Entities say satellite operators should modify their proposed transition plans detailing how they expect to move existing operations from the 3.7-4.0 gigahertz band to the 4.0-4.2 GHz band on an accelerated schedule by 2023, saying that some don’t include enough detail and either seek overlay generous cost reimbursements or fail to cover necessary expenses to ensure that users are made whole.
Five satellite operators—Intelsat License LLC, SES Americom, Inc., Eutelsat S.A., Telesat Canada, and Claro S.A. (f/k/a Star One S.A.)—are eligible to receive accelerated relocation payments. They submitted preliminary transition plans last month. Final plans are due on Aug. 14.
In its filing in GN docket 20-173, ACA said it finds the proposed plans “wanting,” particularly those submitted by Intelsat and SES.
“Notwithstanding the specificity and clarity with which the Commission delineates the roles the satellite operators assumed when they accepted accelerated relocation, Intelsat’s and SES’s initial Transition Plans are deficient in many respects,” ACA added. “Above all, ACA Connects urges the Commission to safeguard its crystal clear pronouncements in the 3.7 GHz Report and Order regarding the satellite operators’ responsibilities to ensure that MVPD [multichannel video programming distributor] earth station operators are able to provide substantially the same service post-transition. In so doing, it should give no credence to SES’s current distorted and revisionist reading of its responsibilities under the 3.7 GHz Report and Order.
“Specifically, the Bureau should direct SES and Intelsat to modify certain elements of their Transition Plans in order to fulfill the 3.7 GHz Report and Order’s requirement that the satellite operators provide their associated earth station operators with a ‘turnkey solution,” ACA added. “The Bureau must require SES and Intelsat to update their plans to expressly state their transition work includes all steps necessary to enable MVPDs to provide the same video service quality during and after the transition as a result of technology upgrades. The Bureau must also require Intelsat to update its Transition Plan by eliminating provisos that impermissibly shift the burden of performing certain transition work to its associated earth station operators, or require these earth station operators to affirmatively request certain work to be performed, where the 3.7 GHz Report and Order clearly states the satellite operator must perform the work without being asked.”
ACA added that it “also encourages Intelsat to update its Transition Plan to provide the earth station operators the same flexibility to do work on their own that SES provides for earth station operators that have elected the formal relocation process. In particular, like SES, Intelsat should allow earth station operators to install certain equipment and otherwise fulfill certain transition actions themselves, if the earth station operator and the satellite operator can agree on the terms of such work. Even where the satellite operators’ initial Transition Plans properly accept their transition responsibilities, their unduly low transition budgets further stoke concerns that the satellite operators will look to cut corners or shirk their transition responsibilities. A tangible example of this may be found in their plans (or lack thereof) for the types of antennas they will provide to earth station operators when new antennas are needed. The Bureau should take note of these deficiencies, and request that the satellite operators address them with more specificity to ensure the satellite operators intend to live up to their responsibilities.”
ACA also said that the transition plans don’t go into the required detail, “such as key information that should be part of their ‘satellite grooming’ plans. In particular, the plans do not provide link budgets, the names of the programming channels that will be migrating, or information about the pre- and post-transition performance testing that will occur to ensure that associated earth stations can deliver substantially the same service to their customers after the transition. The Bureau should instruct Intelsat and SES to cure these deficiencies in their final Transition Plans, and enable MVPDs and other interested parties to comment on any further satellite provider proposed changes to the Transition Plans after submission of the ostensibly final versions.”
NCTA said that it “appreciates the substantial time and effort that the satellite operators have invested to file clear and well-thought-out transition plans that acknowledge their role in transitioning customers and incumbent earth stations and in providing substantially the same or better service during and after the transition. Comprehensive planning and good communication between satellite operators, their content company customers, and other earth station operators will be critical for a successful transition. The preliminary transition plans constitute a substantial step in the right direction.
“Nevertheless, there are key areas where the transition plans lack sufficient detail; these areas should be addressed explicitly in satellite operators’ revised plans in August,” NCTA added. “In particular, NCTA encourages the satellite operators to: (1) provide information regarding the assumptions and methodology that underpin their estimated customer and earth station migration transition costs, including line items for key elements of the ground transition, and consider revising these estimates upward to more closely align with the practical and economic deployment realities envisioned by the Commission and other stakeholders; (2) explicitly address in the transition plans how each satellite operator will provide flexibility to content company customers and other earth station operators that wish to undertake certain transition activities themselves or that have specific equipment needs; and (3) provide technical information, including link budget and footprint contours, for any new satellites that the plans envision for the provision of C-band services during and after the transition and address how satellite operators plan to transition the acquisition and delivery of international video programming. NCTA also urges the Commission to provide appropriate oversight to ensure that satellite operators meet the commitments set forth in the transition plans and to promptly and fairly address disputes that may arise during the course of the transition.”
Altice USA, Inc., focused in its comments on “(1) the need for the satellite operators to update their list of earth stations to be transitioned; and (2) the significant work that the transition plans contemplate for earth station operators. The operational costs borne by earth station operators under such plans underscore the need for the Commission to revise the Cost Catalog to list earth station operator labor/operational expenses as presumptively reasonable.”
“The C-band Order anticipated that the incumbent space station operators would ‘come to Consensus’ on where the four consolidated TT&C [telemetry, tracking, and command] stations would be located and required the identification of those locations by the submission of their Transition Plans,” T-Mobile US, Inc., said. “The Commission explained that the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (‘Wireless Bureau’) would assess the proposed locations, including the criteria that were identified by the C-Band Alliance for selecting the locations, and determine the reasonableness of the sites. The Commission added that if the space station operators failed to come to consensus, the Commission expected that SES Americom, Inc. (‘SES’) would identify two locations and Intelsat License LLC (‘Intelsat’) would identify the other two locations. The space station operators do not appear to have satisfied those requirements.
