CAPITAL CURRENTS: DBS update
Over the past few years I’ve provided updates on the new DBS frequency band, and what the FCC was doing (or not doing) to implement new services. It’s a saga that could have been written by the Slowskys (www.theslowskys.com/home/).
The FCC recently adopted
a number of policies for
the new band, but the interference issues are
far from resolved.
In 1992, the International Telecommunications Union adopted an additional frequency allocation for broadcast satellite service in North and South America. The 17.3-17.8 GHz band would be the downlink broadcasting frequency, and 24.75-25.25 GHz would be the uplink (or “feeder link”) band. In 2000, the FCC adopted this allocation into the U.S. frequency table, except that only the 17.3-17.7 GHz band was allocated for downlink broadcasting; the 17.7-17.8 GHz slice was already heavily used for point-to-point microwave links and the FCC decided that sharing would be difficult.
But then the FCC had to confront another sharing problem. The 17 GHz frequencies were long ago allocated as uplink feeder link frequencies for the 12 GHz DBS band, and DirecTV, EchoStar and other satellite operators have uplink earth stations at 15 to 20 locations in the U.S. Those high-power uplink signals would leak into any nearby home earth station receivers and cause interference. This use of “reverse band” operations was unprecedented, and the FCC still has not figured out how to deal with it.
Meanwhile, four companies had filed satellite applications at the FCC to use the new frequency band, even though the FCC had no rules in place to deal with interference issues, licensee eligibility, applications processing, or anything else. These four are EchoStar, DirecTV, Intelsat North America and Pegasus Development DBS Corp.
So in June 2006 the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, proposing a variety of rules and asking questions in particular about the interference issues. I wrote about that in my August 2006 column (www.cedmagazine.com/article.aspx?id=67672).
The FCC recently adopted a number of policies for the new band, but the interference issues are far from resolved. Among the recent decisions was four degree orbital spacing for the satellites (compared with nine degrees for the existing DBS service). That should support service to dish receivers as small as 45 centimeters. The FCC defined 35 orbital slots that start at 43 degrees West Longitude (over Brazil, and way to the east of any point in North America) and continue to 179 degrees WL (over Fiji and the Marshall Islands, and way to the west of Honolulu). So some of the orbital slots are much more desirable than others.
The FCC had previously received 20 satellite applications from the four companies, but some of them conflicted with one another because they proposed the same orbital slot. So the FCC gave the four applicants time to amend their applications, and decided to allow (eventually) additional applications on a first-come, first-served basis. But for now, there is a filing freeze on new applications until the existing applications are amended. So the existing operators – EchoStar and DirecTV – are assured access to this new band, and they will get the best orbital locations. And maybe Pegasus and Intelsat will simply lease capacity to EchoStar and DirecTV rather than competing with them.
The FCC resolved some of the interference issues, by adopting uplink and downlink power limits and antenna patterns, using traditional approaches. But the question of interference from existing 17 GHz DBS feeder link stations into new 17 GHz DBS home receivers is still up in the air, so to speak. It seems likely that all existing DBS feeder link earth stations will be grandfathered, and operators will be allowed to construct new stations at or near existing sites. Nearby DBS home receivers will simply have to accept any interference.
The tougher question is the deployment of new 17 GHz feeder link stations. As new satellites are designed with more spot beam capability, and as EchoStar and DirecTV try to carry local broadcast signals from additional cities, it seems likely they will want to build more feeder link earth stations. What happens if they want to build a new station say 10 years from now, in an area where there are some 17 GHz DBS home receivers?
So the FCC has released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on these and other interference issues. Based on past performance, we’ll get an answer from the FCC in about a year.
Meanwhile, EchoStar, DirecTV, Intelsat and Pegasus will pick the best orbital slots. The FCC will eventually start to accept additional applications, and later on maybe there will be some new DBS operators to compete with EchoStar and DirecTV.
That will be about the time the Slowskys mutate into tortoises with long sinewy legs, able to run the four-minute mile.