FCC Moves To Free Up Mobile Sat Spectrum For Terrestrial Broadband

The Federal Communications Commission continued a spectrum-heavy two weeks Friday, outlining its plans in a notice of inquiry for reclaiming 90 MHz of mobile satellite service spectrum for terrestrial mobile broadband.
That followed an announcement last week about its plans for auctioning the D block of spectrum to create the long-awaited national interoperable public safety network, and the release this week of a report outlining its plans to get 120 MHZ out of the broadcast band for the same purpose.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski also met with his counterpart at the National Telecommunications & Information Administration Larry Strickling June 11 about spectrum issues.

 "CTIA it pleased with today's announcement by the FCC's Spectrum Task Force to bring 90 MHz of Mobile Satellite Spectrum to market for mobile wireless broadband services," said the wireless association's vice president of regulatory affairs Chris Guttman-McCabe. "This is another concrete step in making the promises in the National Broadband Plan a reality. It makes sense from a spectrum management perspective, and is completely in the public interest, for the FCC to focus on ways to bring this under utilized, and at times unutilized, spectrum to market."

The MSS spectrum is the second biggest chunk after broadcasters' 120 MHZ that will be put toward the commission's goal of freeing up 300 MHz as part of the national broadband plan within the next five years.
At the time the plan was released in March, it advised the FCC to immediately propose changing its rules to encourage more flexible, mobile use of the band. It has now done that. Ruth Milkman, chief of the Wireless Bureau, said demand for mobile broadband is outstripping supply by "a large order of magnitude".
To help meet that, the FCC is proposing opening up the DBS band to mobile terrestrial service, as well as secondary market leasing rules for other parts of the mobile satellite band, including the Big LEO (low earth orbitting) portion. That would allow that spectrum to be sub-leased for terrestrial. It will also seek comment on other suggestions for expanding the use of that spectrum.
Those changes will make that spectrum a lot more valuable in the private market, but the FCC said it will try to make sure that as much of that new value as possible "inured to the public interest."

"We support the National Broadband Plan's goal to free up more spectrum for mobile broadband and look forward to reviewing the FCC's proposals for the Mobile Satellite Services bands in more detail," said Dean Olmstead, president of EchoStar Satellite Services in a statement. "We believe that additional flexibility for existing spectrum to be used more efficiently will help spur investment while addressing spectrum scarcity for mobile broadband."
Elsewhere on the spectrum front, the commission is scheduled to hold an engineering forum in Washington June 25 for broadcast engineers and others to talk about the "technical challenges and opportunities" in the broadcast band and technical issues surrounding the FCC's plan to reclaim 120 MHz of spectrum from them, including potential rule-makings on service area, distance separations and channel-sharing.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.