Broadband bedfellows

FCC staffers suggest new service to share DBS spectrum

The FCC is poised to create an additional broadband service in the spectrum band currently used for satellite TV.

Deciding how to handle spectrum-sharing in the DBS band "is a front-burner issue," FCC Commissioner Susan Ness said last week. "We're likely to get it done in the next couple of weeks."

Ness made clear, however, that she had yet to form an opinion regarding what the FCC should do.

FCC staffers have recommended that the five commissioners allocate a new channel in the 12 GHz band, which is currently used for direct broadcast satellite. Leading contenders for the slot are Northpoint Technology, which has applied to create a direct broadcast TV service using terrestrial transmitters, and Pegasus Communications, a major rural reseller of DirecTV service.

It remains uncertain whether the FCC will require Northpoint, Pegasus and any other applicants to bid for their space at auction. The plan from the FCC's International Bureau suggests an auction may be necessary but doesn't make a specific recommendation, FCC sources say. Settling the issue is expected to be a source of major debate among the commissioners.

The plan faces intense opposition from DBS providers DirecTV and EchoStar as well as non-geostationary satellite operators (NGSOs) Alcatel-backed Skybridge and Boeing, all of which fear that a new service in the band will create untenable interference. Opponents are putting pressure on commissioners to revise or kill the plan.

The FCC's plan won't satisfy Northpoint either if it requires auctions. Executive Vice President Toni Cook Bush says the NGSOs are likely to be allowed to share the DBS spectrum without charge and Northpoint should be able to do the same. "There is no FCC precedent that requires us to go to an auction. The satellite applicants would like to have us treated differently than they are. We want our licenses at the same time that they get theirs and in the same manner."