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Regulatory Review: Europe’s Comprehensive Satellite Initiative Challenge

By | September 10, 2001

      By Gerry Oberst

      In February 2001, this column described ongoing efforts by European officials to review the regulatory situation in the satellite sector. That effort was labeled the comprehensive satellite initiative, or CSI, and after many rounds of edits and much effort, the report was finished at the beginning of this summer.

      The report was prepared under the leadership of a project team of the Conference of European Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT). That team is dedicated to satellite issues and thus is labeled the Joint Project Team on satellite matters (JPT SAT). Because of the substantial industry input, the report was somewhat more candid than most CEPT papers on the situation in some CEPT countries.

      Perhaps due to this enthusiastic candor, the CEPT agencies did not issue the report as an official statement, but instead as a JPT SAT report. But most importantly, and no matter how it is released, the CEPT officially recognized the list of recommendations set forth in the report and authorized the JPT SAT to go forward to see how actions could be taken on those recommendations.

      The ensuing report covers the gamut of challenges the satellite industry faces in Europe. The final chapter of the report concludes with a list of proposals both specific and general, for further work.

      The final chapter starts and ends with the recurring suggestion to improve implementation within European countries of CEPT decisions, and quickly moves to other concepts, such as recognizing CEPT decisions as grounds for issuing temporary or provisional licenses to operate. This would be a familiar concept in the United States, where the rules readily permit operation under waivers or special temporary authorizations.

      Another general proposal is to develop a “package” of CEPT measures relating to the satellite sector that could be promoted as a whole in the CEPT countries. This idea has borne fruit, as the Luxembourg administration apparently relied in part on the list of measures in the draft CSI report to adopt a large number of CEPT decisions all at one time, rather than in a piecemeal fashion.

      The satellite industry, however, stressed one important concept in the CSI report about the pressing need for simpler licensing conditions among European countries. The U.S. audience could analogize this recommendation to continuing efforts by the FCC to streamline regulatory requirements under Section 11 of the Communications Act, which mandates that the FCC conduct biennial reviews of all telecoms regulation.

      One surprisingly controversial recommendation in the report is for telecommunications authorities to coordinate with other national authorities on the siting of earth stations, in order to minimize delays from zoning or other kinds of site restrictions. At a CEPT meeting in Norway earlier this year, several national regulators stated that this kind of coordination was outside of their hands and they could do nothing about site restrictions. They were, however, unaware of the pending EU Authorization directive that would require regulators to coordinate their actions and try to minimize these barriers.

      The detailed proposals affect different parts of the satellite communications industry. For example, one recommendation addresses procedures in some countries for satellite newsgathering (SNG) to use the upper part of the 14 GHz band that is shared between terrestrial and satellite services. Those procedures can be difficult and time-consuming, and the specific proposal in the CSI report is to create zones in countries where interference from SNG transmissions is unlikely to cause problems, so that authorizations can be issued rapidly.

      Other detailed recommendations include measures to favor restoration services, emphasizing longer license periods, harmonizing technical terms for antennas, allowing better access to certain VSAT frequencies, and giving future attention to satellite radio broadcasting proposals.

      The final section of this chapter refers to areas for further work, again covering a wide number of issues. These include reducing the set of licensing conditions and conducting further work on “one stop shop” arrangements to help licensing by numerous European regulators using a central procedure.

      Two final suggestions for future work are key to the industry. First, the report notes that future proposals from the satellite industry may be discussed in the JPT SAT group in cooperation with other relevant CEPT entities. This sets a platform for continuing discussion between the industry and the regulators.

      The second suggestion is a list of ways by which the CEPT record of implementing decisions could be improved. There is room for great improvement by the European countries that make up the CEPT to put their money where their mouths are, and implement what they agreed upon in the CEPT forum. As this issue is both the opening and closing suggestion for reform in the CSI paper, it is clearly a high priority.

      It was a real effort to get the CSI report finalized. The real action now will be to go forward on these suggestions and seek simplified, workable regulations across 43 different CEPT countries. The “comprehensive” challenge is clear.

      Gerry Oberst is a partner in the Brussels office of the Hogan & Hartson law firm. His email address is

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