Out Of The Box–FCC Looks To Make Changes
by Clayton Mowry
A good friend of mine told me recently that in the interest of efficiency, she had actually developed an organizational chart to divide up her family’s chores and responsibilities. She would act as the family CFO running finances, paying bills and handling budgeting tasks. Her husband acted as COO in charge of most purchasing, home improvement work and yard work. The children were buried another layer down in her boxed and lined management structure carrying out specific chores like dishes, lawn mowing, and trash removal. While she didn’t take herself too seriously in designing the chart, it helped her in parsing out the work and getting things done around her home.
Every organization has some kind of org chart. Government, industry, non-profits– we all organize ourselves with little boxes and lines that tell you where responsibilities and decision-making power exist within an organization.
Here in the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering making radical changes to its org chart. The new Chairman, Republican Michael Powell, is interested in reorganizing the Commission to make it more efficient and responsive to a changing telecommunications industry. The changes under consideration could ultimately have a dramatic impact on the satellite licensing and spectrum allocation process.
While none of the proposed changes have been publicly released, the telecommunications industry is abuzz with rumors that the FCC will eliminate or consolidate many of the seven existing bureaus–Common Carrier, Enforcement, Wireless, Mass Media, Consumer Information, International and Cable Services. The idea is to create three main bureaus or divisions that would focus on licensing, content and enforcement. A spectrum chief would be in charge of divvying up bandwidth between various wireless industries–mobile, fixed, broadcasting, satellite, etc.
Needless to say, the hand wringing has already started in Washington, DC, where nobody seems to like change. Established telecommunications sectors that have longstanding relationships with their respective bureaus don’t want to change the existing parochial government structure. Any changes at the FCC will probably require the blessing of key Congressional Committees, which combined with FCC interests, may create centrifugal forces that will overwhelm any one industry group that tries to swim against a reorganization current.
The satellite industry had to fight for its current home in the FCC’s International Bureau (IB). Six years ago satellite interests and expertise were scattered across several FCC bureaus, making it difficult for the industry to work the Commission on policy and regulatory issues. Satellite companies supported the creation of the International Bureau and placement of the Satellite and Radiocommunications Division under then Bureau Chief Scott Harris.
Satellites are unique among communications industries licensed by the FCC in that their services are almost always international in nature–serving several countries or regions. Satellites also require the FCC, on behalf of the U.S. government, to obtain orbital slots and global spectrum allocations from the International Telecommunication Union. Thus, the IB was the ideal home for our international industry that relies on regulators that speak both our technical and international languages.
The reorganization problem confronting our industry is the potential loss of this expertise in a larger licensing or spectrum bureau that tries to be everything to all wireless industry sectors. Licensing satellites is very different than licensing cellular services. The FCC is prohibited from auctioning international satellite spectrum as it routinely does for terrestrial mobile services. Satellites might lose out in spectrum allocation fights against other larger and potentially more lucrative terrestrial services under a spectrum chief.
Part of the drive for reorganization at the FCC is based on the theory that convergence will ultimately make the current structure meaningless. The conventional wisdom says that as larger vertically-structured media companies dominate both content and distribution systems across various technologies, they won’t need industry driven bureaus. Of course, the recent decision by AT&T to spin out its various cable, Internet and wireless interests seems to fly in the face of such logic. Satellites by and large are not integrated into larger media companies today–although that could change.
The industry will be called on in the coming months to comment on the FCC’s reorganization. We must be prepared to defend our ground and preserve the expertise within the FCC that has enabled our industry to flourish. Stay tuned for more action from a very powerful interest as restructuring moves forward at the FCC.
Clayton Mowry is the executive director of the Satellite Industry Association. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.