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VIII. Regulating Satellite Networks: Principles and Process

There has been a significant increase in the use of satellite technology for commercial purposes over the past decade and satellite use is expected to continue to escalate.


Besides the general spectrum management principles in Chapter VII, satellite licensing involves two additional principles: efficient use of the orbit spectrum resource and open skies.

globe icon Efficient Use of Orbit Spectrum Resource

Given that the orbit spectrum is limited the FCC has adopted policies and rules requiring its efficient use. The purpose of this policy is to facilitate licensing of the maximum number of systems possible, with minimal amount of interference. This approach is beneficial for consumers because it also facilitates competition, and provides a greater variety of services at the lowest possible prices.

To this end, the FCC has adopted technical rules for most satellite services. For example, in the domestic satellite service, systems must meet basic technical criteria that will allow geostationary fixed satellites to operate at two-degree orbital spacing. In the Big LEO service, systems must be capable of providing both continuous service to users in the United States and global coverage. The FCC recognizes, however, that private industry is best positioned to determine what type of technology and systems make best business sense and are most responsive to customer needs. Thus, the FCC requires only that the minimum technical requirements needed to prevent interference are met, and seeks to provide licensees maximum flexibility.

globe icon The Open Skies Policy

The purpose of the Open Skies Policy is to provide licensees maximum flexibility operating their systems to meet market demands with minimal regulation. Through its satellite licensing policies, the FCC has increased the ability of licensees to adjust to a dynamic environment. Except for limitations created by insufficient amounts of available spectrum, the FCC avoids imposing artificial limits on the number of commercial operators or the types of services they can offer. For example, early satellite systems carried mostly long- haul telephone transmissions. When fiber optic cable became prevalent, satellite licensees began to focus on other services, such as high-speed data and video services, as well as on providing both domestic and international service. A regulatory approach of flexibility has allowed the industry to thrive despite shifts in customer requirements.

In accordance with the principles of its Open Skies policy, the FCC has licensed private companies that provide a wide range of satellite services. For example, in addition to licensing fixed-satellite services, the FCC has licensed mobile satellite services, direct broadcast services, radiodetermination satellite services, and remote sensing satellite services. These have included both geostationary and nongeostationary systems.

The FCC also removes unnecessary regulatory constraints, wherever possible and continually reviews its rules and policies to respond to changing conditions and developments in the satellite industry. In addition, the FCC seeks to facilitate the introduction of new services to meet the changing needs of customers. To provide customers with more choices, more innovative services, and better prices, the FCC attempts to accommodate the maximum number of systems possible in a particular service. Moreover, the FCC has sought to maximize entry and competition in the satellite service market.


The satellite space station licensing process is composed of three distinct processes: allocating available spectrum for the proposed satellite service, developing service rules and granting licenses to qualified applicants. The process is commonly triggered when an applicant files a petition for rulemaking to allocate specific spectrum to a certain service domestically. (In addition, if there is no international allocation for the requested service, the FCC must seek and secure the appropriate allocation at an ITU World Radio Conference). If spectrum is already allocated for a particular service, the FCC will simply accept applications for authority to provide that service without undergoing an allocation proceeding. The allocation request often involves service links (links between the end user and the satellite) as well as feeder links (links between satellites and gateways) and is normally resolved through a notice and comment rulemaking procedure.

globe icon Filing of Applications

The FCC's rules require parties seeking to provide satellite service to submit an application. The Commission's general rules for licensing satellites are contained in Title 47 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Part 25 (See 47 CFR Part 25). Applications must contain certain legal, technical, and financial information. For example, they must contain the technical parameters of the system, services to be provided, planned implementation, system cost, and financial ability of the applicant to construct, launch, and operate the proposed system.

If the application is acceptable for filing, it is placed on public notice and comments are solicited. An application is usually acceptable for filing if, upon cursory review of the application, there are no factors that would warrant dismissing or not accepting the application. An application is placed on public notice by issuing a one to two page document entitled "Public Notice" describing the authority sought in the application, noting that the application is acceptable for filing, and soliciting public comment within a reasonable time period (usually 30 days). This document provides notice to the public that an application requesting a particular service has been filed. The Commission makes copies of the applications publicly available by placing them in a room open to the public- the FCC's Reference Center.

