FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has circulated a proposed Report and Order aimed at creating a regulatory framework for the nascent category of cellphone-to-satellite communications. The commission will vote on the Report and Order at its March 14 Open Meeting.

FCC refers to cellphone-to-satellite communications as “supplemental coverage from space.” Wireless companies around the globe are looking to launch services that will allow ordinary cellphones to communicate with satellites in areas where there is no cell service. These services are expected to use the same spectrum that the mobile providers use for their regular service.

The proposed framework would allow satellite operators that are collaborating with mobile service providers to operate space stations on flexible-use spectrum that currently is allocated to terrestrial services. Satellite operators would need to have a spectrum lease from a terrestrial licensee in a specific geographic area, the FCC said. The terrestrial licensee apparently would be the wireless service provider.

Authorized satellite operators then would be able to service the wireless provider’s customers outside of that provider’s coverage area. The FCC noted that unserved areas such as the Chihuahuan Desert, Lake Michigan, Hawaii’s Hana Highway, the 100-Mile Wilderness and the Uinta Mountains could be covered by such arrangements.

The proposed cellphone-to-satellite rules include an interim requirement that terrestrial providers route all SCS 911 calls to a public safety answering point (PSAP) using location-based routing or an emergency call center.

The FCC proposal includes a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on related issues, including protection of radio astronomy.

“A single network future is possible,” Chairwoman Rosenworcel said in a press release. “By taking advantage of satellite connectivity, we can enhance our smartphones and get rid of ‘dead zones.’ This groundbreaking framework will ensure continued U.S. leadership and establish a clear and predictable regulatory approach to these partnerships in support of innovation and competition.”

Two carriers that are working to develop satellite-to-cellphone offerings are AT&T and T-Mobile.

Last month AT&T committed to spending $20 million with satellite-to-cellphone provider AST SpaceMobile. The news was part of an announcement of a $155 million investment in AST from AT&T, Google and Vodafone.

On the same day, AST SpaceMobile announced a public offering of $100 million of its Class A common stock, another sign that the industry sees a bright future in this solution.

T-Mobile and SpaceX said in August 2022 that they would use a slice of T-Mobile mid-band spectrum to support communications between cellphones and a new type of SpaceX low-earth orbit (LEO) Starlink satellite.

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