FCC Streamlines Satellite Application Processing

The FCC passed rules to speed its processing of commercial space and earth station applications. That’s because the industry is experiencing an era of what agency officials are calling “unprecedented” growth, which is fueling an increase in the number of applications and their complexity before the Commission.

During yesterday’s meeting, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said, “Right now, we have applications for more than 58,000 satellites pending before the FCC. That is twice the number we had before this agency just four years ago. On top of that, we are seeing new applications for novel space activities like lunar landers, space tugs that can deploy other satellites, and space antenna farms that can relay communications.” 

The new rules also serve to lay the groundwork for the Space Bureau’s new Transparency Initiative, which will provide information and guidance to potential applicants in order to prepare them to successfully obtain authorizations for space and earth stations—that is, satellites and the ground-based transmitters communicating with them. This initiative will reduce administrative burdens on both applicants and Commission staff and further speed application processing, say agency officials. 

Our FCC rules across administrations have not kept up with the pace of change we are seeing in this area,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr during the vote. “At the end of the day, that contributes to a bottleneck that we really have to resolve in order to continue to allow America’s entrepreneurs to flourish.” He said one analysis showed that for companies seeking licenses in the U.S., the average processing time takes two and a half years. Given the time needed to build and launch satellites, the risks involved can be “significant” for satellite operators, he added. “We are talking substantial CapX, so we have to keep things moving forward.”

The new rules establish timeframes for releasing space and earth station applications for public comment. They also permit applicants to apply for authority to operate in frequencies in bands where there is not already an international allocation for the satellite services to be provided. They provide flexibility for non-geostationary orbit licensees to have more than one unbuilt system without facing potential dismissal of their applications and streamline processing of earth station operators’ requests to add space stations as points of communication. 

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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