Order and confusion, again

Posted in ICO/DBSD, LightSquared, Operators, Regulatory, Spectrum, TerreStar at 12:58 pm by timfarrar

On Wednesday, the FCC Chairman gave a speech at the Mobile Future Forum promoting his plan to hold incentive auctions of spectrum “voluntarily contributed by current licensees like TV broadcasters or mobile satellite operators, who would in return receive a portion of the proceeds of the auction”. This comes at an awkward time in the debate over MSS spectrum, given that DBSD has just been sold and a resolution of the TerreStar bankruptcy is still to come.

With Harbinger’s bid for DBSD, many observers had assumed that 2GHz spectrum holders would be able to secure waivers of the ATC obligations just as LightSquared did, despite the FCC expressing its intention in last July’s NPRM to secure “appropriate compensation for the step up in value” generated by converting the 2GHz band to terrestrial spectrum. As a result, this injection of additional uncertainty can’t be good news for TerreStar’s investors as they seek bids for the company’s assets.

The FCC Chairman’s intention to treat 2GHz differently from L-band (apparently on the basis that L-band spectrum is “worse” than 2GHz because it will take a substantial amount of time and money to resolve the interleaving and interference issues) also draws more attention to the ongoing debate over the LightSquared waiver.

Earlier this week it was suggested to me by an Obama Administration official that the FCC’s actions in granting the waiver may have contravened the intent of the President’s spectrum policy, as laid out in a June 2010 memorandum. This Memorandum states the following:

Section 1. The Secretary of Commerce, working through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), shall:

(a) collaborate with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make available a total of 500 MHz of Federal and nonfederal spectrum over the next 10 years, suitable for both mobile and fixed wireless broadband use. The spectrum must be available to be licensed by the FCC for exclusive use or made available for shared access by commercial and Government users in order to enable licensed or unlicensed wireless broadband technologies to be deployed;

(b) collaborate with the FCC to complete by October 1, 2010, a specific Plan and Timetable for identifying and making available 500 MHz of spectrum as described in subsection (a) of this section. For purposes of successfully implementing any repurposing of existing spectrum in accordance with subsection (a) of this section, the Plan and Timetable must take into account the need to ensure no loss of critical existing and planned Federal, State, local, and tribal government capabilities, the international implications, and the need for appropriate enforcement mechanisms and authorities;

Specifically, it was suggested to me that the FCC did not “take into account the need to ensure no loss of critical existing and planned Federal, State, local, and tribal government capabilities” with respect to GPS interference, because the waiver was granted before the issue had been fully addressed. This dispute appears to highlight an ongoing debate within the US government about how to balance the conflicting objectives of protecting GPS while increasing the availability of broadband spectrum, which has seen at least one senior officer speaking out against LightSquared. As a result, it will be interesting to see how the political debate evolves, in light of the ever-intensifying lobbying campaign from the GPS industry.

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