PSSI Challenges FCC Over C-Band Reallocation

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Satellite program provider PSSI Global sued the FCC over the agency’s plan to relocate satellite companies and earth stations to another portion of the C-band. The Commission intends to auction the vacant spectrum for wireless use, with winning bidders compensating the incumbent spectrum users for their moving costs. The agency intends to start the auction in December.

In its petition filed April 28, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, PSSI seeks judicial review of the FCC’s decision, saying it will destroy the satellite video distribution system. 

Under previous rules, geostationary satellite operators and earth station operators in the C-band band were authorized to use all 500 megahertz of the band to send and receive programming. PSSI calls C-band, “the backbone of the satellite video distribution system.” But the company notes the Report and Order reduces that available spectrum by repurposing 60 percent of the band for 5G. 

PSSI operates a fleet of more than 60 C-band and Ku band vehicles, which it says can operate from any location without having a fixed latitude and longitude, unlike stand-alone, fixed receive antennas, which it calls “transportables.” The FCC authorizations for transportables “permit PSSI and other transportable operators to receive global satellite signals in the 3.7-4.2 GHz frequency range in the C-band (downlink – i.e., transmitting a signal down from a satellite), which are permanently paired on those authorizations with authority to transmit on the 5.925-6.425 GHz band (allowing the uplink – the return signal to the satellite),” states the company in the petition. PSSI and its clients use C-band frequencies for live event transmission, distribution and programming insert reception, including global satellite services.

It says PSSI has repeatedly demonstrated the harm that would ensue from the operation of the flexible 5G licenses in the lower portion of the C-band at Occasional Use (OU) locations, both in terms of damage from radiated power, as well as interference to operations of transportables.

“The operational problems for OU are worse than simply an ‘arithmetic’ reduction of available frequency and transponder space. Because transportable earth stations – by definition – are authorized to be in diverse locations and have no fixed latitude and longitude restrictions in their licenses, they must clear and coordinate satellite line-of sight, transponder availability, frequencies, and power,” says PSSI in its petition. “Without these factors, the viability of C-band transportable earth stations, and the reliable and insurable transport and reception services they provide for their user customers are in immediate peril.”

The company says the FCC modified licenses “to the detriment of PSSI” by eliminating 300 MHz of spectrum out of 500 MHz – 60 percent of the bandwidth and subjecting them to “crippling interference” from future flexible 5G licenses. “This enormous reallocation of bandwidth will result in the complete functional loss of available and usable OU satellite transponder capacity for PSSI’s industry customers.”

Even accounting for factors that might mitigate the damage caused by the Report & Order, there is not enough bandwidth to continue to provide transportable services, according to the company. It disagrees with the FCC, which stated at the time it could give “incumbent C-band providers assurance that they will continue to be able to receive C-band services during and after the transition.”

PSSI filed the petition well within the deadline to challenge the order. Before the Commission voted on the C-band changes, reporters asked agency personnel about the potential of litigation. Both officials, as well as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, said they felt the agency was on firm legal ground, Inside Towers reported. 

FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks dissented from the majority during the vote. Rosenworcel said the agency was trying to fix the shortage of mid-band spectrum for 5G “the wrong way.” Starks recognized “the threat of litigation and/or bankruptcy is real and could delay the availability of this important spectrum band.” Among other things, he objected to the mandatory relo payments from winning bidders to incumbents.  

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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