FCC Releases Adopted SCS Item

On March 15, 2024, the FCC released the Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“R&O” and “FNPRM” respectively) adopting a Supplemental Coverage from Space (“SCS”) framework, which will enable satellite-to-device connectivity.  In order to enable SCS, the R&O modifies the U.S. Table of Frequency Allocations to permit bi-directional, secondary MSS operations in certain bands that have no primary, non-flexible-use legacy federal or non-federal incumbents.  For these bands, SCS will be permitted only where one or more terrestrial licensees, together holding all licenses on the relevant channel throughout a Geographically Independent Area (“GIA”), lease access to their spectrum rights to a participating satellite operator, whose part 25 license reflects these frequencies and the GIA in which they will offer SCS.  The FNPRM seeks comment on additional public safety considerations for SCS service and how to protect radio astronomy services.

The item was adopted at the March Open Meeting.

R&O: In the R&O, the FCC adopts the following:

  • A Hybrid Framework:  The FCC is adopting rule changes to execute a new regulatory framework for SCS, while continuing to actively monitor the nascent SCS marketplace to consider modifications and address proposals that do not fit neatly within the framework by waiver.  The FCC does not want to discourage or delay innovative solutions for supplemental satellite coverage, and thus will continue to consider, on a case-by-case basis, filings for waiver or STA made by interested parties for SCS.  The FCC also notes it plans to build on the adopted framework to enable deployment of SCS in additional bands and scenarios.
  • Spectrum Bands Available for SCS:  Of the bands proposed in the NPRM to be used for SCS, the FCC determined that the Wireless Communications Service (“WCS”) band (2305-2320 and 2345-2360 MHz) will not be included in the bands eligible for SCS under its framework, but that it would add the 758-769/788-799 MHz band licensed to the First Responder Network Authority (“FirstNet”).  Accordingly, the following bands will be available for the provision of SCS (“the SCS Bands”):
    • 600 MHz: 614-652 MHz and 663-698 MHz;
    • 700 MHz: 698-769 MHz, 775 MHz-799 MHz, and 805-806 MHz;
    • 800 MHz: 824-849 MHz and 869-894 MHz;
    • Broadband PCS: 1850-1915 MHz and 1930-1995 MHz; and
    • AWS-H Block: 1915-1920 MHz and 1995-2000 MHz
  • Adding a Mobile-Satellite Service (“MSS”) Allocation to the SCS Bands:  The FCC will modify the US Table of Frequency Allocations to add a secondary MSS allocation in each of the SCS Bands and a footnote that states “NG33A: The secondary MSS operations in the bands 614-652 MHz and 663-769 MHz, 775- 799 MHz, and 805-806 MHz, 824-849 MHz and 869-894 MHz, and 1850-1920 MHz and 1930-2000 MHz are limited to Supplemental Coverage from Space (SCS) and are subject to the Commission’s SCS rules in part 25 of this chapter.”
    • The FCC states that the “allocation indicates that bidirectional MSS operations (space-to-Earth and Earth-to-space) apply to the provision of SCS and is added for the entire spectrum range of each of the SCS Bands.”
    • Prospective SCS applicants will be required to identify the specific frequencies over which SCS service can be provided as well as any limits regarding signal directionality (i.e. uplink/downlink).
    • SCS operations will be allocated on a secondary basis, and accordingly may not cause harmful interference to – and are not entitled to interference protection from – any primary service operating in the relevant band. Terrestrial service providers and satellite operators collaborating to provide SCS will be required to protect adjacent band and cross-border operations.
  • Geographically Independent Area:  In order to provide SCS under a part 25 authorization, the satellite operator is required to be the lessee of one or more valid lease arrangements covering: (1) all frequencies over which it provides SCS as identified in its SCS application, and (2) the entire area of a GIA.  The FCC limits SCS authorizations to the following GIAs: (1) the contiguous United States (“CONUS”); (2) Alaska; (3) Hawaii; (4) American Samoa; (5) Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands; and (6) Guam/Northern Mariana Islands.
    • The FCC clarifies that multiple licensees may work with a satellite operator to provide SCS, as long as together those service providers hold all the licenses in the relevant channel throughout a GIA.  An operator cannot provide SCS in a GIA where a significant portion of the GIA’s geography is not licensed (i.e. remains in the FCC’s inventory).
    • The Commission emphasizes that its framework does not foreclose the ability for parties with proposals for providing SCS that do not satisfy its framework from applying to the Commission and demonstrating that they will not cause harmful interference under the proposed parameters specific to their SCS operations.
  • Part 25 License Entry Criteria:  A satellite operator may apply to modify a current part 25 license to include SCS where: (1) the satellite operator has one or more leasing notification(s) or application(s), or in the case of FirstNet, a Form 601, on file with the FCC to access the spectrum allocated for MSS provision of SCS from a single terrestrial licensee or multiple licensees that hold, collectively or individually, all co-channel licenses throughout a GIA; (2) the current part 25 space station licensee or part 25 grantee of market access for NGSO or GSO satellite operation seeks modification of authority to provide SCS in the same geographic areas covered in the relevant GIA; and (3) the terrestrial devices involved in SCS qualify as “licensed by rule” earth stations under the new provisions of part 25.  Similarly, satellite operators may apply for an initial part 25 license with authority to provide SCS if they meet requirements (1) and (3) above, and if in their part 25 application, those operators seek to provide SCS in the same geographic areas covered in the relevant GIA.
