FCC Releases Text of Order On DISH Mobile Broadband Plan

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By Paul Barbagallo  

The Federal Communications Commission has released its order [FCC 12-151] allowing DISH Network Corp. to offer a mobile broadband service using 40 megahertz of spectrum originally designated only for satellites.

The FCC voted unanimously to approve the order Dec. 11, but made the text publicly available late Dec. 17.

Under the order's provisions, DISH will be able to repurpose all of the 40 MHz (2000-2020, 2180-2200 MHz) for a broadband offering, so long as the company accepts some limited interference from licensees of the adjacent upper “H Block” (1915-1920, 1995-2000 MHz) and agrees to more stringent out-of-band emissions and power limits to protect all future H Block operations.

Sprint Nextel Corp. repeatedly has stated publicly that it is interested in bidding on the H Block, the upper portion of which, at 1995-2000 MHz, is adjacent to DISH's uplink spectrum at 2000-2020 MHz.

With that in mind, Sprint has lobbied the FCC to impose more stringent out-of-band emissions limits on DISH to protect any future use of the H Block. DISH, meanwhile, has suggested that the FCC should instead auction the H Block for lower-power “small cell” use only, which would allow the company to continue to operate at normal power levels.

The commission ultimately rejected DISH's proposal, deciding instead to issue a notice of rulemaking that would set the stage for an auction of the H Block spectrum in 2013.

'Tactical Defeat.'

Despite that setback for DISH, analysts at Stifel Nicolaus Telecom Equity Research said in a research note Dec. 18 that the FCC action stands as a “strategic victory” for the satellite provider, “opening the door to entering mobile broadband or at least reaping spectrum benefit,” while the restrictions serve as a “tactical defeat” versus Sprint.

Even with modifications to protect interference, DISH now occupies the largest nationwide contingent block of spectrum usable for mobile broadband.

The company, which acquired the 40 MHz of spectrum from bankrupt satellite operators TerreStar Networks Inc. and DBSD North America Inc., is believed to mulling its options. The company could decide to roll out its own network, partner with a mobile network operator, or sell the spectrum outright.

Under the FCC's build-out conditions, DISH--or the company that acquires the spectrum--must offer terrestrial service to at least 40 percent of the total population within four years and 70 percent of each of its “Economic Area” geographic licenses within seven years, under the FCC's order.

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