FCC seeks MSS rules change to further broadband services

It's what the mobile operator industry has long rallied for, and a move that should boost the mobile satellite service (MSS) industry. The FCC unanimously voted to consider a proposal that eases restrictions on satellite spectrum and possibly lead to opening up 90 megahertz of spectrum for terrestrial broadband use.

The FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry asking for comment on its propose to changes the rules. A change could give MSS companies the ability to lease spectrum to mobile broadband services, and the FCC is proposing that satellite firms give up their MSS spectrum in exchange for part of the proceeds taken from the auction of that spectrum.

The mobile industry has long rallied for satellite spectrum, arguing that a flimsy business case exists for the satellite business. In recent years, the FCC allowed satellite  operators to offer both terrestrial and satellite services in a bid to bring down the cost of the service and enable in-building penetration.

SkyTerra and Globalstar are two MSS providers that have outlined plans for a terrestrial/satellite service, and more flexible MSS rules for them could be beneficial.

Globalstar has teamed with rural WiMAX operator Open Range. The two will offer WiMAX to more than 500 rural communities--with the help of a $267 million loan from the Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Utilities Program. The MSS company has applauded the FCC's search for more spectrum in association with the National Broadband Plan.

"We applaud the FCC's plans to create an economic and regulatory environment that will stimulate job creation and foster development of the world's fastest and most innovative broadband networks here in the United States, and we are encouraged by their thoughts regarding optimizing the use of MSS spectrum," Peter Dalton, CEO of Globalstar said in March. "We are already utilizing our ATC authorization to lease satellite spectrum to terrestrial rural broadband provider Open Range Communications. We welcome the commission's view that the public would benefit if we and the rest of the MSS community had greater flexibility to use our spectrum for further terrestrial applications. We look forward to working with the public policy makers and our industry colleagues in a collective effort to provide Americans with access to the world's fastest and most innovative mobile services."

Meanwhile, Harbinger Capital Partners merged with SkyTerra and plans to use both terrestrial and MSS spectrum for a nationwide LTE network that will offer wholesale mobile broadband services. The network could cost as much as $6 billion since the MSS part is attached. Spectrum flexibility would help drive down costs for operator. 

The network is expected to include SkyTerra's next-generation satellites, about 36,000 terrestrial base stations, multi-frequency mode user handsets and other consumer devices, a terrestrial cell site and backhaul network, network operations centers and the networks of other terrestrial carriers with whom Harbinger plans to have roaming agreements with.

Harbinger plans to initially use 23 megahertz of SkyTerra's spectrum but could also bring Terrestar Networks in the fold since it owns a stake in that satellite company. In addition to the 23 megahertz, the company said it has access to quite a bit of spectrum through a cooperation agreement with Inmarsat and associated waivers of the commission's ATC rules. By 2013, Harbinger expects to have access to another 30 megahertz of ATC spectrum.

For more:
- see this BusinessWeek article
- see this PCWorld article

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Next-gen technology heats up FCC broadband spectrum policy