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FCC Proposes New Regulations for Satellites Using Terrestrial Spectrum

By Rachel Jewett | February 24, 2023

Satellite-to-cell graphic. Photo illustration: Via Satellite

The FCC will consider rules that allow satellite operators to operate satellites using terrestrial spectrum, in a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) released Feb. 23. 

The FCC said in the NPRM that this new framework would facilitate the integration of satellite and terrestrial networks. This is a major topic in the satellite industry as telcos and device and chip manufacturers like T-Mobile, Apple, and Qualcomm strike deals with satellite operators to provide satellite-to-cell service.  

The FCC’s framework proposes to add a mobile satellite service allocation to a class of terrestrial flexible-use bands that have no primary, federal or non-federal satellite allocations, to allow satellites to provide “supplemental coverage from space” to terrestrial networks — expanding terrestrial networks via satellite. It would also allow a satellite operator with existing part 25 authorization for Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) satellite operation to apply to modify their authorization and access terrestrial spectrum.

“This framework could enable innovation and investment in nascent satellite and terrestrial interoperable technologies and cross-industry stakeholder partnerships to flourish in the United States, and play a key role towards fulfilling other commission goals in the public interest,” the FCC said, mentioning goals such as improving emergency communications and competition in wireless services. 

“We anticipate that our proposed SCS [supplemental coverage from space] approach will incentivize creative partnerships between terrestrial network and space station operators and will provide additional tools to close wireless coverage gaps, while retaining high service quality among our nation’s 4G and 5G terrestrial networks, protecting spectrum usage rights, and avoiding harmful interference,” the NPRM states.

The FCC will consider the NPRM at its next open meeting set for March 16.