  • Earth Station Operations:  The FCC adopts a licensed-by-rule approach to allow terrestrial devices to communicate with a satellite for the provision of SCS.  So long as the terrestrial devices connecting to the SCS network are doing so pursuant to an effective part 1 leasing arrangement or agreement and are operating within the existing technical parameters of the OET equipment authorization, the terrestrial licensee’s license parameters, and applicable FCC rules, then those devices will be licensed as earth stations by rule without the need to file an additional part 25 earth station application for additional authority.
  • Leasing – The FCC adopts a two-pronged leasing methodology to permit terrestrial licenses to lease access to a satellite operator.  Under the first, a single terrestrial licensee who holds all co-channel licenses on the relevant band in a GIA may enter into either a spectrum manager or de facto transfer leasing arrangement with one or more satellite operators.  Under the second, multiple co-channel licenses on the relevant band in a GIA may enter into spectrum manager or de facto leases with a single satellite operator.  Under the second prong, the FCC will permit either one terrestrial licensee to lease spectrum from multiple other terrestrial licensees that it then sublets to a satellite company or let a satellite company directly enter into leasing agreements with multiple terrestrial licensees.
    • Application Requirements:  Under each prong, the lessee and lessor should adequately describe the leasing arrangement as an attachment to the FCC application and include: (1) a certification that the parties are entering into the leasing arrangement for the purpose of fulfilling the part 25 entry criteria; (2) a description of which method, single or multiple terrestrial licensees, the parties are utilizing to meet the part 25 entry criteria; and (3) if the parties are utilizing the multiple terrestrial licensee method, the parties should: (a) describe the nature of the leasing arrangement(s); and (b) demonstrate how the entirety of the GIA is covered by the lease arrangement(s).
    • Policies and Procedures Applicable to SCS Spectrum Leasing Arrangements: The FCC applies the following procedures and policies to SCS arrangements: (1) its leasing rules; (2) its subleasing rules; (3) revisions of its construction and performance attribution rules, which specify the construction and performance requirements will remain with the terrestrial licensee (a lessor is not allowed to rely on the lessee’s activities related to the provision of SCS to meet the licensee’s construction, renewal or discontinuance obligations applicable to the underlying license); (4) the current spectrum manager and de facto transfer leasing terms; (5) declines to implement rules that would prevent either party from severing a part 1 leasing agreement; (6) adopts rules requiring subscriber notifications of SCS leasing arrangements; (7) maintains its current interference-related leasing rules; (8) declines to extend ECIP eligibility to SCS leasing arrangements; and (9) declines to adopt a new E911 obligations.
  • Service Rules:  The FCC adopts limited amendments to the service rules governing satellite and terrestrial licensees to enable the provision of SCS.  Of note, the Commission is not applying its part 20 roaming rules to satellite operators providing SCS, and note that it is declining requests to clarify that the roaming obligations of a CMRS provider extend to the portions of its coverage made up of SCS operations.
  • 911 Call Transmission Requirements:  The FCC establishes interim 911 requirements that require terrestrial providers to transmit all SCS 911 voice calls and texts to a Public Safety Answering Point (“PSAP”) using either an emergency call center or location-based routing.  The provider also must transmit location information and the user’s phone number to facilitate dispatch and callback capabilities at the receiving PSAP.  Providers that use SCS deployments will be required to provide an explanation of how these deployments have supported 911 routing to the geographically appropriate PSAP, submit a one-time privacy certification, and provide consumer disclosures.  The Commission also adopts various reporting requirements, requiring terrestrial providers that utilize SCS arrangements to expand their coverage areas for providing service to disclose certain information to the Commission regarding SCS 911 voice calls and 911 text messages.
  • Technical Issues: The Commission applies existing secondary market rules to mitigate potential harmful interference upon SCS deployment.  In addition, the FCC adopts other technical parameters related to in-market downline power flux density limits, market area boundary limits, out of band emission limits, terrestrial device power, the elevation angle for satellite downlinks, protection of radio astronomy and space sciences, and equipment authorizations.

FNPRM:

In the NPRM, the FCC seeks to further develop the record on how to improve 911 service for SCS connections and protect radio astronomy.  Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on the following:

  • How to improve public safety communications over SCS, including whether to require the use of location-based routing to route 911 SCS voice calls, improvements to the 911 rules to apply to providers when using SCS to extend their coverage, whether to establish rules on interconnectivity between terrestrial providers and satellite operators in the context of SCS 911 connections, requirements for network selection and roaming, and mandating outreach to PSAPs.
  • How to protect radio astronomy services, including whether the unique nature of SCS warrants additional consideration or rule changes, and whether early coordination efforts by stakeholders can facilitate such protection.

Once adopted, comments will be due 30 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 60 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.

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The post FCC Releases Adopted SCS Item first appeared on Telecommunications Law Professionals, PLLC.

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