As readers of CommLawBlog know, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) has reallocated the lower portion of the C-Band used for satellite communications and auctioned that portion of the spectrum for wireless services. In connection with that auction, operators of C-Band Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) earth stations will have to modify their operations out of (“transition”) the lower portion of the C-Band. The FCC structured the nationwide transition plan to include the involvement of the FSS Satellite operators as well as RSM US LLP (RSM), the designated C-Band Relocation Coordinator. Recently, the FCC’s International Bureau published a Public Notice regarding (1) operators of incumbent FSS C-Band earth station antennas that have been reported as no longer operational and (2) incumbent FSS C-Band earth station operators that have not responded to communications from RSM and/or incumbent C-Band satellite operators. That Public Notice requires C-Band Earth Station operators listed in attachments to the Notice to submit to the FCC by April 19, 2021, a statement affirming the continued operation of the identified earth station antennas and their intent to participate in the C-Band transition. Failure by those identified operators to make that submission will result in automatic termination of the earth station authorizations, and removal from the list of “incumbent” earth stations entitled to protection from interference, and may not be entitled to assistance and reimbursement in connection with the transition.
Under the Commission’s prior orders, RSM is responsible for coordinating with the five incumbent C-Band satellite operators – Eutelsat, Intelsat, SES, StarOne, and Telesat – to ensure that all incumbent earth stations are accounted for in the transition. The satellite operators have engaged in outreach to earth stations known to be receiving service from these satellite operators. The overwhelming majority of incumbent earth stations have been “claimed” by the satellite operator from which they receive service and will be transitioned to the upper 200 megahertz of the band. But a limited number of incumbent earth stations remain unassociated with any of the satellite operators. In these cases, RSM, as the C-Band Relocation Coordinator, has conducted outreach and research to determine whether the earth station is still active and, if so, the satellite(s) from which the earth station receives its service so that it may assign, if possible, that earth station to a satellite operator for purposes of assisting in the transition.
Recently, RSM submitted a filing to the FCC that includes two lists of incumbent earth stations. One list identifies various individual earth station antennas that it reports, based on communications with earth station operators by RSM or satellite operators or both, as no longer operational at the site address and GPS coordinates provided in the FCC’s latest incumbent earth station list. Note that the inactive incumbent earth stations identified by RSM exclude any earth stations for which a lump sum election was made. In the other list, RSM identifies earth station operators (and associated antennas) that it reports as unresponsive to multiple and varied C-Band transition outreach efforts by RSM, the satellite operators, or both, via email, phone, and, in some cases, certified mail.
Reported inactive earth station antennas will be presumed non-operational and terminated.
The FCC has announced that it will presume that earth station antennas reported by RSM as inactive are no longer operational. Section 25.161(c) of the Commission’s rules provides that an earth station authorization is automatically terminated if the station is not operational for more than 90 days. Section 25.115(b)(8) of the Commission’s rules also requires earth station operators to take the steps necessary to remove non-operational antennas from the active records in the International Bureau Filing System (IBFS).
Thus, the FCC has directed earth station operators with incumbent earth station antennas reported to Commission staff as inactive to make either of two filings no later than April 19, 2021: (1) file to remove those antennas from IBFS as no longer operational; or (2) file in Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) IB Docket No. 20-205 to assert that those antennas are still operational.
Earth station operators that do not respond by April 19, 2021 to affirm the continued operation of their identified earth station antennas will be deemed to have had the authorizations for those antennas automatically terminated by rule. The IBFS records for those antennas will be shown with a terminated status. Such terminated earth stations will also be removed from the incumbent earth station list and will not be entitled to protection from interference from the network deployments of new wireless licenses or be eligible for reimbursement of any transition costs, including the cost of any filters, that those earth stations may decide to incur. [Antennas that were included in a lump sum election can still collect the lump sum since such antennas include those that the earth station owner intends to discontinue operation.]
Unresponsive operators (and associated antennas) must confirm or be deemed terminated.
Based on their alleged failure to respond to multiple contact attempts by RSM and the incumbent satellite operators, the FCC will presume that the incumbent earth station antennas identified in Attachment B have ceased operations. To confirm whether or not these unresponsive station operators have discontinued the operation of these earth station antennas, the FCC has required those operators to submit a notification, no later than April 19, 2021, affirming that these facilities remain operational and that they intend to participate in the C-Band transition. Operators should submit this notification to the Bureau in ECFS IB Docket No. 20-205. In providing this response, an earth station operator affirming that the identified earth station antennas remain operational should identify the satellite from which each antenna is receiving service. Commission staff will forward all affirmations of continued operation to the RSM and/or relevant satellite operator(s), who will contact affirming earth station operators directly to initiate the transition.
Earth station operators that do not respond by April 19, 2021 to affirm the continued operation of the identified earth station antennas will be deemed to have had the authorizations for those antennas automatically terminated by rule. Such terminated earth stations will also be removed from the incumbent earth station list and will not be entitled to protection from interference from the network deployments of new wireless licenses or be eligible for reimbursement of any transition costs, including the cost of any filters, that those earth stations may decide to incur.
So, earth station operators who have not communicated with a satellite operator or RSM about the transition, or who may have had their earth station reported as inactive, should closely check the FCC’s Attachment lists linked above, and take appropriate action if their earth stations are improperly listed. If you have questions or need assistance in responding to the FCC, please contact us.