Regulatory Review: The One Stop Show–Use It Or Lose It
by Gerry Oberst
A few years ago, I described plans in Europe to develop a more efficient licensing structure for satellite networks and services. Called the “one stop shop” (OSS), the plan was to create a single administrative point to process applications using a harmonized form, then to send those applications to national regulators, who would ultimately grant the authority needed to operate.
The European Conference of Posts and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT), through its European Telecommunications Office in Copenhagen, has been working on this idea for several years. The European Commission first started studying using OSS in the satellite field almost a decade ago. The problem now is to get regulators and industry to use the system.
The OSS idea has been translated into reality, with the complicated software up and ready to run, a staff person dedicated to keeping the system updated, and a group of industry experts and regulators working to further simplify the form. But few European countries have signed up to allow their regulators to use the system and few industry players have sought to file applications though the system.
Failure to use the OSS could be the mistake of the decade for both regulators and industry. The ball is firmly in the hands of the regulators, however, who have the prime responsibility to move forward on this idea.
The idea of the OSS is described in recent CEPT documents as a “key element” of harmonization efforts pursued by the European Union in cooperation with the CEPT. The agency recognizes this approach could decrease regulatory burdens, provide a comprehensive database on regulatory requirements, and speed up the otherwise slow process of gaining market access across Europe.
Without the OSS, the current situation is an enormous waste of energy. Each European government–all 43 CEPT members–has different systems and requirements for licensing. Some issue licenses for networks, some require separate earth station licenses, and some also require service licenses. Some have 10 questions on their application forms, some have more than 50. Fees and their calculations vary wildly. There is an unacceptably low level of harmonization across the continent, which inevitably is a constraint on any pan- European satellite-based service.
The OSS is a welcome step forward, if enough regulators would seize the initiative. If only a few European countries actually adopt the approach, it is not worthwhile for satellite companies to use the system. The last we heard, only a handful of regulators had moved forward to rely on the OSS.
This points to a larger issue. The CEPT recognizes a major flaw in the system: namely, decisions and recommendations reached through years of debate at CEPT agencies are not always adopted at the national level. Some countries faithfully implement most CEPT decisions, but many more do not. The result is a hodge podge of regulations that, ironically, the OSS was designed to help simplify.
A further initiative at the European Union (EU) level could also help by decreasing the number of licenses that are required. The European Commission’s theory is to rely on the strong assumption that no license is required, which means there is less reason to harmonize the licensing conditions that remain. This is good enough in theory, and could be significantly helpful; but, for the satellite industry that so often requires licenses to use radio frequencies, there remains a strong need to harmonize and eliminate the confusion.
The European Union also covers only the core 15 member states, plus those countries that are seeking accession into the EU. CEPT remedies are needed to extend the benefits of better licensing structures.
One advantage the United States always has had for satellite operations–and for any other widespread roll-out of telecommunications services–has been its unified system of licensing across the country. One can hardly imagine how VSAT networks, DBS systems, or continental point-to-point satellite transmissions could have thrived if, for example, California and New York were equally empowered to set licensing requirements. Satellite or other national services would have been thwarted if the separate states could take their own time in accepting FCC licensing standards. But that is the situation in Europe today.
A lot of energy was put into developing the OSS approach. Careful attention to national regulatory systems and the sovereignty of CEPT nation states has also been the hallmark of the OSS. Now the challenge is for those nation states to take action and implement the system. Those countries in Europe who are supporting new concepts of e-commerce, transparent and liberalized regulatory structures, and even electronic application systems now should rise to the occasion and push forward on a one stop shop.
Gerry Oberst is a partner in the Brussels office of the Hogan & Hartson law firm. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.