A federal appeals court says the FCC correctly took into account the amount of spectrum the satellite companies needed before auctioning off the lower portion of the C-band (3.7 to 4.2 GHz). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected satellite providers’ attempts to delay reorganization of the band last week.
This March, the Commission voted to reallocate the lower 280 MHz of the band (3.7–3.98 GHz) to 5G and repack the incumbent satellite users and earth station downlinks to (4.0–4.2 GHz). It plans to preserve the remaining 20 MHz (3.98–4.0 GHz) as an unusable guard band to minimize cross-interference.
The auction of licenses in the lower portion of the C-band began on December 8, and gross bids surpassed $46 billion as of round 37 yesterday afternoon. In addition to paying the auction price, auction winners will be required to reimburse incumbent satellite operators for all reasonable costs of being repacked to the upper 200 MHz of the band.
Satellite operators must clear the lower portion of the band by December 2025. If they move by December 2023, the new 5G licensees must pay them an “accelerated relocation payment” of $9.7 billion, to be divided among the five eligible satcos.
Three smaller satcos — Hispasat S.A., ABS Global Ltd. and Empresa Argentina de Soluciones Satelitales S.A. — are foreign-owned. The FCC concluded they provided no services requiring repacking and were not eligible to receive moving compensation.
PSSI Global Services also challenged the order. PSSI operates mobile earth stations that broadcast live events by satellite. It asserts that by modifying the C-band downlink, the FCC modified PSSI’s license to transmit over the C-band uplink: Given the fixed frequency shift, PSSI may no longer transmit signals to satellites at frequencies between 5.925 GHz and 6.225 GHz, because the satellites would retransmit the signals at frequencies between 3.7 GHz and 4.0 GHz.
The FCC said the appeals court lacks jurisdiction over PSSI’s claims and the satco filed its claim too late. The smaller satcos unsuccessfully asked the FCC to stay its C-band Order. They then sought a stay from the appeals court to delay the auction, which was denied.
The satcos argued the FCC exceeded its authority by modifying all existing satellite licenses in the band.
In its explanation, the appeals court said the agency has the right to do so, if the action “will promote the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” The smaller satcos argued that reducing their available spectrum by sixty percent works a fundamental change in their grants of market access. But the court noted “the FCC found that the remaining spectrum ‘exceeds any reasonable estimate of [the SSOs’] needs.”
The court stated: “The FCC’s finding that 200 MHz will support the SSOs’ present and likely future transmission needs forecloses any claim that the agency exceeded its authority to modify existing station licenses. This finding establishes that the SSOs will be able to provide essentially the same services after the transition as before. They will just be required to do so through different means,” by using a different portion of the band.
The smaller satcos also argued that the relocation payments to be made to the large satellite operators are arbitrarily high and inflict a competitive injury on the smaller satcos. Since the larger and smaller satcos do not compete, this argument lacked merit, according to the appeals court.
The court upheld the FCC’s decision and dismissed the appeals.