The FCC has released final procedures to transition the 3700-4000 MHz portion of the C-band satellite downlink in the contiguous United States (“CONUS”) to use for 5G mobile services. Here’s what you need to know if you are a current earth station licensee or registrant:

Timing

  • Satellite use of the 3700-4000 MHz band will end no later than December 5, 2025.
  • The transition may be accelerated to end satellite use of the 3700-3820 MHz band in 46 of the 50 largest metropolitan markets by December 5, 2021 and end all use of the 3700-4000 MHz band by December 5, 2023 -- if satellite operators Intelsat and SES both commit by May 12, 2020 to fast-track the transition in return for substantial monetary payments.

Interference Protection Rights

  • Earth stations now operating in the 3700-4000 MHz band within CONUS will be protected from interference until they transition into the 4000-4200 MHz band and will continue to be protected at the upper frequencies, if they meet all the following criteria:
    • operational as of April 19, 2018;
    • licensed or registered (or application pending) on November 7, 2018; and
    • certified to the FCC by May 28, 2019 that their license or registration information submitted before April 19, 2018 remains accurate.
  • To avoid harmful interference to earth stations, new terrestrial licensees will be required to limit power flux density (“PFD”), as measured at the earth station antenna:
    • Out-of-Band: to -124 dBW/m2/MHz (i.e., for all emissions into the earth station’s authorized band of operation as that band adjusts during the transition, ultimately the 4000-4200 MHz band); and
    • In-Band: to -16 dBW/m2/MHz (i.e., for all emissions within the terrestrial licensees’ authorized band of operation as that band adjusts during the transition, ultimately the 3700-4000 MHz band).
  • Once the transition is complete, earth stations will continue to have full band/full arc use of the 4000-4200 MHz band.

Compensation

  • Earth station operators meeting the interference protection criteria above will be compensated for all reasonable relocation costs. Covered costs for moving to the 4000-4200 MHz band include retuning, repointing and filtering plus any associated FCC application fees, as well as “soft costs” for engineering, consulting and attorney fees. The FCC will apply a rebuttable presumption that soft costs should not exceed 2% of hard costs.
  • Earth station operators may elect at their discretion to receive payments for either: (1) individualized, fully documented expenses for each antenna’s transition to the upper band spectrum OR (2) a lump sum based on the average, estimated cost of earth station relocation, which would give them the option to shift to other distribution means (g., fiber). This is an irrevocable, either/or election that must be made within 30 days after the FCC announces per site lump sum payment amounts (to be based on Earth station type). The single method selected must be applied to all the operator’s CONUS Earth stations.
  • A Relocation Payment Clearinghouse (“RPC”) will serve as a neutral, third-party administrator for the payment of funds to relocating Earth station operators. The RPC will be chosen by a committee of nine members designated by the three largest space station operators serving the U.S. and six interested trade associations, including the National Association of Broadcasters and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.
  • The responsibility for managing the transition of the band falls in the first instance on the space station operators, which will have the obligation to formulate Transition Plans by June 12, 2020 that will be subject to public comment.
  • Earth station operators will receive no acceleration payments and are eligible only to receive relocation expenses incurred.

New, Modified or Renewed Licenses

  • Within CONUS, applications for new, modified, or renewed earth station licenses and registrations in the 3700-4000 MHz portion of the band will no longer be accepted, and in the 4000-4200 MHz portion of the band, earth station authorizations may be modified or renewed to maintain operations, but applications for new earth station licenses or registrations will not be accepted until the transition is completed in 2023 or 2025.
  • Outside CONUS, Earth station operators may continue to use the entire 3700-4200 GHz band and can apply not only for renewal but also for new or modified facilities once the FCC’s Order is formally published in the Federal Register. This permitted use includes transmissions that incidentally reach CONUS but are directed at earth stations outside CONUS.