FCC Streamlines Satellite Communications Rules

Last week, the FCC adopted comprehensive changes to the rules governing licensing and operation of space stations (satellites) and earth stations.

Some of the changes in the commission's Report and Order (FCC 13-111)affecting operators of earth stations include a relaxation of the restrictions on the use of FCC Form 312EZ, which provides an automatic grant of the applications if no objection is filed during the 30-day notice period. One of the major changes is allowing Form 312EZ to be used for Ka-band uplink applications. The FCC codified the policy under a new rule, Section 25.130(g), which allows an applicant to request a single Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) earth station license for multiple antennas at a specified location.

For uplinks in frequency bands shared on a co-primary basis with terrestrial service, the antennas must be within an area bounded by one second of latitude and longitude. For uplinks in FSS bands allocated on a primary basis, a single license can be requested for multiple fixed antennas sited with a 10 second latitude/longitude box.

The FCC adopted a rule requiring earth station licensees to update contact information with 10 days of changes. This applies to SNG operations as well as fixed uplinks.

One change that is likely to lead to extra cost for SNG truck operators is a requirement for a new Automatic Transmitter Identification System (ATIS). ATIS operating on a subcarrier is currently required for all broadband video uplinks, but this form of identification is not really compatible with digitally modulated signals. In the Report and Order the FCC modified the ATIS rule to apply only to analog video transmissions and digitally-modulated video uplinks from SNG vehicles and other temporary-fixed earth stations.

In the change, Section 25.281 of the rules was amended to require temporary-fixed operators to use the DVB-CID (spread spectrum) standard for digitally modulated video. DVB-CID can also be used for analog video transmission, although the old subcarrier with a Morse code ID is still permitted. The subcarrier code ID is not required for uplinks using DVB-CID. The FCC adopted a simple two-year grace period for implementing digital-carrier ATIS with either separate or embedded components.

Overall, the rule changes should make life easier for satellite operators and facilitate innovation. The FCC Report and Order does a good job summarizing the effort: “We are revising over 150 rule provisions in Part 25 to better reflect evolving technology; eliminate unnecessary information filing requirements for licensees and applicants; eliminate unnecessary technical restrictions; reorganize existing requirements; eliminate redundancy and unnecessary verbiage; clarify vague, confusing, or ambiguous provisions; resolve inconsistencies; and codify existing policies to improve transparency.”

The Commission noted that the changes will allow it to better assess the interference potential of proposed operations, as well as allow greater operational flexibility for sat license holders and save applicants and licensees “time, effort, and expense” in preparing reports and applications. The FCC noted that the change should also “ease administrative burdens for the Commission; and make the rules easier to understand.”

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack. A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.