Satellite Industry Regulation
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The launch of the first satellite has changed our world vastly. Intercultural communication among people from different countries is easier than ever before thanks to the innovative connection via satellites. Each person on the planet has faced the impact of these considerable changes. New technologies have made the world a small place.
Maral and Bousquet (2009) write in their book that satellite communications are the outcome of research in the area of communications and space technologies, the objective of which is to achieve increasing ranges and capacities with the lowest possible costs. To understand the nature of satellite communications, a wide range of disciplines should be mastered. It is not only the question of high-tech engineering and cutting-edge science, but also international law, politics and economics.
The early days of space flights were mainly devoted to exploratory and experimental space operations. At that initial stage, space efforts were mainly undertaken by only a couple of nations, which were principally motivated by policy considerations of national prestige and military importance.
The Second World War stimulated the expansion of two very distinct technologies – missiles and microwaves. Maral and Bousquet (2009) point out that, eventually, the expertise gained in the combined use of these two techniques opened up the era of satellite communications. The studies have broadened the boundaries of possibilities provided by terrestrial networks using radio and cables. Satellite communication is now a major means for the international and domestic connection over long or moderate distances. In the work of Jo (2011), it is underlined that the use of satellite communications (SATCOM) benefits humanity in many ways. First of all, a single satellite spans more than a third of the surface of the Earth, covering widely dispersed users across the world. Although launching satellites and establishing SATCOM links are expensive undertakings, the cost of communication is intensive to distance within coverage area in the long run. Secondly, network connections can be affected simply by pointing an antenna at the satellite. In satellite systems, a communication channel can be either broadcast or point-to-point in nature, very wide bandwidths are available, and the quality of transmission is high with low bit error rates. Thirdly, satellites can provide polar coverage, span long distances and cover different terrains or environments. Finally, it goes without saying that SATCOM influences national security for all those reasons.
Henrietta, Diederiks-Verschoor and Kopal (2008) emphasize that the question of the upper limit of state sovereignty measured in terms of actual distance is still unresolved, but it is beyond doubt that such an upper limit exists. In other words, state sovereignty can no longer be accepted as unlimited in its vertical projection. This concept does not only pervade space law, but also international law as a whole. As evidenced by practice, certain regulations need to be extended to cover a sort of activities carried out by states beyond the limits of their sovereign rights, but their effects are felt within those of other states. Such spatial operations as direct broadcasting via satellite, the effect of the use of solar power satellites and the exploration of natural resources by remote sensing satellites, must be taken into consideration. Nowadays, there are huge problems of overcrowded spectrum and geosynchronous orbit, which need a special regulation in order to be solved.
Van Traa-Engelman (1993) indicates that the most obvious elements influencing changes in the world and on the space scene, bringing about the evolutionary process towards the commercial use of outer space, are the following:
- the development of various space transportation systems facilitating routine access to outer space;
- the introduction of economics in space activities resulting from the progress in logistics connected with routine access;
- an increase in potential space applications through advancements in space technology and related sciences leading towards diversification;
- the facilitation and stimulation of space applications by practical experience;
- the progressive and intensified use of outer space potential by an increasing number of states and communities developing space capabilities;
- growing interest of developing countries in benefitting from space activities.
The above elements, as well as other less evident factors, have contributed to an important change in the utilization of outer space from pre-operational experimental activities to operational activities performed by space systems for an ever-growing number of application purposes in the peaceful use of outer space.