“First, there is no evidence that there is any ‘consensus’ among the space station operators regarding the locations of the consolidated TT&C sites. Neither Eutelsat S.A., Telesat Canada, nor Claro S.A f/k/a Star One S.A. mentions TT&C sites in its Transition Plan. And while SES and Intelsat include information about TT&C stations and identified locations in their Transition Plans, neither one indicates that it has discussed or reached consensus with each other or the other space station operators on the TT&C locations they identified,” T-Mobile added.
“Second, even if there was an undisclosed consensus among the space station operators, they do not appear to have identified four consolidated TT&C locations,” the carrier said. “T-Mobile recognizes that clearing the C-band of existing services is a complex task. But potential terrestrial licensees need clear information about their obligations to protect TT&C operations and should not be required to pay for relocation costs that are not reimbursable under the C-band Order.”
The carrier also complained that the transition plan filed by Intelsat seeks reimbursement costs for relocating TT&C operations that are not permissible.
“Although the Transition Plans are a significant step towards a successful C-band transition, the plans highlight some key coordination and expense issues that must be addressed to avoid duplicative, unreasonable and unnecessary costs and to prevent endangering either the functioning of the content distribution network or the timing of the transition,” said AT&T, Inc. “AT&T urges the Commission to act consistent with these comments by rapidly finalizing IBFS, ensuring a Relocation Coordinator is rapidly appointed, and taking a searching look at ESO expenditures.”
Regarding the last issue, AT&T said, “Intelsat has included, for example, TT&C relocation costs associated with TT&C facilities that are for back-up or disaster recovery purposes outside of CONUS, including building one facility in Latin America and modifying a facility in South Africa.” It added that the FCC’s C-band order said such reimbursements were not permitted.
Verizon Communications, Inc., commended Intelsat for “the level of detail” it included in its transition plan and it encouraged SES “and other operators to work towards a similar level of specificity and clarity by the August 14, 2020 deadline.”
“The Report and Order requires each satellite operator to provide a range of estimated costs for the transition, ‘with appropriate itemization to allow reasonable review by overlay licensees, the Clearinghouse, and the Commission.’ As it refines its plan, SES should provide more detail of estimated costs, including itemization of those costs,” Verizon added. “By far its largest estimated cost, $1.25 billion, is for the five new satellites it projects it will need, but it supplies no breakdown among design, launch, engineering, financing and insurance, and other satellite-related costs. Similarly, it supplies only a single aggregate cost for earth station ‘antennas’ but does not separately identify costs for the design, fabrication and installation of the many different types of antennas. And it lists a single cost of $130 million for technology upgrades for one customer, without any itemization or justification for that substantial amount.”
The National Association of Broadcasters said the FCC “should be wary of other stakeholders seeking to leverage this proceeding for financial benefits that ultimately have little to do with the Commission’s primary goal in reorganizing the C-band. For example, the recent record of this proceeding reflects substantial efforts by some MVPDs to leverage the reallocation of C-band spectrum for their own financial benefit. In particular, some MVPDs have asked the Commission to include the cost of Integrated Receiver/Decoders (IRDs) in the lump sum payment available to MVPDs choosing to handle their own transition responsibilities or transition to other technologies. Not only is this inconsistent with standard practice in the industry, it also introduces unnecessary risk into this process in the event that MVPDs take the lump sum with visions of transitioning to fiber and then fail to complete work in time or encounter unexpected issues. The only reason this dispute has emerged is the efforts of some MVPDs to drive up lump sum payments because they see an opportunity to extract additional financial benefits from the C-band transition.”
NAB also said there is need for further clarifications or modifications to transition plans.
“The SES and Intelsat transition plans include cost estimates for the transition, including costs for transitioning earth station users. These costs presumably include filters, antennas and other necessary equipment, as well as installation expenses,” NAB said. “The costs are presented at a very high level of generality, with Intelsat estimating that ‘Customer Migration, Compression and Repacking Costs’ are $400 million, and SES estimating that ‘Filters and LNBs’ will cost $100 million and ‘Antennas’ will cost $22 million. We take at face value the representation that these estimates are set forth in good faith and based on the best information currently available to the satellite operators. NAB knows that the satellite operators have been working with their programmer customers to develop accurate information concerning affiliates. Unfortunately, although the FCC recently released a preliminary list of incumbent earth stations, no stakeholder in this proceeding yet has a complete and accurate understanding of which earth stations are or are not registered. We hope that Intelsat and SES will update these estimates as more information becomes available.”
Eutelsat complained that “SES vastly overstates its replacement satellite costs by including at least one ineligible operational satellite, as well as ineligible in-orbit and ground spares and associated excess launch costs that are not necessary to the transition. Similarly, Intelsat’s proposal to replace existing satellites with useful lives that extend beyond the end of the transition period in December 2023 would not be a ‘necessary’ cost within the meaning in the C-band Order. Even to the extent that the proposed replacement satellites may be partially eligible for reimbursement, neither SES nor Intelsat offers any proposed allocation of their ineligible costs.”
Eutelsat also asked the FCC to grant its petition for reconsideration or clarification of the C-band order asking the agency to address satellite reimbursement cost issues.
The RCN Telecom Services operating companies, Grande Communications Networks LLC, the WaveDivision operating companies, and Astound Broadband LLC complained that the transition plans of Eutelsat and SES fail to include all of the companies’ registered earth stations.
PSSI Global Services LLC said that it “is deeply concerned that its earth stations are expressly recognized by only Eutelsat, and not by the other space station operators with which PSSI has conducted regular business for the past decades.”
AMC Networks Broadcasting & Technology said that Intelsat’s plan doesn’t include the number and locations of AMCN’s six earth stations. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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