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THE C-BAND TRANSITION: HERE’S ONE BIG MISTAKE YOU WON’T WANT TO MAKE

We’ve updated this blog entry to reflect the FCC’s deadline for deciding whether or not to pursue a the lump sum allocation. Previously August 31, the FCC agreed to give registered earth stations additional time to explore the option. The new deadline is September 14, 2020.

We’ve also included the FCC timelines regarding the repack of the C-band spectrum, listed at the end.

You know the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is?”

Here’s a good example.

We got a call from a good friend the other day; a well respected broadcast engineer with a deep knowledge of the satellite industry.

Our buddy had been perusing the FCC’s recently released C-band Cost Catalogue. The cost catalogue addresses the costs associated with the simple filtering, retuning, or repointing of various earth station antennas in preparation for the co-sharing of 3.7 to 4.2 MHz of the mid-band spectrum with 5G.

Back to our friend and the catalogue; he was pumped because he had just gotten to the part in the catalogue where they specified lump sum allocations.

There is an option established by the FCC for earth station operators to accept a lump sum amount “based on the average, estimated costs” of relocating their earth stations.

Accepting the lump sum means the network utilizing C-band for content delivery would no longer seek reimbursement for actual costs associated with the transition. The lump sum amounts? Quite generous. For example – the compensation for opting out a receive-only single-feed antenna is $8948 per antenna.

No wonder our buddy was excited! If you have dozens of C-band downlinks in your network, it would be so tempting to accept the lump sum payment and worry about filters or repointing of the downlinks later.

But here’s the deal: If you take the cash, you are solely responsible for the installation of filters, upgrades, repoints and the like at your downlink sites.

Hire a reliable, seasoned crew of satellite technicians to assist and you will probably be okay. The transition work should be completed correctly and within an acceptable timeline and budget.

But here’s where it gets tricky. During the SES transition three years ago there were quite a few traveling teams of technicians – we called them satellite cowboys – who said they had the knowledge and experience, but did not.

In fact, nearly half the calls we received from networks asking for our services were from folks who had hired a crew to help them with the repoint, only for the group to produce less than stellar results.

LinkUp became the clean up crew; coming in and fixing problems that were caused by inadequately trained technicians.

The bottom line? If your C-band network accepts the lump sum, how much of those funds will your network burn through if you have to pay for the transition twice?

Our best advice: if you don’t want the headache of dealing with the details associated with the C-band repack, let the satellite owners handle it. All updates to your downlinks will be covered at no expense to you. And you can be assured that the work will be completed correctly.

But if you choose to collect the lump sum, don’t waste your time hiring a company that may not have the skill set to handle the work. Make sure you contract with experienced satellite professionals so the job is done right.

The alternative is just not worth it.

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FCC C-band Repack Timeline:

– Sept. 14, 2020 Earth Station (downlink) owner must decide whether to participate in the satellite owner transition or opt out for lump sum.
– December 08, 2020 —  Auction begins (top 46 markets)
– December 05, 2021 — Phase 1 deadline: 3700-3820 to be cleared in 46 top PEAs
– December 05, 2023 — Phase 2 deadline: 3700-4000 to be clear nationally
– December 05, 2025 — Sunset of all FSS license protection for 3700-4000

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