In the Public Notice, the FCC usually (but not always) establishes a date by which other applicants seeking the same authority to provide the same service in the same spectrum must file their applications ("cut-off date"). This action creates a satellite processing round. If other applications are filed, the FCC will examine the applications submitted by the cut- off date to determine if they are acceptable for filing. If they are, the applications will be placed on public notice, and all applications accepted for filing will be considered concurrently.

In cases where the frequency band is not really allocated for the specific satellite service, an application to provide satellite service is often filed concurrently with the request to allocate spectrum. To expedite service to the public, the FCC often conducts allocation proceedings at the same time it considers system applications.

globe icon Establishing Service Rules

The FCC also developes"service rules" for a service through its notice and comment process. Service rules develop legal, technical, or financial requirements that govern all providers of a service. To develop these rules the FCC conducts a rulemaking (see Chapter 3).

Technical rules may require licensees to use state-of-the-art technology, such as full frequency reuse of the assigned spectrum. The technical rules also prevent harmful interference to other stations sharing the band or stations in adjacent bands. For example, Big LEO terminals are required to cease operations when they are within a specified distance of radio astronomy sites operating in the same band. Rules also specify eligibility criteria for licensees. For example, the FCC sometimes requires that satellite applicants demonstrate the basic financial ability to construct their proposed system, in order to prevent orbit spectrum "warehousing."

globe icon Acting on Applications

The FCC reviews applications based on the rules for that satellite service and grants authority to those applicants who meet the service rules. Licensing orders contain a milestone schedule setting the dates by which a licensee must begin satellite construction, complete satellite construction, and launch its satellites. The schedule usually concludes six years after the date of grant. A milestone schedule is designed to prevent warehousing of orbit spectrum resource and to ensure that those granted licenses are expeditiously proceeding with system implementation.

If there is insufficient spectrum to accommodate all qualified applicants, the FCC must decide which application to grant among the mutually exclusive applications. For example the FCC has used meetings amongst affected parties to forge settlements. The FCC always seeks to resolve such situations using engineering or other solutions before relying on auctions.


Satellite coordination process by which administrations seek to achieve a harmonious interaction of satellite networks so that the operation of a satellite network neither causes or subject to interfering emission above a permissible level from another satellite network operating in the same frequency band. The networks involved can be systems with in one own country or involve those of other countries. Thus the coordination can take place on a domestic, regional or international basis. Specifically, satellite coordination occurs by negotiating mutually satisfactory solutions with the effected parties.

All U.S. Satellite licensees are required to coordinate with adjacent domestic geostationary satellite system operators. Coordination is conducted among the operator on an as needed basis with out FCC intervention. If disputes occur in the coordination process, the FCC can be asked to resolve the dispute.

globe icon The Need for International Satellite Coordination

The objective of international coordination is to allow new satellite systems into the existing international matrix of satellites. Successful coordination ensures interference-free operations through:

globe icon The Relationship between International Coordination and Satellite Licensing

The FCC licensing process for satellite systems is generally aligned with the international coordination process of the ITU. The FCC requires applicants to prepare ITU coordination information to initiate the international coordination process. When the FCC receives a satellite application for an existing service and the service is already allocated in the proposed frequency band (internationally and domestically) the licensing process follows the steps outlined in Figure 1 below. It begins with the FCC placing the application on its Public Notice. If the frequency band is a shared frequency band with U.S. Government systems, the application is pre-coordinated with NTIA and their initial concerns, if any are evaluated. It is at this time that the FCC will send the Advance Publication information to the ITU. The applicant certifies to the FCC that it will bear any and all expenses associated with its filing at the ITU with respect to cost recovery.

Because the FCC process usually is completed before the international coordination process, FCC space station authorizations are typically conditioned on completion of international coordination thus FCC licensees are required to provide relevant coordination information, and participate in the international coordination process. If necessary, licensees may need to modify operations in accordance with coordination agreements.


Satellite coordination involving systems of different administrations will follow the ITU Radio Regulations. This section describes the ITU coordination procedures, the FCC role in this process and the working methods for administrations involved in the satellite coordination process.

