FCC to OK satellite spectrum sharing

Apr 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to announce Monday that Northpoint Technology can share spectrum with its archrivals so it can offer a wireless video and broadband service that competes head-on with cable and satellite, sources said late last week.
At deadline Friday, the agency was putting its finishing touches on the long-awaited decision, which will feature partial dissents from Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps, GOP Commissioner Kevin Martin and possibly other FCC regulators, a source said.
But in a potential blow to the company, industry observers predicted the FCC would require Northpoint to secure the spectrum needed for its planned nationwide terrestrial service through an auction.
The company strongly opposes an auction and would likely appeal any such requirement in federal court.
The agency action will culminate years of bickering between the company and nine satellite competitors-including DirecTV and EchoStar-over how much interference would be caused if the Austin, Texas-based Northpoint squeezes onto their band.
Northpoint has long maintained that its competitors are crying foul about interference and auctions as tactics to block its market entrance.
The nine satellite companies have said independent testing supports their interference claims. They also insist that federal law requires services such as the one planned by Northpoint to secure spectrum at auction.
Uncertain at deadline was whether those nine companies would be allowed to compete against Northpoint in any bidding.
Meanwhile, the future of Northpoint could have a direct impact on the pending $26 billion merger of EchoStar and DirecTV.
That’s because some congressional and watchdog critics think the deal should only win regulatory approval if Northpoint emerges as a competitor and other conditions are met.
Late last week, however, FCC Chairman Michael Powell told reporters that developments with Northpoint would not have a wider impact. “I don’t think there’s any connection with the DirecTV-EchoStar merger,” he said.
While far from a household name, Northpoint has become a cause celebre of some powerful lawmakers, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.; Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska; and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who have largely rural constituencies with limited television and Internet options.
Northpoint also has won accolades from the National Association of Broadcasters for pledging to carry all local signals.
In an attempt to circumvent an auction, Northpoint recently asked the FCC to consider it an international satellite service and award it two direct broadcast satellite orbital slots. Such services are not subject to spectrum auctions. The company said the frequencies would enable it to offer an expanded array of programming channels. The request is pending.