Global VSAT Review: Banging The Harmonization Drum
by David Hartshorn
Seasoned readers of Global VSAT Review may recall that much noise was made by this author on the subject of the so-called “One Stop Shop” (OSS), an online facility that would enable a satellite communications company seeking to provide services in Europe to simultaneously apply for licenses from multiple countries via a single URL (http://www.ero.dk), using a single electronic application form. It is time that more noise was made about the OSS, particularly with regard to the positive knock-on effects that it is having in the European satellite communications market and, indirectly, throughout other world regions.
The OSS concept–which arose through the initiative of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) with funding from the European Commission (EC)–was inspired by the basic notion that satellite communications are good for Europe, therefore the license-application process in the region should be made as simple and as transparent as possible. To achieve this, the OSS program included the development of a “Combined Application Form” (CAF): a form that could be filled out by a satellite service license applicant and submitted to any combination of European governments.
By necessity, the CAF had to capture all of the questions asked by the countries of Europe in their respective license-application forms. And capture it did; more than 100 questions were compiled. Yet on closer inspection, it became apparent that most regulatory administrations were asking essentially the same questions but in different ways.
Thus, it was suggested that a step-by-step analysis of the questions be conducted with an eye to distilling them down to the bare essentials. This idea was a win-win. Not only would satellite service providers be able to quickly and cost effectively get to market with products and services, but it would further reduce the administrative burden on European regulators.
Satellite industry and government support for the program was strong, so the EC and CEPT created the “Combined Application Form-Reduction” (CAF-R) subgroup, which began combing through all of the authorization conditions applied to satellite services in European countries. Questions were eliminated that were duplicated elsewhere in the form, or that were irrelevant to licensing of satellite networks and services. Some questions were rewritten after consultation with the administrations concerned so as to make their meanings clearer. The result: a reduction in the number of questions from more than 100 to less than 30.
The sub-group that spearheaded the initiative was led by Mike Leach of the U.K.’s Department of Trade and Industry. He recalled, “When we sat down at the beginning of the exercise we started with all the conditions annexed in the [EC] Licensing Directive. At first glance it was difficult to suggest deleting any of them; they all seemed so sensible. However, as we analyzed them more carefully, patterns started to emerge. Some were ambiguous and there was no agreement in a room full of regulators as to what the condition actually meant. Others were clearly designed for terrestrial dominant monopolists, not niche satellite providers. Some conditions were redundant because national or EU law had it covered already. Definitions were a problem. What is an emergency service?
“When we began to look at questions that licensors ask across Europe, the same sort of patterns emerged and we solved the problems in the same way. We dealt with questions by asking: What does this mean? Is it relevant to satellites? Does the question invite an answer that will be truly useful to the licensor? What would be the consequence of removing this question?”
The consequence, as it turned out, was an unparalleled opportunity for CEPT to realize one of its key “harmonization” objectives in the satellite sector–a common application form (COM) which could be used throughout the CEPT. European regulators welcomed the development and asked for the COM to be completed with a view to replacing the CAF in the OSS once CEPT administrations were ready to accept it.
Harmonization. That is public-sector code for promoting the implementation of effective regulations throughout a multitude of nations. And that is just Europe. Harmonization of satellite regulation is also squarely on the agenda in the Americas, through the Inter-American Telecommunications Commission (CITEL). In Asia, the need for harmonization of satellite regulation was a key conclusion of a study conducted recently by the Asia Pacific Satellite Communications Council. In sub-Saharan Africa, the Telecommunications Regulators Association of Southern Africa has its eye on harmonization of satellite regulation throughout its nearly 20 member nations. And the East African Community–a regional group comprising Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda–is implementing cross-border VSAT licensing among the three countries.
For satellite communications service providers who have been struggling with discriminatory market-access conditions, or for would-be end users who have been denied access to competitively-priced solutions, or for governments who have been searching for more effective satellite regulatory approaches, that noise you are hearing is the rolling of drums.
David Hartshorn is the Secretary General of the Global VSAT Forum. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.