The ITU establishes satellite coordination procedures, and these are followed by the U.S. and by other members of the ITU.

The FCC deals with the ITU and other administrations on behalf of U.S. satellite system operators. Only the U.S. administration can only enter into an agreement with another administration that has authority over its country's radiocommunication systems. However, agreements solely between or among private entities have no status in the context of the ITU Radio Regulations, and the ITU does not officially recognize a private entity as completing coordination unless its particular network is coordinated through a host member administration(s). The private sector, however, is heavily involved in the coordination process in the U.S. U.S. satellite operators traditionally advise the FCC on technical and operational matters with respect to their particular systems. The satellite operator is in the best position to inform to the FCC about business and economic considerations that could impact the operation of these networks. Additionally, according to ITU regulations, a satellite operator must coordinate its network through a host administration. However, service does not need to be authorization on a national basis in order for the host administration to undertake coordination on behalf of a private operator.

globe icon Advance Publication

The first step of the ITU coordination process is the "advance publication" stage. An administration submits an "Advance Publication" ("AP") to the ITU. An AP sets forth the general characteristics of the satellite system -- the frequency bands, the type of orbit, service area, and responsible administration(s). The receipt date of the information by the ITU establishes the start date for the coordination process. The process must be completed and the satellite network brought into use within seven years of this date (5 years plus a 2-year extension if necessary). If the satellite is not brought into use by this time, the ITU will cancel all records of this network and the coordination process will be terminated.

In the U.S., the FCC is responsible for submitting an AP to the ITU. Thereafter, the ITU publishes this information in its weekly circular to member administrations. Member administrations are then afforded an opportunity to comment on the published system. This provides information to the initiating administration about which parties may be affected.

globe icon Request for Coordination

The next step of the ITU process is the "request for coordination " stage. In this step, an administration sends more detailed information to the ITU on the particular frequency assignments to be used by the proposed satellite system. If information relating to the concerns of an administration is known at that time, the FCC will attempt to address these issues by providing analyses to show that the potential for interference can be resolved with minimal or no design changes to the proposed system. The satellite operator generally provides the analyses and the FCC will evaluate the proposal to ensure that it is consistent with U.S. rules, regulations and policies.

Once the request for coordination is received by the ITU, the priority date is established for the satellite system. The date of priority is important since it defines the order in the ITU "queue" relative to other satellite systems that are planned to operate in the same frequency band. The coordination process generally works on a first-come, first-served basis.

The ITU publishes coordination information in weekly circular publications. At that point, the administrations involved in the coordination have notice of the additional information. Thereafter, they will generally try to resolve potential interference difficulties through correspondence. The channel of communication is opened and maintained by the governments of the initiating administration and the affected administrations. The private entities do not have direct contact with governments of affected administrations, except through their coordinating administration. At this stage, there is an exchange of specific system data sufficient for other administrations to evaluate the potential for mutually unacceptable interference. The satellite operators provide technical support to the coordinating administration (FCC in the U.S.) in developing any possible sharing proposals with other satellite systems.

globe icon Notification of Satellite Systems

The last stage of the coordination process is to "notify" the satellite system assignments with the ITU in order to be listed in the Master Register. When the coordination process is completed with all affected administrations, all potential unacceptable interference situations have presumably been resolved. Therefore, the new satellite system should not interfere with systems already listed in the formal ITU Publication Register, and the new system is provided international recognition and protection of its frequency assignments from subsequently coordinated systems.

globe icon Coordination Meetings

The working methods for coordination include correspondence and face-to-face meetings. For simpler coordination correspondence is the preferred means. For resolving complex technical issues, face-to-face meetings are more affective.

Coordination meetings have several objectives, which should be reflected on the agenda:


INTELSAT signatories must consult with INTELSAT on the technical and economic aspects of planned satellite systems of their administrations. Consultations with INTELSAT are conducted under Article XIV of the INTELSAT Agreement for technical compatibility between the respective systems. With the possible privatization of INTELSAT organizations, it is anticipated that more emphasis will be placed on the ITU coordination procedures to resolve technical compatibility issues.


