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FCC Outlines Rules for AWS-3 Federal Spectrum Use By Non-Feds

Earlier this year the FCC adopted rules that will make some spectrum currently being used by federal agencies available for use by non-federal licensees upon coordination. Successful bidders for AWS-3 spectrum in the 1695 to1710 MHz and 1755 to 1780 MHz bands will have to successfully coordinate use with federal incumbents prior to operation in "protection zones."

The FCC released a 43-page Public Notice outlining the coordination requirements and the protection zones. Publicly available Transition Plans are published at

The 1695 to 1710 MHz band is used by the meteorological satellite (MetSat) service for space-to-Earth operations. The transition plans describe the 47 Federal MetSat operations that will continue to be protected on a primary basis in the 1675 to 1695 MHz band and, on a co-primary basis, in the 1695 to 1710 MHz band. It doesn’t appear that non-Federal agencies, private companies (including weather services used by broadcasters) and individuals receiving MetSat transmissions in this band will be protected.

Federal use of the 1755 to1780 MHz band can be divided into federal USP assignments and non-USP assignments.

Federal incumbents that have an area of operation defined at "USP" are authorized to operate particular radio systems anywhere they’re needed throughout the United States and its possessions. Currently there are 21 USP assignments, including one for telemetry, two for robotics, and 18 for video. These are used by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U. S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Specific areas where incumbents operate under USP assignments are redacted from the publicly-released transition plans. Non-Federal AWS-3 licensees will have to reach a coordination agreement with each Federal agency that has a USP assignment in the band on an operator-to-operator basis.

Federal non-USP assignments specify particular areas of operation within the United States, and are generally available in the publicly-released transition plans. Most non-USP assignments will be transitioned out of the 1755 to 1780 MHz band, with the exception of the six sites in which Joint Tactical Radio Systems may operate, the two polygons within which the Air Combat Training System may operate, and the 25 sites where Federal earth stations may transmit.

Most details of Department of Defense operations are redacted from the publicly released transition plans. As with the USP assignments, AWS-3 licensees must successfully coordinate with each Federal incumbent before beginning operation in a Protection Zone. The Public Notice defines the nationwide default Protection Zones without disclosing non-public information about these systems.

Refer to Public Notice DA 14-1023 titled "The Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Coordination Procedures in the 1695-1710 MHz and 1755-1780 MHz Bands" for details on the coordination process and the list of default protection zones. Many of these zones are in or near major broadcasting markets. They cover much of California, as well as areas from northern Virginia through Baltimore, Md. on the east coast, as well as areas around Boston.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.