FCC Votes To Free Up Mobile Satellite Spectrum

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The FCC took two more steps toward its broadband deployment goals, voting at its public meeting to free up mobile satellite spectrum for wireless broadband and boosting deployment and speeds to health care facilities.

The votes on both those proposals were 5-0.

FCC staffers had previously outlined for reporters its proposal to free up 90 MHz of mobile satellite spectrum for terrestrial broadband through more flexible use policies. That is part of the FCC's effort to reclaim 500 Mhz over the next 10 years, including from broadcasters.

The MSS spectrum is the second biggest chunk after broadcasters' 120 MHz that will be put toward the commission's goal of freeing up 300 MHz as part of the National Broadband Plan within the next five years.

To help meet that goal, the FCC is opening up the DBS band to mobile terrestrial service, as well as secondary market leasing rules for other parts of the mobile satellite band, including the Big LEO (low earth orbiting) portion. That will allow that spectrum to be sub-leased for terrestrial. It is also seeking comment on other suggestions for expanding the use of that spectrum.

Those changes will make that spectrum a lot more valuable in the private market, but the FCC says it will try to make sure that as much of that new value as possible "inures to the public-interest."

The healthcare initiative boosts investment in connectivity and speed to help give patients in rural areas access to diagnostic tools. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski used as an example a worker with cancer who might be able to keep a job by getting remote oncologist visits that would allow them to stay closer to home.

Remote health monitoring and diagnoses is one of the major national purposes goals of the National Broadband Plan, both as a way to improve and save lives, and to help reduce health care costs.

Saying that almost a third of federally funded rural clinics can't afford "safe and reliable broadband," the FCC voted to invest $400 million annually from the Universal Service Fund to fund connectivity. That will include teaming with non-profit health care providers on statewide broadband nets where it is currently "unavailable or insufficient"; paying half the monthly network costs for hospitals, clinics and others, and extending broadband's health care reach to nursing facilities, administrative offices and data centers.

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