The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently adopted new rules governing how non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service (NGSO FSS) systems will share spectrum. The new rules, effective 20 April 2023, are intended to provide clarity and certainty for operators, support cooperation in spectrum use, promote market entry and facilitate innovative system design.
The FCC’s new Space Bureau, reorganised from the International Bureau, processes applications for NGSO FSS systems in groups based on filing date, called ‘processing rounds’. All applications in a processing round are considered together, after which all applications meeting the applicable standards are approved and all others are denied.
The FCC has spectrum sharing rules for NGSO FSS systems. An NGSO FSS applicant that is approved subject to an agreement to comply with those rules is exempt from frequency band segmentation procedures that would otherwise apply. Those spectrum sharing rules require NGSO FSS operators to cooperate in good faith to coordinate the use of commonly authorized frequencies. In the absence of agreement, default spectrum-splitting rules apply.
The new rules make three important changes to the spectrum sharing procedure for NGSO FSS systems:
1. The spectrum sharing procedure now applies only to NGSO FSS systems approved in the same processing round.
2. Systems in later rounds must coordinate with earlier-round systems or demonstrate that they will protect earlier-round systems from harmful interference. However, the protections for earlier round systems end 10 years after the first authorisation or market access grant in the next processing round, at which time all systems in both rounds are treated equally.
3. All NGSO FSS systems across all rounds are required to coordinate with each other in good faith, which includes sharing information among NGSO FSS operators.
The new rules apply to all current NGSO FSS licensees and market access grantees and all pending and future applicants and petitioners.
In conjunction with the new rules, the FCC adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on two matters:
1. The appropriate values and assumptions to be used for spectrum sharing between systems in different processing rounds (see item 2 under The New Rules above).
2. Whether to adopt a rule limiting the aggregate interference from later-round NGSO FSS systems into earlier-round systems.
Operators of NGSO FSS satellite systems currently licensed to operate in the United States or intending to apply for a licence should take note of the FCC’s new rules for spectrum sharing. Current licensees should pay special attention to the 10-year sunset provision regarding protections against harmful interference from the later round and to the requirement to coordinate in good faith with other systems approved in all rounds.
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Disclaimer: This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice.