The FCC has issued a press release regarding their decision on the WCS spectrum which sits adjacent to the spectrum owned by satellite radio. The issue has been ongoing for years, and while the FCC is adopting new rules, the new decision is one that will have both WCS and Sirius XM claiming small victories while neither side will be completely satisfied.
The FCC Press Release states, "The Federal Communications Commission today adopted rules that will make available 25 megahertz of spectrum for mobile broadband service in much of the United States, while protecting adjacent satellite radio and aeronautical mobile telemetry operations. Mobile broadband promises to be a significant contributing factor for economic growth and job creation in the 21st century. To promote mobile innovation and investment, the National Broadband Plan recommends that the Commission make 500 megahertz of spectrum available for broadband use in the next 10 years, including 300 megahertz for broadband use in the next five years.
The Report and Order adopted today amends the Wireless Communications Service (WCS) rules to immediately make 25 megahertz of spectrum available for mobile broadband services. The existing WCS rules constrain operations to fixed services, but the Commission found today that those rules can be revised to allow mobile broadband services without risking harmful interference to neighboring operations.
To provide certainty for licensees while maintaining high-quality satellite radio services to the American public, the Commission adopted rules permitting the use of terrestrial repeaters by Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service (SDARS) licensees at the same time.
The Commission also adopted enhanced build-out requirements for WCS licensees, to ensure that the promise of mobile broadband is realized. These requirements are designed to spur investment that will promote the deployment of innovative mobile broadband services across the country."
Among the victories for Sirius XM is the intent that satellite radio services will be protected, and the permanent decision regarding terrestrial repeaters. Sirius XM radio have been operating repeaters under temporary authority for years, and at times the use of such repeaters has become a point of contention for not only WCS, but other entities as well. During the merger, the National Association of Broadcasters pointed out several repeaters that were either in the wrong location, or generating power output that was beyond what was authorized. Both Sirius and XM paid fines, shut down repeater, and made corrections as needed.
FCC Commissioner Copps pointed out the long road that has been traveled by saying, "Our action today has been very long in coming. The issues we resolve here were actually pending before this agency prior to my arrival in 2001. I won’t go into the entire painful history of this proceeding—we all know enough about that—preferring to focus instead on the positive outcomes we reach today. But we should note first that this Order is important not only unto itself but because it represents yet another important step in implementing the National Broadband Plan—bringing the power of wireless broadband to the four corners of the land and to all places in between."
Of note in the Copps statement is that he says it "represents another step" in the process. That is exactly what it is. A step in what will likely prove to be still more years of debate and filings. Looking at the filings, Sirius XM made more than a step. In my opinion they made major progress by getting permanent authorization for their repeater network, while at the same time ensuring that the FCC understands that protection of their spectrum is paramount. The issue is not yet over, but all in all Sirius XM made out well.
The next issue on the FCC plate involving Sirius XM is the 4% spectrum set aside for minority and special interest programming. That will play out its next step on May 25th.
Position - Long Sirius XM Radio