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FCC Releases Final C-Band Order 

By Rachel Jewett | March 4, 2020
    United States Federal Communications Commission US FCC

    Federal Communications Commission. Photo: FCC

    The FCC released its final report and order on repurposing C-band spectrum for 5G on Tuesday, slightly shifting the amounts that satellite operators can receive in accelerated relocation payments to clear the spectrum quickly. 

    The document was released after the FCC voted 3-2 on Feb. 28 to repurpose the spectrum. Satellite operators are required to clear the spectrum, and the FCC will hold a public auction for licenses to that spectrum, starting Dec. 8 of this year. Satellite operators with licenses for the spectrum will receive both compensation for the cost to relocate the spectrum and accelerated relocation payments to incentivize them to clear the spectrum quickly, $9.7 billion total, divided between Intelsat, SES, Telesat, Eutelsat, and Star One. 

    Intelsat will receive a bit more in accelerated relocation payments, about $4.87 billion, compared to $4.85 billion specified in the draft order. Intelsat petitioned the FCC after the draft order, breaking with the C-Band Alliance and arguing it should receive 60%-70% of the payments. The satellite operator has also reportedly hired a legal firm to explore bankruptcy, which could disrupt the public auction. 

    Intelsat’s Virginia-based spokesperson said on Tuesday that the “proudly American company” will analyze the timing, technical parameters, responsibility and incentives in the final order, and “as we do so we will preserve all options to ensure our company is treated fairly and protect our spectrum rights.”

    SES will receive about $3.97 billion, down from $3.99 billion in the draft order; Eutelsat will receive about $507 million, up from $468 in the draft order; Telesat will receive $344 million, down from $375 million; and Star One will receive $15 million, up from about $13.7 million. 

    SES and Telesat put out a joint statement on Wednesday praising the final order, writing that the FCC made “necessary changes to the transition process to ensure effective and efficient clearing while maintaining the general allocation of acceleration payments from the draft order.” The statement congratulated the Commission for “striking the right balance to ensure accelerated access to the spectrum with appropriate incentives, providing an effective transition framework, and adequately protecting critical satellite services for customers and earth station operators.” 

    In the final document, the FCC also rejected Hispasat’s request to be made eligible for relocation costs. The Commission also rejected the request of ABS to make incumbent space station operators eligible for reimbursement of space station facilities that it says “will not remain comparable after the transition.” The FCC called ABS’s arguments “unconvincing” and “irrelevant.” After the vote on Friday, ABS Global Chairman and CEO Jim Frownfelter said that the company will mount a legal challenge to the decision. 

    “This order is fatally flawed by its misinterpretations of the Communications Act, and by its numerous arbitrary and capricious conclusions. The Small Satellite Operators are going to be harmed by the unlawful revocation of the right to use 60% of their licensed C-band spectrum, and we will ask the courts to overturn this order and to instruct the FCC to start the entire process again,” Frownfelter said in statement. 

    Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the voting breakdown on the C-band decision.