The Federal Communications Commission in the United States proposes to make additional spectrum available for new investment in mobile broadband networks by opening up frequencies previously allocated to mobile satellite services. That could considerably increase the commercial value of this spectrum and encourage the deployment of terrestrial broadband networks.

The FCC proposes to remove regulatory barriers to the terrestrial use of up to 90MHz of spectrum in three bands which could support mobile broadband services.

This relates to the terrestrial use of spectrum previously allocated to mobile satellite service operators on condition that it forms an integrated part of a satellite service.

In the 2GHz band this includes two operators DBSD, formerly ICO, and TerreStar. They launched satellites in 2008 and 2009 respectively with plans to offer mobile services that have yet to launch commercially. In the L-band, SkyTerra, recently acquired by Harbinger, plans launch two satellites to support a fourth generation mobile broadband network. In the so-called Big LEO or low earth orbit band, used by Iridium and Globalstar, the latter also has plans to use spectrum for terrestrial broadband services.

The FCC is effectively proposing to allow bands allocated for mobile satellite services to be used for terrestrial mobile broadband, and allow operators to lease the spectrum without necessarily having to build out their own network on the ground, considerably increasing its commercial value.

The proposals include allowing satellite operators to lease spectrum to terrestrial networks, or surrender it in exchange for a share of any auction proceeds. In the event that for any reason the existing licence is cancelled, the FCC could allocate it for mobile broadband services.

“In today’s global economy, with the focus other countries are giving to the opportunities of broadband, to stand still is to fall behind,” Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the FCC, said in a statement. “To achieve our goals, we must increase spectrum for wireless broadband and reduce needless regulatory obstacles to broadband deployment.”

“This proceeding will help make 90 megahertz of prime spectrum available for mobile broadband, while promoting efficient use of this spectrum, including the use of secondary market leasing arrangements,” he said.

The FCC aims to redeploy up to 500MHz of spectrum over the next decade as part of the National Broadband Plan.