FCC to Vote on Satellite to Cell Phone Operations

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared with her colleagues draft rules to establish a new regulatory framework to ease collaboration between satellite operators and wireless carriers. The goal is to use satellites to fill wireless coverage gaps in remote, unserved, and underserved areas.

The FCC wants to establish clear and transparent processes to support supplemental coverage from space. Connecting consumers to essential wireless services where traditional terrestrial mobile service is not available can be lifesaving in remote locations and can open up innovative opportunities for consumers and businesses, according to the agency.  

“A single network future is possible,” said Rosenworcel. “By taking advantage of satellite connectivity, we can enhance our smartphones and get rid of ‘dead zones.’ This groundbreaking framework will ensure continued U.S. leadership and establish a clear and predictable regulatory approach to these partnerships in support of innovation and competition.”

The Commission will vote on the Chairwoman’s proposed Report and Order at its March 14 meeting. If adopted, the framework allows satellite operators collaborating with terrestrial service providers to seek FCC authorization to operate space stations on certain licensed, flexible-use spectrum currently allocated to terrestrial services. That’s provided they satisfy certain licensing prerequisites—including having a spectrum lease from a carrier licensee within a specified geographic area.

Once authorized, a satellite operator could then serve a wireless provider’s customers should they need connectivity outside of coverage areas. The Commission will also seek to establish an interim requirement that would require wireless operators to use location-based protocols or an emergency call center to route all satellite-enabled 911 calls to a Public Safety Answering Point, where calls to first responders are received and handled.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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