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FCC Makes Changes to Satellite Application Processing

By Rachel Jewett | September 21, 2023

      Federal Communications Commission seal. Photo: Creative Commons license/jeanbaptisteparis via Flickr

      The FCC adopted new rules on Thursday that it says will speed up processing for space and earth station applications. FCC Chairwoman said in a statement that the FCC currently has applications pending for more than 56,000 satellites — double the number of applications it had four years ago. These new rules will help the commission deal with the number of applications. 

      The FCC has not yet released the final Report and Order, but announced that the new rules allow Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) license holders the flexibility to have more than one unbuilt system without their applications being dismissed. 

      This was an issue that a number of satellite operators weighed in on during public comment, including SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb, Iridium, and Viasat. 

      In a recent filing to the FCC, SpaceX argued that this rule change “will facilitate additional innovation and equitable participation in processing rounds without increasing the risk of speculative applications.” SpaceX advised the FCC to seek further comment on how to reform its unbuilt system rule for applications filed within a single processing round, arguing that applicants may have legitimate reasons to apply for separate systems within a single processing round.

      Viasat and Iridium argued against eliminating the rule, arguing that speculative applications could ‘warehouse’ orbital resources. 

      Amazon called for the FCC to “soften” the rule: “Softening and taking a pragmatic approach to the rule without eliminating it would encourage innovation and deployment, improve the licensing process, and preserve the integrity of the processing round approach without inviting speculative applications,” in a recent filing.  

      The new rules approved Thursday also establish timeframes for placing space and earth station applications on notice for public comment, permits applicants to apply for authority to operate in frequencies in bands where there is not an international allocation for satellite services, and and streamlines how the commission processes earth station operators’ requests to add space stations as points of communication. 

      The FCC is still seeking comment on a number of issues including printing and maintaining a paper copy of a license, and establishing time frames or “shot clocks.” 

      Rosenworcel said this move is part of a “new era” in how the FCC deals with the satellite industry to encourage innovation. The FCC’s Space Bureau is also establishing a transparency initiative with FAQs and workshops to give more applicants information to help them file. 

      “It is a new era so we eliminate old rules that no longer meet the moment and establish clear timeframes for placing space and earth station applications on public notice.  This makes our process easier to understand for existing players and new entrants alike,” Rosenworcel said. 

      Thursday’s decision came from the FCC after it opened this issue in December 2022.