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SBCA: Northpoint Plan Is DBS Danger

The public battle in the press between the Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) industry and start-up company Northpoint Technology over the issue of spectrum sharing in the DBS frequency band continues unabated.

Northpoint has proposed launching a terrestrial wireless cable service in the 12.2-12.7GHz frequency band, which has been allocated for use by DBS.

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the results of Congressionally-mandated interference testing conducted by The MITRE Corporation that showed unequivocally that Northpoint’s proposed system would cause “significant interference” to DBS operations.

In spite of these findings, Northpoint has resorted to a “if you can’t convince them, confuse them” strategy. It has launched an aggressive public relations campaign in the press, with Congress and at the Commission, attempting to rewrite the report’s damaging conclusions and to cast itself in a more favorable — but unsupportable — light.

Make no mistake — despite what you may have heard from Northpoint, the MITRE report is devastating to the proposal to allow terrestrial “wireless cable” to share the DBS band.

As a consumer electronics retailer or manufacturer you may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with me? A lot more than you might think.

DBS has been one of the hottest-selling consumer electronics products of all time. It has quickly established itself as the only viable competitor to cable, attracting more than 16 million households with more than 40 million viewers since its inception in 1994. What are some of the reasons for that rapid ascent?

First, DBS offers a 100 percent digital audio and video signal to any consumer who has a line of sight to the satellites.

Secondly, prospective DBS customers can walk into consumer electronics and other retail outlets throughout the country and buy everything they need to begin enjoying the best multichannel video service available.

Finally, customer satisfaction ratings for DBS are head and shoulders above cable. Good word of mouth has been one of DBS’s strongest selling points.

DBS consumers love their satellite systems and are proud to tell their friends and families about it. The eminent success and future potential of DBS is clear. So what is the brouhaha all about? Last year, the commission issued a Report and Order that found sharing between a wireless terrestrial Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service (MVDDS) and DBS is theoretically possible and asked for comments on how a terrestrial service could best share the band.

The commission made this decision despite field tests by DirecTV and EchoStar that demonstrated harmful interference would occur if sharing was permitted. The “significant interference” just reported by MITRE validates the DBS company tests and warrants an immediate reversal of that commission finding.

Just as important, the MITRE Report asks a fundamental question: “Do the potential costs of applying the necessary mitigatory measures, together with the impact of the residual MVDDS-to-DBS interference that might remain after applying such measures, outweigh the benefits that would accrue from allowing MVDDS to coexist with DBS in this band?”

The answer to this fundamental question is —they do not.

The MITRE Report concludes that band sharing “appears feasible if and only if” suitable mitigation measures are applied.”

Yet, despite all various mitigation techniques that could be implemented to reduce the level of interference caused by Northpoint’s proposed system, there would still be residual interference, even after employing all of the mitigation techniques proposed.

However, among the onerous mitigation techniques that the MITRE Report suggests, the ones concerning DBS customers are the most egregious and unacceptable.

Mitigation techniques proposed by MITRE would effectively force millions of DBS consumers – who own their equipment and receive their DBS service through agreements with DBS providers — to either accept modifications to their private property by an unrelated third-party or accept harmful interference from a secondary service.

Such a requirement is unprecedented. It is akin to forcing homeowners to board up the windows of their homes as a remedy against neighbors throwing rocks at the their windows.

Consumers cannot be forced to accommodate Northpoint — that is unacceptable.

By subjecting the more than 16 million DBS customers to ruinous interference and/or to the illegal alteration of their property, the Commission risks turning 40 million satisfied viewers into 40 million dissatisfied constituents.

What can you do? Contact your senators, congressman and the FCC to express your concern over the idea of spectrum sharing in the DBS band.

More than 16 million households have already broken free from the cable monopoly and have opted for the crystal clear picture and sound offered by satellite television.

Millions of those customers undoubtedly purchased hardware designed by your companies, or did so in your stores. Every day, 9,000 new subscribers join the satellite television family. Satellite customers need to know that the industry stands behind them and is prepared to “go to the mat” to protect the quality of service they have come to expect.

Chuck Hewitt is president of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association (SBCA), the trade association covering all aspects of the consumer direct-to-home satellite industry.