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FCC Empowers Deployment of Next-Generation Satellites by Adopting New Licensing Framework

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

November 20, 2020 — During the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Commission Meeting on Wednesday, members of the agency voted to adopt two changes supporting the deployment of satellite-based broadband services, attempting to empower next-generation satellites to help bridge the digital divide.

The agency adopted a new framework to streamline satellite licensing processes and approved a rulemaking to allow geostationary satellite downlink operations in the 17 GigaHertz band.

“Consumers stand to benefit from expanded use of the 17.3–17.8 GigaHertz band and the routine processing of applications for licenses,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“The satellite industry is expected to continue growing at a record-setting pace, and the commission’s proposed changes will help operators to hit the ground running with greater spectrum flexibility and a streamlined licensing process, that is focused on getting Americans connected at greater speeds and lower costs.”

Under previous rules, the FCC was required to issue separate licenses for each of the earth stations and space stations, relaying signals to one another, within a satellite system.

However, with the adoption of the agency’s new, unified licensing framework, space stations and earth stations in a single satellite system will be able to be authorized under a sole license.

“Today, we continue our efforts to streamline rules by harmonizing the licensing process for many classes of satellite space stations and earth stations,” said Pai. “These changes will end the need to make unnecessary or duplicate filings with the Commission, getting rid of some of the revelatory red tape standing in the way of satellite-based services.”

The licensing framework promises to eliminate redundancies, accelerate the deployment of new earth stations, and in turn, fast-track the availability of services to the public.

According to Pai, the framework was necessary, as the technology backing next-generation, low earth orbit satellites is wholly different than the tech utilized by traditional, geostationary satellites.

“We created the new regulatory framework for small satellites, in order to encourage space-based communications startups,” said Pai. “There is no reason why a satellite the size of a shoebox with the life expectancy of a guinea pig should be regulated the same way as a satellite the size of a school bus, that will stay in orbit for centuries.”

The FCC also adopted a rulemaking which allows geostationary satellite downlink operations in the 17 GigaHertz band. According to Commissioners, permitting such operations will both increase efficient use of the band and provide additional downlink capacity for new, high-throughput satellites.

Pai acknowledged the adverse effect the increased deployment of low earth orbit technology may have on the environment, during Wednesday’s meeting, saying the agency “recognizes the need to protect against the potential hazards posed by the increasingly populated low earth orbit environment.”

According to Pai, the FCC is attempting to alleviate environmental risks by adopting robust rules to mitigate orbital debris. The agency further sought comments on ways to ensure they are being responsible stewards of the extraterrestrial environment, earlier this year.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

FCC

FCC Announces Largest Approval Yet for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund: $1 Billion

The agency said Thursday it has approved $1 billion to 69 providers in 32 states.

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Photo illustration from the Pelican Institute

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced its largest approval yet from the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, greenlighting on Thursday $1 billion from a reverse auction process that ended with award announcements in December but that the new-look agency has been scrutinizing in recent months.

The agency said in a press release that this fifth round of approvals includes 69 providers who are expected to serve 518,000 locations in 32 states over 10 years. Its previous round approved $700 million worth of applications to cover 26 states. Previous rounds approved $554 million for broadband in 19 states, $311 million in 36 states, and $163 million in 21 states.

The agency still has some way to approve the entirety of the fund, as it’s asked providers that were previously awarded RDOF money in December to revisit their applications to see if the areas they have bid for are not already served. So far, a growing list have defaulted on their respective areas, some saying it was newer FCC maps that showed them what they didn’t previously know. The agency said Thursday that about 5,000 census blocks have been cleared as a result of that process.

The FCC also said Thursday it saved $350 million from winning bidders that have either failed to get state certification or didn’t follow through on their applications. In one winning bidder’s case, the FCC said Thursday Hotwire violated the application rules by changing its ownership structure.

“This latest round of funding will open up even more opportunities to connect hundreds of thousands of Americans to high-speed, reliable broadband service,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “Today’s actions reflect the hard work we’ve put in over the past year to ensure that applicants meet their obligations and follow our rules.  With thoughtful oversight, this program can direct funding to areas that need broadband and to providers who are qualified to do the job.”

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FCC

Local Government Advisors Concerned by Delay in Sohn Confirmation Process

They also believe Alan Davidson will be viewed more favorably to head the NTIA.

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Nominee for FCC Commissioner Gigi Sohn

WASHINGTON, December 14, 2021 – Local government advisors are concerned by delays in the confirmation process of Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, and what those delays will mean for broadband services in local communities.

At the moment, there are reportedly not enough votes from Democrats to confirm Sohn.

The panel of local advisors at a National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors on Monday said the FCC would likely remain split 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans until at least February, when the panel says Sohn’s confirmation will probably pass the Senate.

Such a split would prevent the agency from making some major decisions that would ramp up programs to expand broadband access for Americans. For this reason, several civil society groups have asked the Senate for a swift confirmation process of Biden’s nominees.

The panel also said that Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Association, Alan Davidson, will likely be reported favorably out of committee.

Logistical problems for the Affordable Connectivity Program

Panelists also spent significant time discussing what current regulatory agency efforts mean for connectivity.

The panel critiqued the FCC’s transition from the Emergency Broadband Benefit to the Affordable Connectivity Program provided for by the newly-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to continue providing students with internet access for e-learning. The program provides monthly subsidies for connectivity and devices for eligible students.

This transition is planned to take place with the start of the 2022 new year, and the agency is fielding comments on how to transition.

The panel stated that because this transition takes place during the school year, it has the potential to strand students without connectivity services. Panelists noted that they have been trying to communicate these concerns to the FCC.

The FCC recently eliminated an enrollment freeze in the EBB that was planned to take place during the transition to the ACP.

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FCC

FCC Takes Stock of Telehealth Successes, But Acknowledges a Long Way to Go at Agency Event

Procedural hurdles lie ahead for the commission’s telehealth efforts.

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FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

WASHINGTON, December 6, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr and several leaders in healthcare said Monday the agency’s efforts to expand telehealth programs for Americans face procedural hurdles before Congress.

The cost of government telehealth expansion efforts is among key factors that create congressional hesitance to rubber stamp the FCC’s telehealth initiatives.

During panel discussions moderated by Carr at a commission event on Monday, experts also remarked that the commission’s efforts would require a good deal of regulatory flexibility that many members of Congress may not be willing to grant it.

Panel guest Deanna Larson, CEO of virtual health network Avera eCARE, testified before the Senate on the matter in October, urging Congress to extend or make permanent its regulatory flexibility toward telehealth.

The panels also spent time discussing the substantial success the FCC has had in expanding telehealth over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts emphasized accomplishments such as the employment of remote monitoring devices by physicians to physically examine patients when they cannot come into the office.

The panel stated that the move from fully in-person healthcare to telehealth can be compared to the significance of the move from “Blockbuster to Netflix,” referencing the at-home experience of the streaming platform.

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