Regulatory Review: Europe’s Comprehensive Satellite Initiative
by Gerry Oberst
European regulators have commenced an exercise to review the regulatory needs and problems of the satellite industry, this time in an effort to obtain a comprehensive overview of the situation. Indeed, the exercise is called a “comprehensive satellite initiative” (CSI) and a first report on this initiative is due in March.
Before focusing on what the CSI is designed to do, it is necessary to jump into an alphabet soup of acronyms. The 43-member country Conference of European Postal and Telecommunications Administrations, (CEPT), should be comfortably familiar to industry insiders. And the CEPT agency, the European Radio Committee (ERC), through which European regulators act on spectrum issues, also is well known. One level down is the Joint Project Team on satellite matters (JPT SAT) that is preparing the CSI report with help from the European Radiocommunications Office (ERO) and European Telecommunications Office (ETO). The JPT SAT will issue the CSI report to the WG RR (whoops, another acronym for the Radio Regulatory Working Group) before sending it to the ERC for all CEPT members. Got that? Then explain in 20 words or less the related CEPT entities SIG SAT OSS, ECTRA PT SLC, or MRC and its follow-on the GMR…
This short quiz might lead readers to understand why one central purpose of the CSI report is to describe all CEPT measures that affect the satellite industry, with a catalog of recommendations and decisions that have been directed to satellite issues. There is the feeling that these measures have been taken in a piecemeal manner, so that the CEPT member countries and industry members alike need an overview.
Thus, the report will describe satellite licensing in the CEPT, starting from the broader picture of what is in place, analyzing the licensing regime of some CEPT countries and questions asked by national licensing authorities. Likewise it looks at ways to harmonize licensing procedures, conditions and terms.
One part of the overview will be to reflect on the impact of these CEPT measures and why so few CEPT member countries take the time to implement them into national law. These measures could be very helpful to the industry if implemented. CEPT decisions on frequencies as well as sharing provisions for certain bands are an important tool for the industry, as a means of ensuring adequate assignments. The ERC developed a number of decisions on the exemption of individual licensing of various types of satellite earth stations, which help with market rollout of, for example, VSATs and consumer interactive terminals. The ERC also adopted decisions on establishing regulatory databases of licensing regimes for telecommunications networks.
One of the more important and most recent ERC decisions, however, is the One Stop Shopping procedure adopted to facilitate simultaneous applications for licenses in member countries. (That’s the OSS acronym in the quiz above–see my regulatory review column on OSS in August 1998.) Through a big effort by both European industry and regulators, CEPT agencies developed an electronic application form and an enhanced regulatory information database intended to cover all kinds of satellite systems. The OSS was placed into action in late 2000, although only a handful of CEPT countries have so far taken up the challenge of implementing this approach. As of early January 2001, only three countries had taken the plunge. Thus, one of the recommendations likely to come in the CSI report is that more countries move ahead to accept OSS procedures.
One chapter of the CSI report will describe the licensing requirements in most of the CEPT countries. Even the act of describing the rules, and the compilation of requirements in the OSS database, are helpful steps towards more rational licensing. Comparison of the information in the OSS database helps the industry wonder why one country seems to get by with asking 10 questions on an application form, when another asks 60 questions.
Another chapter of the CSI report may raise eyebrows, since it is direct input from the satellite industry identifying which countries are problems for licensing, and which practices are the biggest pains in the neck for regulatory compliance. Questions of high fees, unnecessarily detailed application questions, and other bureaucratic barriers will be discussed, with the related aim of identifying the best regulatory practice.
What can be expected as the outcome of this CSI report? At a minimum a better understanding of European procedures should be on exhibit. And this effort should also assist the industry in working with the different regulatory systems in place across Europe while encouraging national regulators to rationalize and harmonize those systems in order to take advantage of the economic benefits that can be quickly brought by satellite infrastructure. The ERC meeting that may review the CSI report is in mid-March. By that time, we may have some more acronyms for you.
Gerry Oberst is a partner in the Brussels office of the Hogan & Hartson law firm. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.