FCC Sets New Deadline for Clearing Lower Portion of 2 GHz Real Estate

After granting a number of short extensions of the Sept. 7, 2007, deadline for moving broadcast auxiliary service (BAS) operations out of the lower 35 MHz of the 2 GHz ENG band—1990 to 2025 MHz—the FCC issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order (MO&O) extending the deadline to March 5, 2009. This date was a compromise between the deadline requested by mobile satellite service (MSS) licensees and the extensions requested by Sprint and broadcasters.

New ICO Satellite Services filed a request asking the FCC to require Sprint to relocate BAS licensees in the top 30 markets and all fixed BAS facilities by Dec. 31, 2007. As a condition of its license, ICO was required to have it system operational by Dec. 31, 2007, although it has a request pending at the FCC to extend this to May 15, 2008. TerreStar’s license requires it to have an operational satellite system by November 2008.

In September 2007, Sprint, the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV), the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) filed a joint petition requesting an extension of the deadline until Feb. 7, 2010. In December, Sprint and the broadcasters examined ways to speed the relocation, and submitted a plan proposing that the transition be completed by Sept. 7, 2009. The plan modified the relocation schedule to transition markets identified as a high-priority by the MSS licensees by July 2008.

The MO&O states, “We conclude that the public interest is served by waiving the deadline by which Sprint Nextel must complete relocation of the broadcast auxiliary service to frequencies above 2025 MHz until one year from release of this order (i.e. March 5, 2009). We hold open the option of extending this waiver upon further consideration.”

The MO&O recognized Sprint’s difficulty in relocation of 2 GHz BAS users, stating that the company faced many challenges not present in changing out fixed point-to-point microwave radio links.

“By contrast, the BAS relocation involves an entirely different service with many complexities that have not been encountered in the relocation of fixed microwave facilities. Moreover, many of these complexities became known only during Sprint Nextel’s efforts to implement the relocation plan.”

The FCC also acknowledged that MSS operators, even though they are also responsible for relocating 2 GHz BAS users, relied on Sprint to complete the process, stating that the company did agree to the Sept. 7, 2007 date, but the transition work was not completed. It also said that MSS operators were not expressing concern that a delay could jeopardize their commercial services and asking for relief.

“Our rules clearly require the 2 GHz MSS entrants to relocate the BAS incumbents in the top thirty markets and all fixed BAS links prior to beginning operations. This obligation is not changed by the fact that another party, Sprint Nextel, has also undertaken the obligation to relocate the BAS licensees.”

In granting the request for a 24 month extension of the deadline, the FCC said it did not believe it was necessary to complete the relocation before the MSS satellites were launched or tested, noting “First, we expect that even once the MSS satellites are launched, the MSS systems will have to undergo a significant period of testing before ubiquitous service can be offered. In addition, MSS still must clear incumbent licensees from the corresponding MSS downlink band at 2180-2200 MHz before service can be offered.”

In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking included with the MO&O, the FCC tentatively agreed to eliminate the top 30-market rule to allow MSS operators to enter the band in Jan. 2009, although broadcasters would retain primary status in the band until relocated.

The MO&O requires Sprint to file status reports every two months on the BAS transition, beginning on April 1, 2008. In markets where BAS licensees have been relocated, the FCC expects MSS operators will be able to begin phase two testing. The FCC noted that for purposes of certifying that a satellite system is operation, they have not required the certification be based upon commencement of full commercial operations. The MO&O said ICO and TerreStar satellite systems will be considered operational “based upon the occurrence of transmissions between the satellite and an authorized earth station using the 2000-2020 MHz and 2180-2200 MHz bands.”

I was impressed the FCC recognized the issues facing broadcasters in relocating 2 GHz facilities, including the need to devote resources to the completion of the DTV transition on Feb. 17, 2009. That was one of the reasons the FCC did not set the date earlier. However, a combination of limited tower crew resources in late 2008, as DTV transition work is completed, along with bad winter weather could cause problems in meeting the deadline for some markets. Winter weather problems aren’t limited to northern markets. This winter, the main broadcast site in Los Angeles—Mount Wilson—was inaccessible for days due to ice, snow and rockslides. Other sites at higher elevations were affected for longer periods.

I’ve also been impressed with the cooperation between broadcasters, Sprint, and the MSS licensee and their recognition of each other’s needs. Meeting a March 5, 2009, deadline won’t be easy, but if it is missed it won’t be because of a lack of interest or effort by these groups.

Doug Lung

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.