Broadcasters, Satellite Operators Urge FCC To Minimize Interference From Broadband

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By Bryce Baschuk  


Proposals for in-flight broadband services should include strong protections and strict enforcement rules to prevent interference with existing TV and satellite services in the Ku band, broadcasters and satellite operators wrote in FCC filings dated Aug. 26.

In May the FCC sought comment on proposed rules sought by Qualcomm Inc., for terrestrial-based air-ground mobile broadband services for airplane passengers in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band. The 500 MHz of spectrum in the Ku band is currently used as an uplink band for fixed satellite services as well as space research and radio astronomy services, among other operations. The FCC shares regulation of in-flight communications with the Federal Aviation Administration, which permits passengers to access the internet on their computers and tablets at altitudes above 10,000 feet as long as the service does not interference with aircraft systems.

Broadcasters supported the FCC's goal of improving in-flight broadband connectivity but said these services should not interfere with their programming backhaul distribution services and satellite newsgathering operations, according to NAB's filing. The 14.0-14.5 GHz band is “heavily used” for television satellite operations to broadcast live news reporting via satellite transmissions and any air-ground mobile services must be specifically designated a “secondary allocation in the band,” the filing said.

“While the notice properly amends Part 2 of the rules by adding aeronautical mobile service (AMS) as a secondary service, the proposed service rules governing AMS in Part 22 fail to codify the secondary nature of the service,” NAB's filing said. “More specificity is required in Part 22 to prevent any potential conflict or uncertainty over the status of AMS,” wrote NAB.

The Satellite Industry Association said it was concerned about potential interference issues and asked the commission whether it should instead consider placing in-flight broadband services into “another less constrained band,” according to its filing. “For the satellite industry to continue investing and innovating in the Ku-band, [fixed satellite services] FSS in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band must be protected from unacceptable interference for both existing and future operations,” SIA said. “At a minimum, appropriate technical safeguards are necessary to ensure that satellite stakeholders and their customers are not negatively impacted,” the group said.

Hughes Network Systems and the EchoStar Satellite Corp., said the commission must protect against interference in the band and make clear the limited nature of the secondary rights for in-flight broadband licensees, in a joint filing. The satellite operators urged the FCC to adopt clear and enforceable technical rules to protect against harmful interference with fixed satellite services and implement “strict enforcement measures” to ensure compliance, the filing said. Hughes and EchoStar said the commission should initiate a further notice of proposed rulemaking to develop a database with in-flight mobile broadband providers to ensure their services don't interfere with primary users of the band.

Interference Protections 'Readily Achievable'

Qualcomm said protecting satellites from harmful interference is readily achievable because air-ground antennas would “point down from the aircraft, below the horizon, and use lower transmit power than that from air-ground mobile broadband service base stations,” according to its filing with the FCC. “This system design, which includes high-gain base station smart antennas, coupled with beam steering, base station handoff, and intelligent assignment of operational frequencies, will mitigate interference from FSS earth stations into the air-ground mobile broadband service base stations,” the filing said. In-flight broadband provider GoGo Inc. said the FCC's proposed rules regarding satellite interference should be modified to be less specific to the Qualcomm proposal in order to "permit greater system design flexibility.”

Qualcomm said it preferred if one provider licensed 500 MHz within the 14 GHz band but said it supported the FCC's alternate proposal to permit two licensees to operate two 250 MHz networks in the band, according to its filing. Ultimately, the free market should “decide the structure of this new business,” Qualcomm said. GoGo urged the FCC to divide the spectrum into four 125 MHz license blocks and limit the auction to one license per bidder and require licensees to construct their networks within five years.

GoGo urged the FCC to permit providers to use the proposed mobile broadband for voice, text, and low bandwidth data services, which are currently not included in the NPRM. The commission should also exempt providers of in-flight voice or text services from 911 requirements since aircraft rely on other forms of emergency communications, GoGo's filing said.

Wireless carriers supported efforts to expand in-flight broadband services for consumers as a means to increase productivity and efficiency for business and leisure travelers, according to CTIA's FCC filing. CTIA urged the commission to treat proposed air-ground mobile broadband services with “regulatory parity and let the market decide which systems will succeed,” in its filing.