In addition, increasing expertise in microwave techniques has enabled the realization of contoured multibeam antennas, the beams of which adapt to the shape of continents, the frequent re-use of beams, and the incorporation of higher power transmission amplifiers. According to Maral and Bousquet (2009), increased satellite capacity has led to a reduced cost per telephone channel. The increasing size and power of satellites has permitted a consequent reduction in the size of earth stations and their cost, leading to an increase in number. In this way, it has been possible to exploit another feature of satellites, which is their ability to collect or broadcast signals from or to several locations. Communications satellites are radio relays in the sky, which receive signals transmitted from Earth-based antennas, amplify the signals, and return them to the Earth. Satellites are extremely useful, because they can handle large amounts of multiple types of traffic, offer almost worldwide coverage, and be installed independently and relatively quickly. Jo (2011) marks that space-relay communications enhance network flexibility, the speed of transmission, and the process of information exchange. Earlier satellite systems were low-orbiting receiver-transmitters, and antennas on the ground were directed towards the satellite, as it motivated across the operating area. Newer systems use geosynchronous satellites that maintain their positions relative to the Earth’s rotation. Every communications satellite in its simplest form involves the transmission of information from an originating ground station to the satellite, followed by the retransmission of the information from the satellite back to the ground. The downlink may be to a selected number of ground stations, or it may broadcast to everyone in a large coverage area. Hence, each communications satellite must have receivers, receive antennas, transmitters and transmit antennas, mechanisms for connecting uplinks to downlinks for retransmissions, and a source of power for electronic components. Communication satellites are designed to receive and relay any signal sent to them. Signals can be relayed Earth-to-satellite, satellite-to-satellite, or satellite-to-Earth along any of various frequency bands by satellites in any Earth orbit.
Geostationary satellites occupy fixed positions in the sky with respect to the stations, with which they communicate. Protection against interference among systems is ensured by planning frequency bands and orbital positions. A small orbital space between adjacent satellites operating at the same frequencies leads to an increase in the level of interference, and this impedes the installation of new satellites. Different systems can use different frequencies, but this is restricted by the limited number of frequency bands assigned for space radiocommunications by the Radiocommunication Regulations.
The synthesis of the above developments has added another element of major importance. The phenomenon of the commercial utilization of outer space results from the elements mentioned above. Satellites are enablers of new services, and sometimes, they can also make existing services better by replacing another medium or tool. Systems and enterprises, where satellites of one kind or another are a major component, are generally included in the category of satellite businesses, although the overall costs and revenues may be accounted for somewhere else. Depending upon their role, the end user may not even know the existence of satellites somewhere in the chain, unless the service provider explain a sudden failure. It is something, to which network television executives often resort. In other cases, satellites can be a prominent part of marketing end-user services, such as the direct broadcast of television and radio.
Considering the fact that the basic legal framework was established during the time, when space endeavor was still in its infancy turning out to be experimental, the critical reassessment of its principles appeared opportune .Van Traa-Engelman (1993) wrote that although space law covered both national and international law, it also possessed a lot of international characteristics. Its instruments, reflecting motivations deriving from national policies, can be considered a common denominator of originally varying national positions.
Maral and Bousquet (2009) state that radio regulations are necessary to ensure the efficient economical use of the radio-frequency spectrum by all communications systems, both terrestrial and satellite. Doing so, the sovereign right of each state to regulate its telecommunication must be preserved. It is the role of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to promote, coordinate and harmonize the efforts of its members to fulfill these possibly conflicting objectives. The ITU is a specialized agency of the United Nations, which operates under the convention adopted by its member administrations. It coordinates the cooperation among different countries in the sphere of satellite communication. The Radio Regulations (RR) are also being published by the ITU after being reviewed by the delegates from ITU member administrations at the periodic World or Regional Radio Conferences.
In 2011, Zoller (2012 ), the Chairman of the Radio Regulations Board, stresses that “the ITU Constitution calls upon member states to bear in mind that the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits are limited natural resources that must be used rationally, efficiently and economically, in conformity with the provisions of the Radio Regulations, so that countries or groups of countries may have equitable access to those orbits and frequencies, taking into account the special needs of the developing countries and the geographical situation of particular countries.” To sum up, Member States are asked to limit the number of frequencies and the spectrum used to the minimum needed to provide necessary services.
