Telesat changes tune, joins C-band spectrum group

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DALLAS — Canadian fleet operator Telesat has joined Intelsat, SES and Eutelsat as part of an industry consortium it once threatened to oppose.

The four large satellite operators on Oct. 1 formalized the creation of a consortium called the “C-Band Alliance,” establishing a group to facilitate the transfer of some C-band spectrum from satellite operators to cellular operators.

The purpose of the C-Band Alliance is to fulfill the role of a “Transition Facilitator” outlined in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s plan to allow cellular signals in satellite airwaves. The FCC approved the plan in July.

Telesat had signalled its intent to fight such a consortium if the group placed Intelsat and SES in charge of distributing proceeds from cellular operators — funds required to pay for new infrastructure and other costs associated with migrating satellite customers out of C-band in the United States.

Dianne Vanbeber, Intelsat vice president of investor relations, declined to say how the consortium will allocate money from cellular operators.

“Overall, the Consortium agreement identifies the share of proceeds in an equitable fashion, but the exact percentages are not public information,” she said by email.

Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg said the company was able to find common ground with Intelsat, SES and Eutelsat that “gave Telesat the proper level of assurance that our customers’ requirements and our significant investments in infrastructure would be dealt with appropriately.”

“It’s also very much the case that, if the FCC does move forward with reallocating a portion of the C-band spectrum, any reallocation can be most coherently and effectively addressed in the context of an industry-wide solution, which should achieve the best outcome for the broadcasters that rely on satellite C-band infrastructure for the distribution of their important services as well as the terrestrial wireless players who are contemplating making significant investments in 5G infrastructure and bringing those services to market in a timely way,” he said by email.

Intelsat and SES control more than 90 percent of the C-band spectrum in the United States. Eutelsat and Telesat each have single-digit percentages.

In the United States, C-band is predominately used for satellite television broadcasting. Other countries, tropical nations in particular, use the band for a wider range of telecom services thanks to its strength during rainstorms.

In their joint statement, the four satellite operators made no mention of exactly how much C-band they would be willing to transfer. Intelsat and SES originally sought to open up 100 megahertz of the band, which stretches from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz. FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has pushed for 200 to 300 MHz or more.

O’Reilly praised the formation of the C-Band Alliance in an Oct. 1 statement, saying it makes the satellite-operator-led plan the frontrunner over other options such as a spectrum auction.

“This announcement appears to be a great step to quickly and orderly reallocate the spectrum to commercial wireless use. It also further establishes the private market option as the lead proposal to do so,” he said.

O’Reilly also praised the selection of Preston Padden, a former consultant with past executive positions at ABC Television Network, Fox Broadcasting, the Walt Disney Company and American Sky Broadcasting (now part of Dish Network), as the alliance’s head of advocacy and government relations. Padden is an “experienced hand … who knows how to get projects completed,” O’Reilly said.

The satellite operators announced Bill Tolpegin, currently CEO of OTA Broadcasting, will be the alliance’s chief executive.