A year after the mailed fist, the velvet glove: FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly's address to the U.S. Satellite Industry Assn. stood in stark contrast to last year's conform-or-be-crushed address by now-former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. But was the underlying message much different? Credit: C-Span A year after the mailed fist, the velvet glove: FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s address to the U.S. Satellite Industry Assn. stood in stark contrast to last year’s conform-or-be-crushed address by now-former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. But was the underlying message much different? Credit: C-Span

 

WASHINGTON — U.S. Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s March 6 speech to the U.S. Satellite Industry Association came across as sunshine and daffodils compared to last year’s thunder and lightning delivered by then-FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler.

Whether the dramatic change in atmospherics foretells any real change in FCC policy on satellite-versus terrestrial-mobile topics including 28 GHz remains to be seen.

Several satellite industry officials warned that the O’Rielly and Wheeler speeches, like any good-cop, bad-cop tandem, might be two means of arriving at the same end.

Toward the end of his address, after he showered the satellite sector with praise and even admitted that the U.S. government occasionally shows unfair anti-satellite bias, O’Rielly nonetheless aligned with Wheeler on 28 GHz.

Wheeler’s speech came in the wake of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15), where global regulators set orbital slot and broadcast spectrum policy.

The U.S. delegation at WRC-15 fought hard to get WRC delegates to approve studies on whether terrestrial wireless and satellites could share the 28-GHz spectrum. The satellite sector secured enough support outside the United States to scuttle the proposal — for now.

“We should consider as many bands as possible for potential commercial wireless and satellite use, with the understanding that some bands may not be suitable for sharing,” O’Rielly said, before adding: “That is why, as many of you know, I was disappointed that the 28-GHz band studies were blocked at the last WRC.”

The next WRC is scheduled for 2019 and battle lines are being drawn. O’Rielly said he hoped that the FCC’s decision in mid-2016 to open the 28-, 39-, and 64-71-GHz bands for terrestrial use — “and more bands are currently being considered in the further [FCC] notice” — would not automatically alienate the satellite sector.

“I am well aware that this proceeding causes the satellite industry consternation,” O’Rielly said. “And to be fair, the commission could have handled this proceeding differently.”

Nonetheless, he said, the same satellite sector that with one hand is debating how GEO-orbit systems and non-GEO (NGSO) systems in lower orbits can coexist cannotbrush aside with the other hand all spectrum-sharing discussions with terrestrial operators.

“Here is a predicament,” O’Rielly said. “There are separate WRC-19 agenda items that will examine whether terrestrial use is conceivable in a band, and explore possible regulatory frameworks for NGSO satellite systems in the same band. Anyone see a problem? I am sure there are heated debates to come, but studies need to be encouraged, not stymied.”

On Connect America funding, an offer to reconsider performance criteria

In a further olive branch to the satellite sector, O’Rielly said he was “more than disturbed with the commission’s recent Connect America Phase 2 decision that sets weights to determine winning bids based on speeds and latency that seem to intentionally favor fiber over wireless and satellite.

“I would welcome the opportunity…. to reconsider this decision,” he said.

Satellite broadband industry officials have long said the FCC has a history of setting up performance metrics — signal latency among them — that are inherently biased against satellite delivery. Most broadband customers don’t much care about latency, but satellite broadband has always looked poor compared to terrestrial broadband on the latency scale.

O’Rielly, in contrast, seemed won over to the idea that satellite broadband can reach areas that will not be covered by terrestrial broadband anytime soon because of the cost of connecting rural communities.

“Satellite may be the most cost-efficient way to provide service to the most rural and remote parts of America — and may be the only sustainable option long-term,” O’Rielly said. “I have heard people say that some at the FCC are biased against satellite…. That is certainly not my viewpoint.”

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Peter B. de Selding
Peter B. de Selding
Peter de Selding is a Co-Founder and editor for SpaceIntelReport.com. He started SpaceIntelReport in 2017 after 26 years as the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews where he covered the commercial satellite, launch and the international space businesses. He is widely considered the preeimenent reporter in the space industry and is a must read for space executives. Follow Peter @pbdes