Satellite Dish

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote this week on a proposed order that, if approved, would step up the agency’s efforts to collect information about how mid-band spectrum from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz, commonly called the C-band, is being used. But rather than simply slap a burden on radio and television stations across America, the National Association of Broadcasters is urging the FCC to take a more targeted approach.

The FCC says as part of the agency’s goal for more “efficient and intensive use” of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band it wants to collect information about satellite receivers, or so-called earth stations, in order to evaluate how much of the C-band is being used and whether some of it could be made available to new users. “This information will assist in determining whether earth stations will need to be protected as well as how they may need to be protected depending on how the Commission moves forward with increasing the intensity of terrestrial use of the band,” the proposal says. “It will also allow the Commission to evaluate the feasibility of the various transition proposals.”

The NAB has called that a “burdensome and potentially unnecessary information collection” proposal and in a meeting late last week the trade group met with aides to FCC chair Ajit Pai offering an alternative. The NAB suggested that only broadcasters in the top 25 media markets be required to submit reports to the FCC about their C-band use. In a required disclosure about the meeting the NAB explained those large markets are “most likely to be of interest” to wireless carriers who hope to begin using the spectrum to offer mobile broadband services. At the same time by focusing on the top 25 markets the NAB said it would not “unnecessarily burden” broadcasters operating in small and rural markets.

If approved, the Office of Engineering and Technology would issue a notice to all earth station licensees, including most radio stations, to submit information about their satellite-receiving earth station. That information would include:

  • earth station call sign
  • geographic location
  • licensee and point of contact information
  • antenna gain;
  • azimuth and elevation gain pattern
  • antenna azimuth relative to true north
  • antenna elevation angle
  • satellite(s) at which the earth station is pointed
  • transponder number and how often each transponder is used
  • antenna site elevation and height above ground
  • certification that the earth station was and is constructed and operational

But before the FCC moves forward with any information collection, the NAB thinks the Commission should seek comment on what it’s collecting. The trade group says some of the information it proposes gathering “may be of little or no use” depending on what decisions are ultimately made on opening the C-band to mobile broadband providers. “It would be premature to order the additional information collection before the Commission knows what specific elements of the collection, if any, will actually be required,” the disclosure filing said.

Many Stations Receivers Still Unregistered

The NAB and radio network operators like iHeartMedia’s Premiere Network have told the FCC that many radio stations have probably never even registered their earth station. Recognizing that’s probably the case, International Bureau chief Tom Sullivan agreed last month to extend the filing window by 90-days. That’s given stations until Oct. 17 to register their satellite receivers. The International Bureau has also made it easier to make “batch” filings and clarifying other rules in a way that should save some broadcasters money. But at the same time the FCC has refused to drop the required $435 filing fee associated with Form 312s. The NAB had been lobbying the FCC to drop the filing fee, calling it an “undue and unfair burden” on stations.

The NAB told Pai aides last week that while it appreciates the International Bureau has given stations more time to register their earth stations it’s still concerned many small operators may be unaware of the filing window and the consequences to their operations for failing to register. “Given the tremendous potential for disruption in the event the Commission fails to protect incumbent C-band operations we urge the Commission to take proactive steps to increase awareness of the need to register,” it said in the disclosure filing about the meeting.

The NAB’s arguments may be resonating inside the Commission. Pai is purportedly considering making some tweaks to the draft order pulling back on some elements of the information collection proposal. FCC reps didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Broadcasters have urged the FCC to slow down in its push to open the C-band, under a law passed by Congress earlier this year the agency is requiring the agency to license more spectrum allowing wireless companies to move in and begin building commercial mobile broadband services by Dec. 31, 2022. The Commission is expected to begin moving in that direction this week when it votes on launching a rulemaking that would open up 500 MHz in the C-band. Among the issues being considered is how to protect incumbent users, such as radio stations, including whether moving them to new spectrum is a better course to take.