Changing the BAS Transition Game Plan
July 9, 2008
LOS ANGELES The FCC has “tentatively concluded” that mobile satellite service (MSS) operators can begin offering their services to the nation’s 30 largest markets before all current Broadcast Auxiliary Service licensees and fixed BAS links relocate from the 2 GHz spectrum that these new operators plan to use to deliver their services. What’s more, the commission proposed that this new rule should become effective Jan. 1, 2009. The FCC is soliciting comments on a timetable and market-by-market approach for introducing the newly defined takeover and new operational requirements to facilitate the entry of MSS operators into the 2 GHz band. This includes comments on 1) requiring that only fixed BAS links be relocated before MSS could begin operations; and 2) changing current interference requirements to minimize service disruptions for a shared spectrum.
Respondents were also asked to comment on the FCC’s Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis of possible significant economic impact that could result from dropping the “top 30 markets rule.” This rule gives current BAS licensees primary status in the 1990-2025 MHz band until they are relocated by a new entrant; decline relocation by a new entrant; or the BAS relocation rules sunset on Dec. 13, 2013.
(click thumbnail) On April 14, ICO Global Communications launched its North American geosynchronous satellite, ICO-G1. At press time, the FCC was reviewing these comments. MARKET APPROACH The FCC implemented the top 30 markets rule as a safeguard against interference between the MSS and incumbent 2 GHz BAS licensees, which were to be relocated (at MSS expense) from 1990-2110 MHz to 2025-2110 MHz to make way for satellite uplink and ancillary terrestrial component operations (ATC). Sprint Nextel submitted a plan in December 2007 to eliminate the top 30 markets rule in September 2009. Rival mobile service operators ICO and TerreStar supported the FCC’s earlier proposed start date. ICO and TerreStar indicated that their satellites are designed with multiple spot beams that can operate independently, and thus concentrate signals to a radius of several hundred miles. Although the FCC conceded in its March 31 proposal that this footprint might not exactly match a TV market, it noted that the spot beams could “provide service in many places while effectively avoiding BAS operations that are not yet relocated.” The FCC stated that the resulting market-by-market approach counter proposal to the top 30 market rule “would reduce the likelihood of interference between MSS and BAS,” though, it conceded, “interference between the two services would not be completely avoided.” According to the FCC’s proposal, if the new scenario unfolds, MSS operators could “begin offering nationwide service, both satellite and ATC, once the commission has determined that they have met their operational milestones… even if the BAS relocation is not completed.” The proposal stipulated that MSS operators “would have to accept interference from the remaining BAS users until they are relocated.” It noted that this interference could be caused by BAS transmitters to both ATC base stations and satellite receivers. The FCC also warned that MSS operations would “have to avoid causing interference from MSS handset transmitters (satellite and ATC) to BAS receivers that are not yet relocated.” ‘NOT READY FOR PRIMETIME’ The National Association of Broadcasters and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) oppose the rule change. “Entry of MSS operations into the spectrum before BAS relocation is completed would cause harmful interference to the incumbent operations in the 2 GHz band,” they concluded in a joint April 30 filing. They stated that MSS operators “have failed to disclose the technical parameters of their operations in sufficient detail to allow broadcasters to complete technical and interference analyses,” let alone prove MSS operations are ready for primetime. In addition, they want the FCC to reclarify MSS’ responsibility to relocate and reimburse the remaining incumbents. NAB and MSTV stated that they are not opposed to a market-by-market approach provided that “incumbent BAS operations are fully protected and relocation of BAS is not delayed or impeded.” To that end, they recommended that the new rules “should not include permission to offer ATC operations” in markets where relocation is incomplete. The NAB/MSTV comments noted that ICO and TerreStar had already “filed application to begin conducting ATC operations on the 2GHz band.” Bruce Franca, MSTV’s vice president for policy and technology, told TV Technology that his organization has had ongoing conversations with both ICO and TerreStar in its efforts to “act in good faith,” including talks about those companies operating on a secondary basis in the spectrum. He also said broadcasters had moved up relocation activity in markets key to MSS interests so that the MSS could test in them sooner. “We’d like to get out of the band as soon as possible and not worry about all this stuff,” said Franca. “It’s just taking longer than it was envisioned.” But he noted that “both companies seem to be relying on Sprint Nextel to do all the moving out” and “they are arguing that they shouldn’t have to reimburse Sprint at all.” Sprint noted in its own April 30 comments to the FCC that ICO and TerreStar failed to clear incumbent operations from the spectrum “more than seven years after the commission first ordered them to do so.” Thus, Sprint concluded, “The commission should not permit new ICO Satellite Services G.P. (ICO) and TerreStar Networks Inc. (TerreStar) to operate nationally until they fulfill their respective obligations to clear the BAS band of its affected incumbents or, alternatively, reimburse Sprint Nextel for their pro rata shares of eligible BAS relocation expenses that Sprint Nextel is incurring on their behalf.” NO PURPOSE ICO believes Sprint’s suggested rule change served no purpose. “Sprint and the broadcasters had represented that all along there were multiple factors that have led to these delays, and having the money in place didn’t seem to be one of them,” said Suzanne Hutchings Malloy, ICO’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs. As to the broadcasters’ complaint regarding failure to provide the technical parameters of its operations, Hutchings Malloy said that on April 30 ICO filed “information from studies that ICO had conducted” about its proposed terminals and terrestrial operations. “Their comments haven’t acknowledged that we put our information about our terminals and all our terrestrial operations on the record, so we’re not quite sure what they’ve analyzed to come to the conclusion that they’re sure there’s going to be interference,” she said. The “MSS-BAS Spectrum Sharing Analysis” appended to ICO’s April 30 filing was actually a four-part report that reiterated a lab and field study TerreStar filed in January, plus a theoretical model based on the results of TerreStar’s study “tailored to ICO’s MSS deployment parameters to evaluate BAS impact.” MSTV’s Franca said that the FCC’s filing schedule precluded an on-the-record comment after April 30. But, even if that were not the case, he concluded there was nothing new to comment on. He said broadcasters had not only commented on but participated in the TerreStar study. They had concluded TerreStar’s premise about the more resistant nature of digital (versus analog) equipment was moot, since broadcasters often used digital equipment only after they relocated. In addition, TerreStar’s findings assumed receivers would be 19 km (about 12 miles) from a tower in predicting noninterference, a condition unrealistic for cities like New York, Chicago or Washington, D.C., (the ICO model uses a 15 km (9 mile) reference). Moreover, Franca added, TerreStar operates on much less power than the ICO system.
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