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Global VSAT Review: The Case For A Database

By | October 10, 2000

      By David Hartshorn

      This time last year, they said it couldn’t be done.

      The idea seemed simple enough: Draw upon the combined resources of the Global VSAT Forum membership–nearly 100 companies from more than 30 nations–and establish a database of the regulatory conditions that apply to VSAT service provision in every country of the world.

      The database would serve not only as a valuable resource, but also as a central reference that could be used to facilitate regulatory reform of the satellite communications sector. That’s a fancy way of saying that the best and worst regulatory approaches in the world would be revealed, shedding new light on the path to deregulation.

      Detractors were quick to point out that VSAT service providers regularly shed blood, sweat and tears generating such data and, not surprisingly, they consider it proprietary. Indeed, millions of dollars have been spent collectively by key satellite-industry players to obtain accurate regulatory data. Tooth-and-nail competitors would never relinquish the information, we were told.

      That was 12 months ago. As this magazine went to press, more than 120 pages of VSAT-related regulatory data had been amassed, covering most countries in every major world region. Led by the GVF Regulatory Working Group (GVF-RWG), the program’s success has demonstrated that the international VSAT industry is totally committed to doing whatever is necessary to help advance regulatory reform.

      This should not come as a surprise. The survey provides an essential snapshot of the international regulatory landscape faced by the industry during a period when–for the first time in history–satellite-delivered telecommunications are poised to become a mass-market play.

      Not that you hadn’t noticed, but billions of dollars worth of metal is being bent in preparation for next-generation VSAT services. Broadband satellite portfolios are being tailored for small-to-medium enterprise, small office/home office, and residential markets, with a valuation well into the billions. And unprecedented demand for IP-based applications is driving millions of end users toward satellite-based solutions.

      Thus, the VSAT industry’s clarity on two key points: Mass markets cannot be effectively served in the absence of reform; and a comprehensive understanding of current best (and worst) regulatory practices will better enable administrations to tie regulation to government and industry policy objectives.

      This, however, begs a more serious question: Is the public sector clear on these points? A quick scan of the regulatory database reveals that most national administrations can be categorized in one of three frameworks: 1) Fully liberalized regimes with “Open Skies” policies; 2) Partially reformed regimes consisting of a combination of licensing and satellite-access approaches; 3) Closed regimes.

      Fortunately, the number of administrations that subscribe to the latter framework is shrinking. Many regulators now appreciate the value of satellite-based solutions and have moved away from closed regimes, taking the first–and in some cases, second or third–steps toward complete deregulation.

      Low or no licensing fees, less duplicative licensing, removal of corporate-structure tenets, “Open Skies,” elimination of artificial barriers to competition…these are increasingly regulators’ stock in trade.

      Unfortunately, the GVF survey shows that much–repeat much–work remains before reform is sufficiently implemented to facilitate the satellite industry’s global roll-out of next-generation services.

      To that end, the survey reveals that there are several catalysts in the mix…not least the Internet. Drawn by its potential to rapidly create jobs, increase export earnings, and attract foreign investment, a number of administrations have established policies that embrace the provision of IP-based services. This sets the stage for deregulation. And satellites–as a key mode of Internet delivery–are gaining recognition as an essential link in the deregulatory chain.

      This effect can be seen most dramatically in administrations such as India, Nigeria and Russia, where draconian regulatory approaches are currently being revisited with an eye to facilitating VSAT-based Internet.

      Likewise rural telephony. Policy makers are increasingly committing their administrations to “universal service” mandates. These commitments manifest themselves as promises to link a certain number of villages within a pre-determined timeframe. (In the case of India, hundreds of thousands of villages are to be linked by 2002!)

      With dozens of VSAT-based rural networks now operating in every major region of the world, administrations committed to tight installation deadlines are taking note of the fundamental role to be played by this industry, are being reminded of the need to lighten VSAT regulatory regimes, and are being advised on exactly how this can be achieved.

      For this, the GVF-RWG has begun global distribution of a set of guidelines on VSAT deregulation. Called the “International VSAT Policy Declaration,” it serves as a companion piece to the regulatory database, and is provided in several languages and at no charge to any administration interested in enhancing access to satellite-based services.

      So stay tuned. We’ll be making numerous new database entries in the coming months, and you’ll find them under the section entitled “Open Markets.”

      David Hartshorn is the Secretary General of the Global VSAT Forum. For more information, e-mail:

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