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Some younger members of the radio business may not recall the days when satellite programming feeds were first introduced to radio broadcasting. Visitors to the early '80s radio shows watched open-jawed at demonstrations of national radio programming delivered live, anywhere in the country, for delivery over their local station. What would this mean for radio? For localism? We now know that satellite delivery ushered in national disc jockeys, personalities and nationwide Talk. Radio has adjusted and some rely heavily on satellite feeds to make their bottom line work. But now, some dishes may be threatened unless stations take action quickly.
Many broadcasters rely on C-Band (3.7-4.2 GHz) satellites. The five major commercial radio networks, Learfield, Orbital Media Networks (OMNi), Premier Networks, Skyview Networks and Westward One use C-Band and it has been reported that C-Band supports content delivery to more than 100 million television households. SES, a major satellite service provider, reports that the vast majority of the underlying news, entertainment, sports and weather content traverses a C-Band satellite network at some point in its path to the end user, although some have converted to K-Band satellites.
New Threats To C-Band
In the 2018 Mobile Now Act, Congress charged the FCC to study the feasibility of federal and non-federal sharing of the 3.7-4.2 gigahertz band, i.e., C-Band. Broadcasters were enthused with the just passed Raybaum's Act, which provided additional funding for the television repack and included funding for radio stations that have to make antenna changes or go silent for a period of time to accommodate the TV Repack. Additionally, Congress required both NTIA and the FCC to report on the feasibility of more terrestrial sharing of C-Band, specifically including unlicensed operations. Also, last year the FCC launched an inquiry to explore the possibility of reallocating the downlink C-Band for 5G wireless broadband. Clearly, there are many potential challenges to the continued viability of C-Band for broadcast distribution due to increased sharing of the band and every broadcaster with a satellite dish should take notice.
Act Now To Protect Yourself
Broadcasting has a big problem in that a lot of stations never registered or frequency coordinated their satellite dish and are now sitting on existing and unregistered fixed-satellite service (FSS) earth stations. To allow broadcasters to protect their downlink service, the Commission created a freeze on new applications to allow existing users to protect their service. Between April 19th and July 18th, 2018, the FCC will not accept new or modified C-Band fixed-satellite service earth station applications, except for renewals, cancellations and data correction. At the same time, the FCC opened a 90-day window, through July 18, 2018, for existing earth stations that were operational as of April18th, 2018, to file license applications or register for interference protection. Importantly, to facilitate filing within the 90-day window, it also waived the FCC's frequency coordination requirement until after the window. Actual protection will not be afforded by the FCC, however, until a frequency coordination report is filed.
Do I Really Need To File?
Yes! Much of the video and audio programming seen and heard in the U.S. homes still travels over C-Band satellite at some point, including viewers of services provided by cable television, direct broadcast (DBS), Internet protocol television or over-the-top service, and even traditional free broadcast television. In short, there are a lot of C-Band satellite dishes and every broadcaster needs to protect theirs.
Not long ago, Skyview Networks reported that C-Band Satellite delivered the following network shows:
Rush Limbaugh, CBS News, Sean Hannity, NBC Sports Radio (Mike Florio, Newy Scruggs, Mark Malone), Talk Radio Network (Sam Sorbo, Roy Masters, Robert Davi), Skyview Networks play-by-play sports and news programming, ABC Radio, ABC News, Dave Ramsey, Westwood One News, Business Talk Radio Network [BTRN] (Ray Lucia, Business Rockstars), Michael Savage, Carson Daly, Sports Byline, Mark Levin, Sports USA, Touchdown Radio, Phil Valentine, CBS Sports Radio (Jim Rome, Doug Gottlieb, Damon Amendolara), Brownfield Ag News, Charles Osgood, Cigar Dave, Delilah, Glenn Beck, Doctor Oz, Big Boy, Steve Harvey, Learfield Sports, Bobby Bones, Dan Patrick, IMG College Sports, John Tesh, Nashville Hot Country, Ask Heloise, The Ray, Café Nashville, Rocky Mountain News Network, North Carolina News Network, United Stations Radio Networks' Nights with Alice Cooper, Lex & Terry, HardDrive XL, Open House Party, Westwood One 24-hour satellite formats and more than 1,000 other show titles that are delivered via AMC-8.
The Society of Broadcast Engineers recently announced "It is critical that you immediately see to the licensing or registration of your C-Band receive only earth station within this window or risk losing the programming feeds. The window opened April 19th and closes July 18th, 2018. Don't miss this opportunity."
Postscript: More Changes Coming
For 35 years, the U.S. commercial radio network industry has used a satellite known as AMC-8. Recently, AMC-8 exceeded its design life and was replaced by AMC-18 that, unfortunately, had to be located at a new orbital position. That required radio stations to repoint or replace the downlink receive station to receive AMC-18 at its new orbital location, 105 degrees west longitude. However, AMC-18 also has only a few years remaining of useful life, and will soon be replaced by a new bird, SES-11. Thankfully, SES-11 will remain at 105 degrees west longitude, with a backup, SES-1, at 101 degrees west longitude. Be on the lookout for any adjustments that may be required for the transition to SES-11.
Gregg Skall is a long-time member of Womble Bond Dickinson’s Communications, Technology and Media team who represents broadcasters and other parties in their regulatory dealings before the Federal Communications Commission and in their commercial business dealings.