The rules and procedures devised by the ITU must cover every conceivable situation, and must therefore be conservative. Henrietta et al. (2008) underline that the international regulations can be revised (in the light of technical progress and other changes) only infrequently. National or regional regulations can usually be updated more often, and (where there is no risk of interference outside the country or region) this may allow more efficient use of the spectrum than it is possible to use the ITU procedures. Relaxations of the ITU procedures may also be used by an agreement between two or more nations (provided that these relaxations do not adversely affect other countries).
Most international satellite communications are carried out by multi-administration organizations, out of which the most important one is International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat). “It was founded as an intergovernmental consortium owning and managing a constellation of communications satellites providing international broadcast services” (Satellite Operators Worldwide, 2012). Inmarsat is a British satellite telecommunications company, offering global mobile services, especially in remote regions, or where there is no reliable terrestrial network. Intersputnik stands for the Intersputnik International Organization of Space Communications. The membership of the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Eutelsat) is open to all European states that are members of the International Telecommunication Union. The organizations and systems described above are not the only ones currently operating: there are quite a number of regional systems, which are also fully operational.
According to the information derived from the official sit, “the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates interstate and foreign communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all fifty states. It was created by the Communications Act of 1934” and operates as an independent U.S. government agency overseen by the Congress. The commission is committed to being a responsive, efficient and effective agency capable of facing technological and economic opportunities of the new millennium. The FCC works towards achieving six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety and homeland security. In its work, “the agency seeks to capitalize on its competencies in:
- promoting competition, innovation and investment in broadband services and facilities;
- supporting Nation’s economy by ensuring an appropriate competitive framework for the unfolding of the communications revolution;
- encouraging the highest and best use of spectrum domestically and internationally;
- revising media regulations so that new technologies flourish alongside diversity and localism;
- providing leadership in strengthening the defense of the Nation’s communications infrastructure”.
Today’s major problem is an excessive demand for access to the radio spectrum. New competitors seek to enter satellite communication markets. Innovative technologies are eager to test customer acceptance. A common misperception is that license auctions held by U.S. (or other) regulators are tantamount to selling the spectrum. The rights issued by competitive bidding allow winners to provide particular wireless services; spectrum use is itself allocated by the Federal Communications Commission.
Van Traa-Engelman (1993) noted that the stimulation of private space against the background of the current U.S. national space commercialization policy involves not only the field of remote sensing and launching activities, but also can be observed in other areas of space activity as well, namely space communications and other fields of human endeavor, which use the properties of space environment to enhance life on Earth, such as material processing in outer space. From the very beginning, the private enterprise in the USA has played an important role. However, the USA has managed to combine this approach with its international obligations and constructed a legal framework consistent with the interests of both.
Hazlett (2003) has researched the best ways to improve the satellite policy and developed “the principle structural reforms enabling the emergence of spectrum markets:
- permissive airwave use within the interference contours defined by the license;
- endowment of licensees with the use of adjacent buffer zones;
- exhaustive allocation of remaining bandwidth to new applicants;
- streamlining the process for entrants to gain access to unoccupied bandwidth, using liability rules and post-entry dispute resolution mechanisms to police interference.”
Outer space exploration allows the humankind to recognize that the orbital or spectrum resources are finite. To avoid overcrowding a fair national or international process negotiation between administrations or operators must be conducted on a mutual basis. The solution to the interference problem may lie in simplifying the coordination by allowing different operators to coordinate their own payload, whereas a single physical satellite can operate under multiple network filings. The aim is to provide all nations with equitable and efficient access to the orbital or spectrum resources, required under the international conventions.
To sum it up, every aspect of the regulatory policy must be well-organized and structured. A set of standards should be set for those, who plan obtaining license in order to enter the market. The facilitation of this procedure will attract more specialists with innovative ideas. This will lead to the appearance of fresh competitive market forces, which will result in maximizing profits. The newcomers should be encouraged and guided in case of assistance necessity. This will allow avoiding mistakes and cause better acquisition of specific knowledge. Promotion will result in investing in new areas of research and discoveries. Piping hot technologies are going to be created as a reward. A wise management gets the best of it. Today satellite systems have been already incorporated in every sphere of human life, and that trend will be only evolving in the future.