We previously have reported on Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) authorization of use of earth stations installed on aircraft to communicate with Fixed-Satellite Service (“FSS”) spacecraft in geostationary orbits.  These Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft are part of a broader category of Earth Stations in Motion (“ESIMs”).  FCC regulations regarding licensing and operational requirements of ESIMs tend to be similar, but not identical, across the various subcategories of ESIMs, with differences generally dependent on the type of vehicle (ships, airplanes, or land-based) to which the Earth Station is attached.  Recently, the FCC issued a Report and Order intended to streamline, consolidate, and harmonize the rules governing these earth stations used to provide satellite services.  At the same time, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on expanding the frequencies that ESIMs may use.

The Commission’s current regulatory framework covers three types of Fixed-Satellite Service (“FSS”) earth stations that are authorized to transmit data while in motion: Earth Stations on Vessels (“ESVs”), Vehicle-Mounted Earth Stations (“VMESs”), and Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (“ESAAs”).  Each of these types of ESIMs has its own section of technical and operational rules, as well as its own section of application rules.  Except for a few platform-specific exceptions, the three rule sections that govern the operation and licensing of ESVs, VMESs, and ESAAs are very similar.  In addition, the current rules provisions are limited to communications with satellites in geosynchronous orbit (“GSO”) in the conventional C- and Ku-bands, as well as portions of the extended Ku-band.

In the Report and Order, the Commission revised and streamlined four categories of ESIM rules:  (1) core rules (i.e. those applicable to all ESIMs); (2) vehicle-type specific rules that apply across multiple frequency bands; (3) frequency-band specific status and coordination rules; and (4) vehicle-type specific rules that apply to a single frequency band.

The FCC also issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”), seeking comment on expanding the frequencies available to ESIMs communicating with GSO FSS satellite networks.  Specifically, the Commission seeks comment on:

  • Allowing ESIMs to operate in all of the frequency bands in which earth stations at fixed locations operating in GSO FSS satellite networks can be blanket-licensed.
  • Expanding the Ku-band space-to-Earth frequency ranges in which ESIMs can be authorized to receive transmissions from GSO FSS space stations to also include the ranges 10.7-10.95 GHz and 11.2-11.45 GHz, and whether these operations would be on an unprotected basis with respect to other services.
  • Whether allowing ESIMs in the Ka-band, to receive signals from GSO FSS satellite space stations on a secondary basis in the 17.8-18.3 GHz band and, on a primary basis, in the 19.3-19.4 and 19.6-19.7 GHz band.
  • Whether to allow ESIMs to operate in GSO FSS satellite networks in the 8-19.3 GHz (space-to-Earth) and 28.6-29.1 GHz (Earth-to-space) frequency bands on an unprotected, non-interference basis with respect to NGSO FSS satellite systems.
  • Any possible effects that expanding the frequencies available to ESIMs communicating with GSO FSS satellite networks may have on existing or future services in these bands or adjacent frequency bands and on any necessary changes to the rules that may be appropriate to accommodate them.

Comments are due 45 days from publication of the FNPRM in the Federal Register, which has not occurred yet.   Please call us if you have questions on ESIMs, or wish to file comments.