The 5G for 12 GHz Coalition told the FCC the 12.2-12.7 GHz band is ready for immediate deployment for fixed broadband services, without requiring a spectrum auction. Credit: FCC via Flickr

TAMPA, Fla. — U.S. regulators voted May 18 to protect Starlink’s access to 12 GHz spectrum, which Dish Network had hoped to use for terrestrial 5G in a plan SpaceX warned would deny its satellite broadband network to most Americans.

Federal Communications Commission commissioners unanimously approved a proposal to preserve frequencies for satellite services between 12.2 and 12.7 GHz, part of the Ku-band spectrum that Starlink, OneWeb and other satellite operators use to connect user terminals.

Dish Network had sought permission to use the spectrum to operate a high-power, two-way mobile service across the United States.

A battle that pitted the satellite TV broadcaster and terrestrial telcos against satellite operators had produced competing studies over the years on the plan’s potential to disrupt space-based communications.

Dish Network’s satellite broadcast rival DirecTV, majority owned by U.S. telecoms giant AT&T, had said millions of its customers would suffer extensive harmful interference if the plan went ahead.

Based on the studies filed to date, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said its engineers concluded that the 5G network would cause too much interference when deployed throughout the country.  

“I would have welcomed a path forward that allowed both services to thrive,” Starks said in a statement. “But for now, it’s time to adapt.”

While the FCC declined to authorize two-way, high-powered terrestrial mobile services in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band, the regulator proposed positioning 12.7-13.25 GHz frequencies to support flexible terrestrial wireless use, including future 6G wireless services. 

“We’re proposing specific rules to lift 550 megahertz of underused spectrum off the ground while protecting or transitioning incumbents and fully exploring sharing-based alternatives,” Starks said.

Although many details of this plan remain undecided, he and FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel called on Congress to restore a lapsed authority to hold an auction for potentially distributing the frequencies. 

Dish Network has wireless frequencies in other bands after investing more than $30 billion in spectrum licenses for its 5G network, which must be capable of serving 70% of the U.S. population by June under FCC buildout rules.

The company recently said it had started construction on more than 18,000 5G cell sites as of March 31, and only around 16,000 of them need to be fully powered and connected to reach the milestone next month.

The network met an FCC deadline last June for covering 20% of the U.S. population, according to Dish Network.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...