmful interference to grandfathered A10 operations by two Chicago TV stations. An Open Range base station at St. John, IN, was causing interference to ENG receive only sites atop the Sears Tower and the Hancock Center in downtown Chicago, even though St. John is about 80 km distant; but still well inside the operational areas of the grandfathered A10 TV Pickup stations they were interfering with.

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