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FCC Cites Skybeam for FAA 5 GHz Radar Interference

This week the Regional Director of the West Region of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau issued a $12,000 Forfeiture Order to Skybeam Acquisition Corp. in Englewood, Colo. for willful and repeated violations of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and Sections 15.1(b) and 15.1(c) of the FCC's rules. The order stemmed from a report of interference to a Colorado FAA weather 5 GHz radar facility.

Enforcement Bureau agents determined that the radio emissions on 5610 MHz that were interfering with the FAA's Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) serving Denver International Airport were coming from the Hilltop Tower Communications site in Parker, Colo. The next day, Sept. 30, 2011, agents used the same techniques and an on/off test to confirm the interference was coming from the U-NII transmission system operated by Skybeam. The company was using a Motorola Canopy transceiver module. The FCC's authorization for that transceiver limits its operation to a frequency range of 5735-5840 MHz, a band that does not require Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS).

(The 5 GHz band U-NII band is frequently used for point-to-point data links, not only for wireless Internet provider, but also for broadcasters looking for a way to easily and inexpensively add high-speed IP connectivity to remote sites. FCC rules limit the power that can be used on these links and requires DFS to avoid co-channel interference to radar systems when operating in the 5.25-5.35 GHz and 5.47-5.725 GHz bands.)

FCC Agents also determined that Skybeam had adjusted the transceiver's operating frequency to 5875 MHz in an effort to eliminate interference to the Denver TDWR installation. The new frequency was outside the authorized range for the Motorola Canopy radio Skybeam was using. A year later, the FCC’s Denver office issued a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) of $15,000 to Skybeam for operation of an U-NII device on a frequency for which the device was not authorized and operation without a license.

Skybeam submitted a response requesting rescission or reduction of the fine because the device was deactivated the day after it was notified by Denver agents. The response also stated that the device could not operate on 5875 MHz, making the NAL incorrect. It also cited Skybeam's history of no prior offenses.

The FCC denied the response except for the last item. See the Forfeiture Order (DA-14-161) for details. Skybeam tried to shift responsibility to another company, LP Broadband, arguing that LP Broadband was the actual operator of the U-NII device.

However, the Forfeiture order noted that: “Because the operator of the device (the Field Infrastructure Supervisor for Northern Colorado) identified himself, with credentials, as being employed by Skybeam, we decline to remove Skybeam from this proceeding. We note that Skybeam and LP Broadband are affiliated, and that according to a recent filing made with the Commission, JAB Wireless, Inc., currently controls 100 percent of each entity.”

Interference from U-NII devices to TDWR and broadcaster's radar systems continues to be a problem. In the Skybeam Forfeiture Order the FCC stated: “We note that subsequent to the release of this NAL, the Enforcement Bureau released a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order to Directlink, LLC, in the amount of $25,000, for operation of an intentional radiator without a license and for operation inconsistent with Part 15 of the Rules, when the operation resulted in interference to a TDWR installation.”

The Commission also issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order in 2013 for $202,000 to Towerstream Corp. for operating radio transmitters without a license and causing harmful interference to TDWR installations.

The FCC noted that: With these sanctions, the Commission and the Bureau have emphasized the critical nature of these violations and have put U-NII operators on notice that operation that deviates from the requirements of the Rules and results in interference to TDWR installations will result in forfeitures of at least $25,000.”

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.