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FCC Moves to Open Satellite Airwaves for Mobile Internet Use

Federal regulators moved toward easing restrictions on how some satellite companies use their airwaves as part of a push to devote more spectrum to mobile Internet services.

The Federal Communications Commission voted 5-0 today to consider leasing spectrum by companies that operate satellite services for customers using mobile equipment. The FCC also said it would weigh lifting a requirement that customers’ handsets be able to communicate with the companies’ satellites.

The steps are aimed at opening the way to use the satellite companies’ airwaves for networks that rely on ground-based towers, Matt Nodine, chief of staff of the FCC’s wireless bureau, said in an interview before the vote.

The FCC action may be significant for TerreStar Corp., which has indicated it would enter a leasing arrangement with Harbinger Capital Partners, said Rebecca Arbogast and David Kaut, Washington-based analysts at Stifel Nicolaus & Co., in a note yesterday. Philip Falcone’s Harbinger purchased the remaining stake in satellite company Skyterra Communications Inc. this year that it didn’t already own and plans a network of 36,000 towers and two satellites.

Companies with mobile-satellite spectrum rights include Inmarsat Plc, SkyTerra, Globalstar Inc. and Iridium Communications Inc., the FCC said in its national plan for broadband, or high-speed Internet service, issued in March.

President Barack Obama on June 28 proposed to almost double the airwaves available for smartphones, laptop connections to the Internet and new wireless devices. Obama signed a memorandum that commits the U.S. to free up 500 megahertz of government and commercial spectrum in the next decade.

The FCC action today affects 90 megahertz of spectrum.

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