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Satellite Still Diverging Over Application Processing Shot Clocks

Satellite operators continue having diverse views on using shot clocks to hasten earth station and satellite application reviews, according to docket 22-411 reply comments this week. In September, commissioners on a 4-0 vote adopted a Further NPRM on streamlining satellite and earth station applications (see 2309210055). There was a lack of consensus about shot clocks in initial comments last month (see 2401090051).

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A champion of shot clocks, SpaceX said too often applications are being processed right up to the need-by date, "leav[ing] little time for licensees to review and implement conditions before launch, [making for] particularly burdensome coordination conditions." It suggested the FCC could address concerns that shot clocks mean less-rigorous reviews by letting applicants opt out of established shot clock periods to provide staff or federal agencies with more time to review applications. Globalstar said it backed a 90-day shot clock after the comment period for earth station applications that are uncontested, but when it comes to satellite applications, "a shot clock would likely diminish the quality of the Commission’s review process." Mangata said it backed final grant shot clocks where a special temporary authority (STA) is automatically granted if the agency doesn't take final action at the end of a review period. In addition, it urged procedures that let earth station and satellite operators modify their systems without prior authorization when they certify that such operations won't cause interference. And it backed allowing foreign-flagged satellite operators with a pending or granted petition for declaratory ruling for U.S. market access to get the functional equivalent of an STA to communicate with earth stations in the U.S. on a temporary basis. Eutelsat/OneWeb backed use of shot clocks for "routine" earth station applications.

Broad use of shot clocks "would force all stakeholders to hone their skills in preparing applications and hone the technical and legal arguments in objecting to the applications of others," TechFreedom said. It said it backs most of the FCC proposals, "but those revisions represent inside-the-box thinking." It said the agency's reliance on STA authorizations is "a sure signal that there’s something inherently wrong with the whole process."

"Inflexible shot clocks," along with earth station licenses lacking identified satellite points of communication, would increase the risk of interference and wouldn't notably improve the application process, Intelsat said. "Even a less rigid shot clock could result in negative outcomes to the interference environment or orbital safety," it said. It said if the FCC doesn't drop the shot clock idea outright, it should table it for now and give the Space Bureau time to implement procedural improvements to see how those impact application processing timelines.

Those backing some shot clocks in certain contexts ignore how their use would hurt the quality of FCC decision-making and its ability to fulfill its statutory obligations to safeguard the public interest, Viasat said. Also against shot clocks, SES/O3b said the FCC should reject proposals to routinely permit satellites to provide communications services during fleet management drifts.

"Exercise caution" in allowing minor modifications without prior authorization in bands shared with terrestrial wireless providers, Verizon said. Interested parties should have the ability to review and comment on the modifications, it added. Verizon also urged that the FCC consider earth station licensing without an identified satellite point of communication in bands shared with terrestrial wireless only on a secondary basis. The FCC's proposal to allow earth station licensing without an identified point of communication "supports innovation," Microsoft said. SpaceX said no one was against letting satellite operators modify their satellites without prior authorization as long as it doesn't raise interference or collision risks. But it said the Space Bureau should clarify it won't impose license conditions that require applications to file modifications not otherwise required by commission rules.

The commission should expand the umbrella of minor modifications not needing prior authorization to cover allowing non-telemetry, tracking and control communications during satellite relocation, said Astroscale. It also urged the FCC to collect and release application processing timeline data. "Transparent data will support Commission awareness of internal capabilities and inform industry expectations for application processing," it said.

If the commission opts to allow satellite points of communication to earth station licenses without seeking FCC approval or to deem applications to add satellite points of communication to be granted automatically, it should preserve the special requirements for bands, such as Iridium’s 29.1-29.3 GHz and 19.4-19.6 GHz feeder link bands, which are shared among nonfederal satellite services, Iridium said.