On April 17, 2018 the Federal Communications Commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) that seeks to streamline and otherwise tailor the agency’s current one-size-fits-all satellite regulations for small satellite systems (commonly referred to as “smallsats”). The NPRM sets forth proposals to expedite smallsat approvals and identifies certain frequency bands for potential use by smallsats.

If the proposals in the NPRM are eventually adopted, the FCC envisions that qualifying smallsat systems will be able to save significant time and money. In particular, qualifying smallsat systems would not have to go through the often time-consuming and paperwork-intensive processing rounds normally associated with the licensing or market entry approval of non-geostationary orbit (“NGSO”) satellite systems. Furthermore, qualifying smallsat systems would only have to pay the proposed satellite application fee of $30,000 (as opposed to the $454,705 satellite application fee under the standard Part 25 approval process). Last but not least, qualifying smallsat systems that deploy at least half of their satellites within one year and thirty days of FCC approval would be able to forego filing surety bonds with the Commission. That’s not a small alteration, as these bonds can cost anywhere from one to five million dollars per system.
Continue Reading

On June 22, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) conditionally granted OneWeb’s proposed 720 Non-Geostationary Satellite Orbit (“NGSO”) constellation access to the U.S. market in select frequency bands.   OneWeb filed a Petition for Declaratory Ruling with the FCC or U.S. market access rather than an application because it states that its space system license application will be acted upon by the United Kingdom.

The FCC order approving the Petition (the “OneWeb Approval Order”) characterizes the grant as “the first of its kind for a new generation of large… NGSO systems” which the Commission hopes will facilitate “high-speed, affordable broadband connectivity” nationwide.  The FCC’s grant was conditioned on, among other things, ITU coordination, power limits, avoidance of in-line interference, orbital debris mitigation, the outcome of pending and future rulemakings, and satisfaction of bond and milestone requirements.  The OneWeb grant remains subject to the outcomes of several other pending proceedings (as well as any future FCC rules) and the requirement that OneWeb will share spectrum with other NGSO systems the Commission approves in the same spectrum bands and other users of the spectrum.  The OneWeb Approval Order makes clear that any earth station applications will be subject to a separate filing and review cycle.
Continue Reading