Scheduling the Race to the “C-Band” Auction

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
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On March 3, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) released its Report and Order and Order of Proposed Modification (FCC 20-22) (respectively, the “C-Band Order” and the “Proposed License Modification”) realigning the 3.7-4.2 GHz Band in the contiguous United States and proposing to modify most of the satellite, earth station, and fixed service licenses in the Band. If one sorts out the significant deadlines established by the C-Band Order leading up to the target date for the auction of the 3700-3980 MHz range, namely December 8, 2020, and the transition of incumbent space station and earth station operations and fixed service stations which must be completed in the auction’s wake, the heavy lifting required before the auction proceeds is plain. In the attached advisory, these deadlines are discussed in some detail.  Here, they are presented in abridged fashion.

For more information, register here for our April 2 C-Band Update webinar.

Clearing Deadlines for Satellite Service and Fixed Operations

Non-TT&C Operations in the 3700-4000 MHz Range

  • Incumbent eligible space station operators have until December 5, 2025 to clear the 3700-4000 MHz band in the contiguous United States, unless they elect to receive Accelerated Relocation Payments.
  • If Intelsat and SES elect Accelerated Relocation Payments, they and other eligible space station operators that make a similar election,
    • will have until December 5, 2021, to clear 3700-3820 MHz in 46 of the top 50 Principal Economic Areas (“PEAs”) and provide the associated earth station operators now operating in that range with passband filters in order to receive the Phase I accelerated payments (contingent on also meeting the Phase II deadlines), and
    • will have until December 5, 2023, to clear the entire 3700-4000 MHz range and provide filters to receive the Phase II accelerated payments and keep any Phase I payments received.

TT&C Stations within the 3700-4000 MHz Range to Receive Extended Protection

  • Incumbent space station operators must identify four locations where TT&C functions in CONUS will be consolidated by June 12, 2020.
    • The consolidation must occur by December 5, 2021, with possible exceptions by waiver or agreement.
    • Until December 5, 2030, operation of TT&C functions at the four consolidated locations will be permitted and protected.
    • At other existing TT&C locations, operations (both TT&C functions and other earth station functions) on a secondary, unprotected basis will be permitted after December 5, 2021, for another nine years.)

Sunset Date for Incumbent Fixed Wireless Services in the Entire 3.7-4.2 GHz Band

  • Incumbent Fixed Service point-to-point licenses through the entire 3.7-4.2 GHz Band will sunset as of December 5, 2023, limited to CONUS. Incumbent point-to-point fixed service links that transition to other bands will be entitled to reimbursement for  “comparable facilities” in such other band, provided they relocate by December 5, 2023.

Dates Triggered by the Federal Register Publication (which will not occur before March 30)

Reconsideration and Judicial Review Opportunities

  • Reconsideration of the C-Band Order will be due within thirty (30) days of its publication in the Federal Register.
  • Petitions for judicial review of the C-Band Order to a U.S. Court of Appeals will be due within sixty (60) days of the Federal Register publication.

Protest of Proposed C-Band License Modifications

  • Any protests of the FCC’s proposed modification of licenses and authorizations of all 3.7-4.2 GHz FSS licensees and market access holders; all affected transmit-receive earth station licenses, and all Fixed Service licenses in the band will be due thirty (30) days after the Federal Register publication of the proposed modifications in the C-band Order.

Relocation Payment Clearinghouse Selection Committee Formation and Action

  • The Relocation Payment Clearinghouse committee consisting of nine designated representatives of satellite operators, incumbent earth stations, and prospective flexible-use licensees, must convene within 60 days after publication of the C-Band Order in the Federal Register.
  • The committee must notify the FCC of the selection criteria it will by June 1, 2020.
  • By July 31, 2020, the committee must notify the Commission of a consensus choice for the Clearinghouse or it will be reformed and trimmed by the Commission, and the seven remaining members must choose a Clearinghouse by majority vote by August 14, 2020.

Effective Date of Rules

  • Generally, the C-Band Order provides that the Commission’s new rules for the 3.7-4.2 GHz Band will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.   But the rules that require Office Management and Budget (“OMB”) review under the Paperwork Reduction Act (“PRA”) will be effective only after OMB approval and a subsequent notice is published in the Federal Register by the Commission.
    • On March 26, 2020, the FCC sought comment on several rules for purposes of OMB review, setting a comment deadline of Monday, April 27, 2020, hoping to keep some near-term deadlines on track.

Deadlines with Specific Dates

Comment on Competitive Bidding Procedures and Dates

  • Comments and reply comments in response to the March 3, 2020, Public Notice, are due May 1 and May 15, 2020.

Qualifying for Accelerated Relocation Payments

  • By May 12, 2020, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) is to prescribe the “precise form” of an Accelerated Relocation Election.
  • A satellite operator’s Accelerate Relocation Election, if it chooses to make one, will be public and irrevocable and is due by May 29, 2020.
  • By June 5, 2020, the WTB is to issue a Public Notice announcing whether sufficient elections have been made to trigger early relocation or not – i.e., did both Intelsat and SES elect to accelerate relocation.

Deadlines for All Space Station Operator Transition Plans and Comments

  • Each space station operator, whether electing early relocation payments or not, must file by June 12, 2020, a Transition Plan describing necessary steps and estimated transition costs to clear 3700-4000 MHz Band by the applicable deadlines.
  • Interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on the Transition Plans by July 13, 2020.

Relocation Coordinator Selection

  • The search committee for the Relocation Coordinator must notify the Commission of its choice by July 31, 2020, after which the WTB will issue a Public Notice seeking comment on whether the committee’s choice meets the criteria for the Coordinator set out in the C-Band Order.

Space Station Operator and Relocation Coordinator Status Reports

  • Beginning on December 31, 2020, and continuing until the transitions are complete, space station operators and the Relocation Coordinator must file quarterly reports on progress of the transition in a form to be established by the WTB.

Deadline Triggered by FCC Notices

Deadline for Earth Station Operators to Elect How They Will Be Reimbursed

  • Earth station operators can accept reimbursement for the actual documented reasonable relocation costs of each earth station that maintains satellite reception and is relocated to the 4000-4200 MHz range, or they can accept a reimbursement for all of their incumbent earth stations based on a per station amount (i.e., lump sum) to be established by the WTB for various classes of earth stations. They will have to make that election within 30 days after release of the Bureau’s announcements.  

Tasks without Clear Deadlines

Multi-Stakeholder Technical Group Formation and Completion of Work

  • The Commission set no deadlines for the multi-stakeholder group consisting of incumbent earth station operators, incumbent space station operators, wireless network operators, network equipment manufacturers, and aeronautical radionavigation equipment manufacturers that will address coexistence issues in the 3.7-4.2 GHz Band and work towards technical solutions. The Office of Engineering and Technology is to inform the group as to time frames in which input would be helpful.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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