World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs) adopt new and modified ITU Radio Regulations that may have a direct impact on the operation and regulation of satellite networks. Certain ITU Study Group meetings address issues related to sharing among satellite services and sharing between satellite systems and other services such as terrestrial operations. The ITU meetings adopt Recommendations and Conference Preparatory Meeting Report text, which serve as a technical input to a WRC and upon which Administrations base their decisions.

ITU Recommendations are often used by the U.S. and other administrations as the technical basis for satellite operations and for satellite coordination. ITU Rules and Recommendations are also often used as a basis for U.S. service rules to regulate satellite services. Spectrum sharing arrangements and other satellite operational parameters developed in the U.S. are then sometimes brought into the ITU Study Group process to facilitate the operation of satellite systems on a global basis.


The ITU Radiocommunication Bureau processes the satellite network filings of administrations. There is currently a backlog in this process of up to a year in some cases. The ITU has proposed two mechanisms to help reduce this backlog of network filings: cost recovery and administrative due diligence. The ITU has adopted and is now finalizing a cost recovery approach that will assign fees to cover the costs of processing notifications filed after November 7, 1998. The ITU has also adopted and implemented administrative due diligence requirements as a regulatory measure to reduce the backlog of "paper satellites." This requires administrations to notify the ITU that a satellite network has been brought into use in the time frame provided for in the Radio Regulations. If this does not occur the network will be cancelled by the ITU, and it will no longer be included in the coordination process with other satellite networks.


globe icon Licensing of Earth Stations

In addition to licensing the space station segment of the satellite system, the FCC is responsible for licensing earth stations. A satellite earth station is defined as a complex of transmitters, receivers, and antennas used to relay and/or receive communications traffic (voice, data, and video) through space to and from both satellites in geostationary satellite orbits (GSO) and non-geostationary satellite orbits (NGSO). The predominant bands for earth station transmissions are the C-band, the Ku-band and Ka-band for fixed satellite services, and the 1.6/2.4 GHz bands and the 137-138/148-149.9 MHz bands for mobile satellite service.

The FCC rules for earth station licensing are contained in part 25 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations. There are several classes of earthstations-Fixed Earth Station (transmit/receive), Temporary-Fixed Earth Station (non-permanent, transportable, transmit/receive), Fixed Earth Station (receive-only), Fixed Earth Station (VSAT Network, 12/14 GHz), Developmental Earth Station (fixed or temporary-fixed), and Mobile Earth Station (hand-held units and vehicle-mounted units). Such earth stations may be used for domestic and/or international services. Earth stations are licensed in the United States, generally, for a period of 10 years, except for Developmental Earth Stations, which are licensed for one year. All earth station licenses are subject to renewal by the FCC.

Any commercial entity proposing to operate a transmitting earth station in the United States must first obtain a license to operate from the FCC. Applications for transmitting earth stations are filed in accordance with procedures outlined in the FCC's Rules and Regulations. Earth stations must meet certain technical requirements before they can be authorized. These technical system parameters include: antenna performance standards, antenna size, environmental impact (including radiation hazard standards), Radio Frequency power conservation (eirp and eirp density), modulation formats, and antenna structure heights. The FCC also issues a single blanket license for large number of technically identical earth stations (e.g., VSATs, SNG and Mobile earth stations). The number of terminals per application is not limited by the FCC, but is independently requested by the applicants. Any modifications to a transmitting earth station also require prior authorization.

Separate filings are required for new transmitting-earth station licenses and for making modifications to existing stations. Earth station applications, like other FCC applications, are placed on public notice for a 30-day comment period in which interested parties may comment. In cases where no adverse comments have been filed, the applications are granted, and licenses issued, after the appropriate filing fee is received.

An Example of Earth Station Licensing: VSAT Operations

"VSAT" is an acronym for Very Small Aperture Terminal. The word terminal is used interchangeably with the words antenna and station. A VSAT network consists of two major components, a ground segment and a space segment. The ground segment consists of a central hub station and a family of remote terminals (satellite earth stations) generally referred to as remote VSATs. The space segment consists of the satellite and its on-board transponders. Hub stations use larger antennas (greater than 3.0-meters in diameter). VSAT stations use smaller size antennas (1.2-meters, 1.8-meters, and 2.4-meters). Most VSAT networks in the United States are constructed/licensed in the Ku-band, 14000-14500 MHz (uplink) and 11700- 12200 MHz (downlink), while a limited number of C-band VSAT networks have been licensed.

