On May 3, 2019, the International and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus (the “Bureaus”) released a Public Notice (“PN”)seeking additional, focused comment on the Commission’s authority surrounding various proposals on the record to introduce terrestrial services to the C-Band; as well as “any other issues commenters wish to raise concerning proposals for enabling additional terrestrial use of the C-band.” Generally, the PN asks for comments on the enforceability of any interference protection rights for receive-only earth stations, and the impact of terrestrial interference (if any) to such stations. The PN also asks a number of questions regarding the FCC’s authority to conduct an auction with respect to receive-only earth station rights or other authority to induce relocation or modification of such earth stations. In addition, the Bureaus ask about potential enforcement of satellite operators’ rights to interference protection against terrestrial signals, and whether such rights are linked to the location of customers (i.e., US or International).

Specific questions are below:

  1. What are the enforceable interference protection rights granted to licensed or registered receive-only earth station operators against co-primary terrestrial operations? What obligations does section 316 of the Act place on the Commission vis-à-vis licensed or registered receive-only earth station operators? Are registered receive-only earth station operators eligible to voluntarily relinquish their rights to protection from harmful interference in the reverse phase of an incentive auction because they qualify as “licenses” under § 309(j)(8)(G)? Does the Commission have other statutory authorities that would enable it to authorize payments to such earth stations to induce them to modify or relocate their facilities?
    • How should the FCC interpret “licensed spectrum usage rights” in Section 309(j)(8)(G) as it may apply to any of the proposals?
      • Do licensed or registered receive-only earth station operators meet the definition of licensees that have licensed spectrum usage rights that they could voluntarily relinquish in an incentive auction?
        • T-Mobile has argued that earth stations are incidental to satellite operators’ transmissions and are therefore “licenses”; while CBA has argued that the Act does not permit receive-only earth stations to participate in a reverse auction because they do not transmit and therefore are not licensees.
      • Does the FCC’s incentive auction authority allow it to structure a reverse auction where satellite and earth station operators compete to relinquish their spectrum usage rights?
      • What legal authority does the FCC have to structure an incentive auction that would award initial licenses for mobile operations into the band subject to protecting or reaching agreements with licensed or registered receive-only earth stations?
    • If an incentive auction approach is unavailable, does the FCC has other statutory authorities that would enable it to authorize or require payments to licensed or registered receive-only earth stations to induce them to modify or relocate their facilities?
      • Notes that Charter and the Small Satellite Operators believe the FCC has ample authority to require that proceeds from an FCC auction or private sale of spectrum rights to be shared with registered receive- only earth stations as well as with the US Treasury.
    • The Bureau asks whether there are any other rules or sources of authority that the FCC should consider in addressing the question of how to accommodate licensed or registered earth station operators that may be displaced as a result of repurposing the C-Band.
  2. What are the enforceable interference protection rights, if any, granted to space station operators against co-primary terrestrial operations? Do those rights depend on the extent incumbent earth stations receive their transmissions within the United States? And what limits, if any, does section 316 of the Act place on the proposals raised by the Commission in the Notice or by the commenters in this docket?
    • CBA: Argues that C-Band satellite space station operators with no US customers and no US revenues should not be compensated in the C-Band transition process (which the small satellite operators oppose). Therefore, the Bureaus ask, in addition to the above, the following:
      • Do space station operators have a right to transmit free from harmful interference only where there are registered earth stations receiving their signal? Or do they have a right to transmit free from harmful interference anywhere in the contiguous United States?
      • Do they only have the right to transmit on a non-exclusive basis? Or do they have some broader right to preclude the FCC from adopting any policy that would impair their satellite service distribution business?
      • To what extent are the enforceable rights of a space station operator dependent on, or derivative from, the rights of licensed or registered receive-only earth stations that receive that space station operator’s signal?
    • T-Mobile: The Bureaus ask for comment on T-Mobile’s assertion that, new flexible-use terrestrial operations would not suffer harmful interference from downlink signals but could cause harmful interference to licensed or registered receive-only earth stations in the band. The Bureaus further ask how this should impact their analysis given that new flexible-use operations could cause harmful interference to licensed or registered receive-only earth stations in the band.
    • Section 316: The Bureaus ask whether Section 316 requires the FCC to ensure the receipt of downlink transmissions where there are registered earth stations receiving a space station’s signal; or whether it requires the availability of comparable facilities for such locations. Are there Section 316 obligations in areas where there are no registered earth stations?
      • The Bureaus also ask whether Section 316 would apply if the FCC authorized additional terrestrial use that could interfere with the receipt of signal, if a satellite operator’s transmission rights are not disturbed; and whether it would apply to a satellite operator that was permitted to continue to transmit on a non-exclusive, shared basis (after modifications to the rules were adopted per this proceeding).
      • How should the FCC measure comparability in the context of the record’s proposals (if Section 316 does, in fact, apply) –the PN cites to prior FCC actions to ensure that incumbents required to vacate spectrum receive comparable facilities, or to provide options when modifying the holdings of existing licensees.

On June 3, 2019, the Commission published the Public Notice in the Federal Register, therefore establishing the following comment dates:

Comments are due July 3, 2019.

Reply Comments are due July 18, 2019.

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