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FCC Denies EchoStar Request for Co-primary Geostationary Orbit Ka-band Designation

The FCC's International Bureau last week denied a Petition for Rulemaking filed by EchoStar Satellite Corporation requesting the commission modify its Ka-band plan to permit geostationary satellite orbit (GSO) fixed satellite service (FSS) operations on a co-primary basis in the 18.8-19.3 GHz and 28.6-29.1 GHz bands designated for non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) FSS. EchoStar's petition received support from SES AMERICOM, Hughes Electronics Corporation, and Hughes Network Systems, which supported EchoStar's assertion that the spectrum is lying fallow and co-primary use could lead to the introduction of additional and innovative services.

The FCC Order (DA 14-1783) denying the Petition explains, “At the time EchoStar filed its Petition, the only U.S. NGSO FSS Ka-band licensee, Teledesic, had recently surrendered its license. In addition, other NGSO FSS Ka-band applicants had withdrawn their applications. Thus, it was unclear if any parties were taking concrete steps to launch an NGSO FSS Ka-band system. Based on these circumstances, EchoStar asserted that NGSO FSS spectrum was not likely to be used.”

Northrop Grumman Space Technology and Mission systems Corporation opposed the rulemaking proceeding, disputing EchoStar's technical assertions that co-primary operations are possible and stating that EchoStar failed to demonstrate a lack of orbital resources for GSO industry needs. Space Exploration Technologies LLC also opposed the petition, stating that coordination requirements between GSO and NGSO systems would be a burden on NGSO systems.

The arguments that the spectrum was lying fallow were shattered after the U.K. authorized O3B Limited to operate an NGSO FSS Ka-band system. The first set of four O3b satellites were launched in 2013 and the second set of four in July 2014. The FCC has authorized O3b to operate a number of earth stations in the U.S. to communicate with the O3b system. The FCC Order states, “The deployment of O3b’s NGSO FSS system removes the factual premise for EchoStar’s Petition. Section 1.407 of the rules states that petitions for rulemaking that do not disclose sufficient reasons to justify the institution of a rulemaking proceeding will be denied. We conclude that EchoStar’s Petition does not disclose sufficient reasons to justify institution of a rulemaking proceeding.”

The O3b NGSO Ka-band system could offer a superior Internet experience compared to that offered by GSO Ka-band satellite Internet providers such as ViaSat and Hughes because the lower orbits of the NGSO satellites result in less latency. The question, however, is whether O3b can offer its services at a cost competitive with that of the established GSO satellite Internet providers. So far, I haven't seen any indication O3b will be offering its service individual households.