Intelsat preps for accelerated C-Band clearing

Intelsat said that it has contracted for six new satellites in order to meet the Federal Communication Commission’s accelerated spectrum-clearing timeline for the C-Band.

The company recently went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring, and said that “one of the primary catalysts” for the timing was its desire to participate in the FCC’s accelerated spectrum clearing effort and reduce its debt. It said that it would have to spend more than $1 billion in clearing costs in order to be eligible to eventually receive $4.87 billion in payments for the accelerated clearing. Intelsat said it had secured a commitment for $1 billion in financing to fund its operations and spectrum clearing.

The FCC is seeking rapid clearing of 280 megahertz of C-Band spectrum, plus a 20-megahertz guard band; satellite operators will have to transition existing services out of the lower portion of the band into the upper 200 megahertz of the band, which extends from 3.7-4.2 GHz. The FCC wants to make the midband spectrum available quickly for terrestrial 5G services, since there is a dearth of midband 5G spectrum available in the United States. To facilitate faster clearing, the federal agency has proposed lump-sum payments to satellite operators who commit to voluntarily relocating their operations in the band in two phases, with a first clearing phase deadline of December 5, 2021 and a second-phase deadline of December 5, 2023.

Intelsat said that it has signed agreements with Maxar Technologies for four new satellites and with Northup Grumman for two more, and that it is currently in negotiations with manufacturers for a seventh satellite to support its C-Band transition plan. It expects to submit that plan to the FCC this week.

“Quickly clearing 300 megahertz of the U.S. C-band spectrum to make way for 5G wireless applications is a complex task, layered with a significant number of highly interdependent technical activities, including building and launching multiple new satellites designed to operate at the higher portion of the band,” said Intelsat Chief Services Officer Mike DeMarco, adding that the company is looking forward to collaborating with Maxar and Northup on the “critical builds” which are “essential to clearing portions of the C-band spectrum and cementing America’s leadership in 5G.”

In related news, last week the FCC granted satellite operators an additional week to submit their transition plans to move all existing services out of the lower 300 MHz of the C-Band spectrum. Those plans had been due by June 12 and that was extended to June 19. The agency also denied a request from  America’s Communications Association (ACA) and The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) to extend the comment period on lump-sum incentive payments to satellite operators, so that the newly submitted plans could be reviewed and comments could be submitted on payments in light of the plans.

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