FCC Rejects Small Satcos C-Band Protest

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UPDATE The FCC again rejected a protest from several satellite companies that objected to their licenses being modified for the agency’s C-band order.

Earlier this year, the Commission proposed to modify the existing Fixed Satellite Service licenses and market access authorizations held by space station operators in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. The point was to require them to stop operations in the lower 300 megahertz (3.7-4.0 GHz) by December 8, 2025, and to migrate their operations to the upper 200 megahertz (4.0-4.2 GHz) where they will be repacked. The agency intends to auction licenses for the lower portion of the band for wireless use beginning this December.

This May, small satellite operators ABS Global Ltd.; Empresa Argentina de Soluciones Satelitales S.A.; Hispamar Satélites S.A.; and Hispasat S.A. protested the proposed license modification. They said section 316(a) of the Communication Act doesn’t allow such a fundamental change to their licenses. 

They also argued that while existing satellite operators would be compensated for moving to the upper portion of the band, they will not receive any reimbursements because they are international companies. The repack, they said, will harm them by benefiting their competitors.

The FCC countered that the repack reimbursement is for U.S. satellite operators serving U.S. customers on C-band. It previously said the petitioners were not likely to win their case.

The Commission this week modified the licenses and denied the protest. The agency said the small satellite firms didn’t raise any new arguments and rehashed protests raised before and dismissed. It also dismissed the protest under procedural grounds, noting it didn’t comply with the requirements under Commission rules.

Based on the record in the proceeding, the Commission decided in its C-band order that satellite operators “will be able to maintain the same services in the upper 200 megahertz as they are currently providing across the full 500 megahertz” by making more efficient use of spectrum through data compression and other technology. The agency also said the record shows small satellite operators ““will be able not only to maintain their current level of service after the transition, but to potentially serve new clients” using the upper 200 megahertz of spectrum.

That’s why the FCC concluded it has the authority to modify the licenses. The small satellite companies earlier challenged the FCC’s authority and filed a petition to stay the decision. The satcos also appealed to federal court, which denied their petition in June.

The upshot is the Commission adopted the license changes this week and said they are final. All five Commissioners voted to modify the licenses. Democrat Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks split their votes, partially agreeing and partially dissenting from their Republican colleagues.

Rosenworcel said the decision clears the way for a court to consider the merits of the FCC’s decision-making in the underlying proceeding. She supported the order because she thinks the agency should work towards a speedy resolution. However, she didn’t like the way the decision came about. “I continue to have reservations about the process that led the agency to this point and believe that we missed a golden opportunity to work with Congress to incentivize the repurposing of these airwaves in a manner that would yield a smoother long-term path for spectrum policy and support for much-needed infrastructure projects,” Rosenworcel stated.      

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