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Global Media and Communications Watch The International Legal Blog for the Tech, Media and Telecoms Industry
Posted in Technology, Telecoms & Broadband Ari FitzgeraldSarah K. Leggin

New Discoveries from Galileo? FCC Grants non-Federal Access to Revolutionary European Satellite

At its Open Meeting on November 15, the FCC approved a draft Order that grants in part the European Commission’s (EC) long-pending request for waivers of certain FCC licensing requirements to permit non-Federal U.S. receive-only earth stations to operate with specific signals of the Galileo satellite system (Galileo) without having to obtain an FCC license or grant of US market access.  Galileo was developed by the European Union and consists of a number of satellites operating in the radionavigation-satellite service (RNSS), similar to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).  The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recommended grant of the requested waivers, and the FCC’s International Bureau issued a Public Notice seeking comment on the potential benefits and technical issues associated with the waiver request.  The FCC granted the EC waiver request for operations with the Galileo E1 signal (1559-1591 MHz) and E5 signal (1164-1219 MHz), but denied the request for operations with the E6 signal (1260-1300 MHz). 

Access to Galileo should benefit the U.S. automotive, transportation, agriculture, and other commercial sectors by allowing U.S companies to supplement and improve the accuracy of the location data they receive from GPS.  The order also resolves a nearly 8 year-long controversy  involving the FCC, NTIA, U.S. Department of State, and EC regarding whether and on what terms to allow access to Galileo in the U.S.

  • In 2011, the FCC released a public notice requiring a Part 25 satellite earth station license in order for non-Federal U.S. entities to operate receive-only equipment that receives signals from foreign satellite systems, including Galileo and other RNSS systems.  The FCC also stated that it would consider requests for waiver of the requirement based on recommendations from NTIA and through the FCC’s previously established waiver procedures.
  • In 2013, the EC requested a waiver of the FCC’s licensing requirements for receive-only Galileo operations.  In its waiver request, the EC sought blanket authorization for all non-Federal U.S. receive-only earth stations to receive signals from Galileo, which transmits in the 1559-1591 MHz (E1), 1164-1219 MHz (E5), and 1260-1300 MHz (E6) spectrum bands.
  • In 2015, NTIA recommended that the FCC seek comment on and ultimately grant the EC waiver request. NTIA also noted that granting the waiver request would augment and strengthen the resiliency of GPS in the U.S., and that use of Galileo would be interoperable with GPS and RF-compatible with U.S. government systems and equipment authorized and operating in the RNSS spectrum bands.
  • On January 6, 2017, the FCC issued a public notice inviting public comment on the EC’s waiver request.  Nearly all commenters in the EC waiver proceeding supported the EC’s request, including T-Mobile, Trimble, Qualcomm, Airbus Defense and Space, Topcon, Broadcom, NENA-The 911 Association, and the European GNSS Agency.  However, Inmarsat and Ligado urged the FCC to require the EC to provide more information regarding the compatibility of Galileo with U.S. satellite systems before the FCC acted on the request.

For more information, please contact Ari Fitzgerald and Sarah Leggin.