DBS defends its turf

The FCC decided last year that Northpoint Technology could share spectrum with satellite companies to offer TV programming and data services, but that isn't stopping the satellite industry from fighting to keep Northpoint out of that space.

Last week, direct broadcast and other satellite companies asked the FCC to reconsider its decision, arguing that allowing Northpoint to share its frequencies at 12.2 to 12.7 GHz could cause "ruinous interference."

"Now that the DBS industry has begun to make modest inroads on cable's dominance, the Commission has essentially reversed course and proposed a new service that will degrade DBS service and, in turn, frustrate its customers," wrote the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association last week in a petition to the FCC.

Companies known as non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) fixed satellite services (FSSs)-such as Boeing, VirtualGeo and Skybridge-are supporting the DBS companies. They claim their as-yet unlaunched satellite Internet services also will be harmed by interference from a new service.

DBS and NGSO companies already have agreed to share space at 12 GHz and say they spent years working out their differences before asking the FCC to regulate their final decisions. Northpoint, they assert, asked the FCC for permission to use the DBS frequencies without first talking to satellite companies.

DirecTV stated that it "is hard to believe that the Commission is seriously entertaining the proposition that three ubiquitously deployed services, two satellite and one terrestrial, and residual secondary point-to-point microwave users, can all co-exist at 12 GHz on a non-harmful-interference basis."

Northpoint says satellite companies are using delaying tactics to derail Northpoint's plan.

"The satellite industry has presented nothing new. It is just reiterating the tired, long-rejected arguments designed to delay the introduction of competition from Northpoint's Broadwave affiliates," says Toni Cook Bush, executive vice president of Northpoint Technology.

But satellite industry representatives say they just want to be sure the services are safe.

"Anything that smacks of being a fair evaluation of those frequencies they don't like to hear," says Andy Paul, executive vice president of the SBCA. "They always accuse of delaying. We're not delaying. We want to get it right."

When, and if, Northpoint receives the licenses it wants, the company plans to put transmitters across the country to send TV programming and data wirelessly to homes, using DBS frequencies. The company will be able to have key markets up and running within six months and all television markets covered within two years, according to Cook Bush.

Northpoint claims its service won't cause interference because its receivers-a form of consumer satellite dish-will be pointing north and aiming horizontally across the horizon, while DBS transmitters point south and aim vertically to the sky. Theoretically, any interference would be caused only in areas close to Northpoint's transmitters. The question is how wide a swath that interference would cut and how many subscribers it would affect.

The licensing process is being held up while independent testing takes place. Congress passed a law last December requiring the FCC to conduct independent tests to be sure Northpoint and any other technologies competing for space on the 12 GHz spectrum band wouldn't interfere with satellite systems. That testing was supposed to be complete by Feb. 19, but there's no word so far on its progress. Northpoint's Cook Bush says her company provided independent tester Mitre with the necessary equipment and is awaiting results. Cook Bush also says no other company submitted equipment for testing, although Pegasus Communications last year also asked to use the DBS spectrum.

Cook Bush says of independent testing: "I think it will have a positive effect on our ability to get the licenses, because it demonstrates that we're the only ones who have the technology,"

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.