To assist applicants in the filing of VSAT applicants, the FCC developed forms for the submission of licensing information. A sample of the FCC `s earth station Form 312, for licensing a VSAT system is shown in Appendix A-3. Appendix A-4 provides general information and sample filled-in applications for other types of earth stations (Point-to-Point, Temporary-Fixed (SNG), Receive-only, etc.)

globe icon Coordination of Earth Stations

Bilateral Earth Station Coordination with Terrestrial Systems

The radio spectrum is used by a variety of both terrestrial wireless and satellite services. Thus, it is necessary that satellite earth stations often share the same frequency bands with purely terrestrial wireless systems. In that event, earth stations may need to be coordinated with terrestrial systems that operate across adjacent borders.

An example of spectrum sharing is found in the 4/6 GHz bands. In those bands, the Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) shares the bands co-equally with the terrestrial Fixed Service (FS).

If the communicating paths are not configured properly, this sharing arrangement can result in interference, for instance from a 6 GHz transmitting earth station to a 6 GHz point- to-point microwave receiver.

Since both the Fixed Satellite Service and Fixed Service stations are stationary ("fixed") it is possible to carefully plan the station locations, antenna pointing directions, transmit powers, frequencies, etc. so that real interference situations do not arise. In order to accomplish this, the technical parameters of all stations must be fully known to all operators using the frequency band. This exchange of information is accomplished through "frequency coordination."

When both the FSS and FS stations are located within the same country, this frequency coordination is purely a domestic matter. In the USA, Section 25.203 of the FCC Rules provides a frequency coordination process that must be followed by applicants seeking to operate earth station within the USA. Prior to filing an application to license an earth station, applicants must successfully complete this frequency coordination process with all terrestrial microwave operators that could be impacted by their earth station operations. In the USA, a number of commercial companies maintain microwave databases and provide frequency coordination services for hire.

ITU S9/11 Frequency Coordination of Earth Stations

When FSS and FS stations are located close to each other on the opposite sides of a national border, the frequency coordination enters the international realm. The ITU Radio Regulations provide a detailed procedure (S9/11) for the international frequency coordination of earth station facilities between neighboring countries. This procedure involves the computation and plotting of a "coordination contour" map around each earth station (see figure). This coordination contour is the extreme theoretical distance in all directions from the earth station beyond which interference with terrestrial stations is impossible. Hence, the earth station must be frequency coordinated with only those terrestrial stations that lie within this contour. S21 of the ITU Radio Regulations provides the methodology for determining the coordination contours.

According to S9/11, coordination with a neighboring country is required only when the S21 coordination contour crosses the national border and extends into the territory of the neighboring country. In those cases, an Administration must inform the neighboring Administration of the technical parameters of the earth station. ITU Form APS4/III, "Form of Notice - Earth Station", can be used for this purpose.

As a way to simplify the ITU process the U.S. has entered into the bilateral agreements. As an example, the u.s. has an informal bilateral arrangement with Canada that has operated since the end of 1987. Under this arrangement, the two countries developed coordination boundaries around the Canadian/USA border based upon the methodology of S21 of the ITU Radio Regulations. Four (4) lines on each side of the common border are based upon various levels of earth station transmit power and station size.

This approach is a simplification to the ITU S21 procedure. S21 coordination contours are not computed and mapped for each and every earth station. Rather, under the bilateral arrangement, only earth stations that operate between the particular coordination line and the common border are coordinated with the other administration. For those earth stations subject to this bilateral coordination, a subset of the ITU ApS4/III technical parameters for the earth station (see figure/table) is exchanged in an electronic fashion (i.e. on diskette, or by e-mail).

The U.S. has coordinated with Canada over 2000 USA earth stations that operate in the 5925-6425 MHz band under this arrangement. The U.S. has a similar agreement with Mexico.

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