Satellite mega-constellations: the limits of treating spectrum like land
Oct 06, 2021 by Toby Youell


TagsFCC, ITU-R, MIFR, satellite filing, space

Being a confusing subject, spectrum managers often resort to talking about frequencies as if it is land. This is intuitive because many spectrum policy concepts apply to real estate too. A usage right can be thought of as owning land, while technical limits on usage resemble planning permission rules. It is probably no coincidence that spectrum policy typically evolved from privatization and deregulation of telecom industries in the 1980s and 1990s.

Spectrum for space, however, is different. It has evolved out of diplomatic conventions designed for an age when governments were the predominant actors, launches were few and far between and missions were not expected to be economically viable.

As we document in a new Research Note, agents for some of the new privately-funded mega-constellations are talking about their ITU-R filings and/or licences or market access rights issued by the FCC as if they provide exclusivity, or at least priority. While this has a rhetorical appeal, neither of these claims are fully supported by the ITU-R and FCC rules. As we explain, the legal framework for accessing spectrum for these non-geostationary orbit satellites is complicated. For example, an ITU-R filing only gives your government the right to coordinate with other governments whose future networks may cause interference to you, and FCC’s procedures are designed to provide a level playing field for new entrants to the US satellite market.

As the space industry continues to boom, it seems like we need new metaphors.

The rise of mega-constellations challenges claims of priority spectrum rights is available to Spectrum Research Service subscribers here.