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FCC sets sights on satellite spectrum

The FCC is looking at freeing up 90MHz of spectrum from satellite services that can be used for mobile broadband.

The Federal Communications Commission is looking to free up spectrum allocated to satellite services as the agency moves forward on plans to get more spectrum in the market for wireless broadband services.

The agency said in the National Broadband Plan issued in March that it planned to make 300MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband use over the next five years. To meet this goal, the agency has suggested getting about 120MHz of spectrum from TV broadcasters. And now it's planning to reclaim 90MHz of spectrum from the Mobile Satellite Service band, or MSS.

The FCC's spectrum task force said during a call with reporters Friday that mobile satellite services would still be available. But the spectrum would be used more efficiently. For example, the taskforce is considering allocating within the "S" band, one of the three bands in the MSS range, spectrum to be used for wireless broadband services. Currently, spectrum holders in that band can only use their spectrum to build mobile services that complement their satellite services.

The task force is also considering changing rules that would allow MSS license holders to lease unused frequencies on a secondary market. The FCC already allows secondary-market spectrum leasing for other spectrum bands. In fact, Verizon is currently considering leasing of its newly won spectrum in the 700MHz band to rural operators to help it build its 4G wireless network.

The FCC has already made moves to free up some of the satellite spectrum. Earlier this year it approved the merger between satellite phone provider SkyTerra and Harbinger Capital Partners, which plans to build a terrestrial 4G wireless network to augment a satellite service. The new terrestrial/satellite wireless network could compete against established cell phone providers, such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, which are also building 4G wireless networks.

The task force will submit its proposal to the FCC for consideration. And action on it could be taken in July.