WASHINGTON – Mobile satellite operator Inmarsat Ltd. of London is fighting ICO Global Communications’ attempt to get an extension for its license to operate a hybrid satellite-terrestrial broadband network, saying the development delays that prompted the request could have been avoided.


The dispute is being fought out in filings with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the authority which ultimately will decide whether ICO gets an extension on its spectrum license. The satellite in question is ICO’s G1 satellite, which is being built by Space Systems/Loral of
Palo Alto


ICO’s license, which is for frequencies in the 2-gigahertz band of the radio spectrum, requires that the system be launched by
June 30, 2007
, or else it will expire. If an extension were granted, ICO would have until Nov. 30 of this year to launch its satellite.


ICO of Reston, Va., originally filed for the extension Nov. 9.


The satellite is behind schedule because ICO made adjustments to its design so it could be used in conjunction with a network of ground-based signal amplifiers called an Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC).


Teresa Fausti, ICO’s spokeswoman, did not return phone calls and e-mail requests for comment this week.


Inmarsat, which is weighing a hybrid satellite-ATC network of its own, initially protested ICO’s extension request in a Dec. 19 filing with the FCC.


In its most recent FCC filing, dated Jan. 11, Inmarsat argues that the ICO satellite delays did not arise “entirely from ‘unforeseeable circumstances’ beyond ICO’s control.” In previous cases, the FCC has refused to grant satellite license extensions based on changes to the system’s design, Inmarsat noted.


ICO said in its own filing dated Jan. 4 that its design changes are not relevant to the discussion because they are not significant enough to require a modification to ICO’s spectrum license.


Inmarsat disagreed, saying that such an interpretation would “turn the Commission’s milestones policy on its head.


“That interpretation would allow licensees repeatedly to push back system implementation to accommodate technology ‘upgrades,’ simply by blaming the need for more time on their manufacturers,” Inmarsat argued.


A former FCC official, who declined to be identified, said that when the commission is deciding whether to grant an extension, it is a less concerned about the reasons behind any delays and more interested in whether there is a plan for them to be resolved quickly.


“It is not uncommon for an extension to be granted if the problem is with building the satellite,” the official said. “If it is clear that the company is not warehousing the spectrum, the goal of the commission is that it be used quickly.”


Diane Cornell, Inmarsat’s vice president of government affairs, said in a phone interview Jan. 19 that the commission would not have set out specific milestones for ICO to meet if it did not plan to enforce them.


“ICO made certain representations in the course of getting ready for their licensing,” Cornell said. “We think that the commission looked very carefully at the application plan, and put in certain milestones because they considered that important.”


In its Jan. 11 filing, Inmarsat said that if the FCC does grant the extension it should make clear that this is the last one. The FCC also should take steps to ensure that the extension is not used by ICO as a basis for circumventing any of the licensing requirements for companies seeking to deploy hybrid satellite-ATC systems, Inmarsat said.