Globalstar Paying $275,000 To Settle FCC Spectrum Dispute

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BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan — Mobile satellite services operator Globalstar Inc. has agreed to make a “voluntary contribution” to the U.S. government to settle a dispute with U.S. regulators about spectrum the company had promised to abandon but continued to use for months.

In a consent decree agreed to with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Globalstar has agreed to pay $275,000 to the U.S. Treasury by mid-November and to forgo any court challenge of the decision.

Milpitas, Calif.-based Globalstar also has agreed to cease using certain radio frequencies that the FCC had determined in late 2008 were no longer available to it. Globalstar had sought, and received, early exemptions from the rule by asking for more time to transition its ground stations in South America, Europe, Asia and Australia so they do not use the frequencies in question, which are from 1618.725 to 1621.35 megahertz.

Ground terminals in France, Brazil, Turkey and Australia were subsequently switched to the more-restricted frequencies, but Globalstar’s three Russian gateways continued using the forbidden radio waves.

The FCC decision, published Oct. 6, is worded in a way that makes clear the agency’s frustration with Globalstar’s behavior. The decision came just weeks after the FCC told a Globalstar customer, Open Range Communications, that it could no longer use Globalstar’s frequencies to develop a rural broadband service featuring ground transmitters combined with Globalstar’s satellite signals.

Barbee Ponder, Globalstar’s general counsel, said in response to Space News inquiries that the company “looks forward to a more positive working relationship with the Commission in the future.”

Globalstar on Oct. 20 launched the first six of 24 satellites it has ordered to form its second-generation constellation. The launches occurred here aboard Soyuz rockets operated by the French-Russian Starsem company.

For these satellites and the 18 others scheduled for launch in 2011, Globalstar’s regulatory home is France, not the United States. The regulatory authority for the eight most recent first-generation satellites in orbit, which will be part of the Globalstar system for another four or five years, remains the FCC.

Anthony J. Navarra, president of the company’s global operations, said here that Globalstar’s dispute with the FCC is not about a company flouting an FCC order, but rather a company questioning whether a national regulatory agency’s reach should extend worldwide. Globalstar, he said, was not violating international or Russian regulations in using the frequencies the FCC forced it to drop.

Navarra said that while Globalstar, as part of the consent decree, will not challenge the FCC ruling in a U.S. court, the company will exercise its right to make continued appeals to the FCC.

The FCC has signaled that it will be reviewing the regulatory environment under which mobile satellite services providers operate as part of a strategy to ensure that at least one service provider survives over the long term to provide emergency communications when terrestrial communications fail, such as in a natural disaster.

In an Oct. 20 interview, Navarra said Globalstar will be purchasing 100,000 new Globalstar handsets using chipset technology provided by Qualcomm Inc. even though Qualcomm will no longer be supporting Globalstar starting in 2013. Another 150,000 Qualcomm-equipped terminals are in storage at Globalstar, he said.

These phones will be distributed as needed when Qualcomm ends its involvement in Globalstar’s infrastructure. San Diego, Calif.-based Qualcomm has been replaced by Hughes Communications of Germantown, Md., to supply Globalstar chipsets.

Navarra said the Hughes gear is easily fitted side by side with Qualcomm’s at Globalstar’s gateway Earth stations and does not require a sizable investment. In some regions of the world, he said, markets will quickly upgrade to the faster service offered by the second-generation Globalstar. These markets will be using the Hughes technology.

In other markets, take-up of the second-generation capabilities will be slower, and these markets will be supported by the Qualcomm gear that Globalstar has in stock, in addition to hardware it can remove from gateway Earth stations whose markets have switched to the higher-capacity service, he said.