If you have a registered C-band earth station, you have an important upcoming deadline: September 14. By that date, you’ll need to decide whether or not to opt for a “lump sum” payment as part of the reallocation of the C-band.

By way of background, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to auction off portions of the C-band later this year for new wireless services. This will involve repacking existing C-band users into a smaller portion of spectrum. As a result, all existing users of the C-band will need to make some changes to ensure continued reception of programming.

The FCC’s order provides for the reallocation of the lower 300 MHz of C-band spectrum including a 20 MHz guard band, with existing content services migrated to the upper 200 MHz of the band. The FCC tied billions of dollars in incentive payments to satellite providers to an accelerated timeframe for clearing this spectrum by the end of 2023. The order also provides that incumbent users of C-band services be held harmless during the transition.

As part of its order reallocating a portion of the band, the FCC determined that registered earth station operators had two options: accept reimbursement for their actual reasonable relocation costs to maintain service or accept a lump sum reimbursement for the costs of reallocating all of their registered earth stations.

For option 1, the process is straightforward. In order to receive their incentive payments, the satellite operators had to assume responsibility for transitioning all registered earth stations. Registered earth station users can rely on satellite operators to perform all necessary work. The order establishes a Relocation Payment Clearinghouse to manage collection and distribution of payments and requires satellite operators to submit transition plans explaining how they will relocate incumbent users and maintain service. All reasonable costs associated with the transition are reimbursable.

For option 2, stations electing the lump sum payment must make that election by September 14 to accept the lump sum for all of their earth stations – you can’t pick and choose. If you elect the lump sum payment, you forgo the ability to seek reimbursement for actual expenses in the event they exceed the lump sum amount. Stations considering electing the lump sum payment should bear in mind that they are entirely responsible for all necessary work and responsible for complying with the transition deadlines, and that there will be no ability to seek reimbursement for any expenses that exceed the lump sum payment. The choice to elect the lump sum payment is irrevocable – stations cannot change their mind if they run into complications down the road.

The FCC has released a Public Notice providing more information about the lump sum payment – including setting out the payment amount – and the process for filing. Earth station operators electing the lump sum payment must file a notice in the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System in Docket No. 20-205 no later than September 14. That election must include the following information regarding the operator’s earth stations:

  1. Licensee/Registrant/Applicant name
  2. Earth station callsign
  3. Site ID
  4. Antenna ID
  5. Number of antennas associated with that Antenna ID
  6. Site address
  7. GPS coordinates of the earth station
  8. File number(s) of current authorization and/or pending application
  9. Confirmation that the earth station meets the definition of incumbent earth station under 47 CFR §§ 27.1411(b)(3) and 25.138(c), including indication of whether earth station appears on the International Bureau’s final list of eligible earth stations
  10. Category of lump sum election for each registered antenna at that registered earth station site (e.g. receive only ES single-feed; receive only ES multi-feed; small multi-beam (2-4 beams) ES, etc.)
  11. Whether the earth station site is an MVPD earth station site (to claim the per-site technology upgrade installation amount)
  12. Total lump sum amount claimed for that earth station (calculated by the number of registered antennas at that incumbent earth station multiplied by the relevant lump sum base amount, plus technology upgrade installation amount if MVPD)
  13. Whether the incumbent earth station will be transitioned to the upper 200 megahertz in order to maintain C-band services or will discontinue C-band services

The election must also include a certification from the owner of the earth station or an authorized representative with authority to bind the station to the following effect:

  1. That the information contained in the lump sum election is true and accurate to the best of the incumbent earth station owner (if an individual) or duly authorized representative knowledge;
  2. That all earth stations for which the lump sum is being elected will not have ceased operation more than 90 days before the deadline for the lump sum election;
  3. That, if the incumbent earth station owner intends to continue to receive content from a satellite operator after the transition at any of its earth station antennas, it accepts responsibility for undertaking the necessary transition actions in accordance with the timelines set forth in the satellite operators’ transition plans;
  4. That the incumbent earth station owner agrees to coordinate with the relevant space station operator as necessary to complete the transition;
  5. An irrevocable release of claims for reimbursement for actual reasonable relocation costs from the Relocation Payment Clearinghouse, eligible satellite operators or video programmers; and
  6. An irrevocable release of claims against the payor and/or Commission with respect to any dispute about the amount received.

You can find more information about the lump sum decision and the election process by watching NAB’s webinar on the issue. Again, stations electing to accept the lump sum payment must make that election for all of their earth stations, and the election is irrevocable, meaning that stations are assuming all of the risk for unanticipated costs, delays or complications in their transition. We strongly urge you to consult legal counsel before making your decision and to consider the potential risks as well as the benefits of the lump sum option.