FCC Reminds Operators to Register Earth Stations; Seeks Comments on Flexible Use in 3.7-4.2 GHz Band

FCC Reminds Earth Station Operators to Register by October 17, 2018; Seeks Comment on Flexible Use in the 3.7-4.2 GHz Band

(GN Docket No. 18-122; GN Docket No. 17-183; RM-11791; RM-11778)


The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) has adopted an Order (“Order“) collecting information on satellite usage of the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz band and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM“) proposing new opportunities for flexible use in up to 500 megahertz of mid-band spectrum between 3.7 and 4.2 GHz that is considered “well-suited” for next-generation wireless services.  The Order requires Fixed Satellite Service (“FSS”) earth stations operating in the band to certify the accuracy of existing registration and license information and requires space station licensees to submit additional information in order to develop a better understanding of how the band is currently being used.  The Commission hopes this information will enable it to make an informed decision regarding the scope of future FSS, Fixed Service, and potential mobile use of the band and the “appropriate transition methodology.” Pursuant to the NPRM, the Commission seeks comment on a variety of proposed options for clearing spectrum in the band for new wireless uses and for ensuring existing users of the band are treated fairly.

With the goal of promoting more efficient use of the band while protecting incumbent users from harmful interference in mind, the Commission requests comments on how to properly define different classes of incumbent earth stations and on its proposal to only protect incumbent earth stations that were operational as of April 19, 2018, are licensed or registered in the International Bureau Filing System (“IBFS”) database as of October 17, 2018 and have timely filed the certification required by the Order.  Please note that on September 7, 2018, the International Bureau released a Public Notice (“PN“) reminding earth station operators in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band that the window to file Applications to license or register such stations closes on October 17, 2018.  The International Bureau encourages operators who are licensed or registered in the band to confirm the accuracy of their information in IBFS and correct any inaccurate date if necessary.

The NPRM proposes automatic termination of a 3.7-4.2 GHz earth station license or registration if the licensee/registrant does not timely file the certifications required by the Order.  The Commission further seeks comment on whether it should limit new earth stations by putting a freeze on new applications for registrations and only allowing incumbent operators to modify existing registered stations but not add new stations.  The NPRM also seeks comment on potentially sun-setting or grandfathering the existing fixed microwave point-to-point licenses in the band.

The NPRM proposes to expand terrestrial mobile use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band by adding a mobile, except aeronautical mobile, allocation to all 500 megahertz in the band.   The Commission seeks comment on how it should transition part or all of the band for flexible use, and whether it should use market-based, auction, or alternative mechanisms.  The market-based mechanism would involve satellite companies forming a consortium to work with operators to clear all or part of the band to make it available for flexible use.  The potential auction mechanisms include overlay auction, incentive auction, capacity auction or a combination approach and the Commission seeks comment on the economic benefits and disadvantages of each possible auction approach.  The NPRM also seeks comment on allowing more intensive point-to-multipoint fixed use in some portion of the band, on a shared basis, and how to define and protect incumbent users from harmful interference.

Lastly, the Commission seeks comment on service and technical rules that would enable flexible use in the band.  It proposes to license the 3.7-4.2 GHz band spectrum that becomes available for flexible use under its Part-27 rules that permit licensees to provide any fixed or mobile service consistent with the allocations for this spectrum, subject to rules necessary to protect from harmful interference.

Interested parties may file comments on or before October 29, 2018 and reply comments on or before November 27, 2018.

If you have any questions, or would like assistance with this process, please contact Dee Herman at [email protected], Clare Liedquist at [email protected], or Molly O’Conor at [email protected].