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Global VSAT Review: A New New Year’s Resolution

By | January 1, 2002

      by David Hartshorn

      It’s another New Year. And for those who are no longer interested in resolving to lose weight, quit smoking, or floss daily, here’s an alternative: Promote universal access to communications.

      Too abstract? The overwhelming majority of people in this world are still a long way away from even a basic telephone and, thus, must struggle for survival in the absence of links that could help cure diseases, educate families, employ the jobless, and feed the hungry.

      Unrealistic? The private sector has the tools to provide many such links, and the public sector is increasingly turning to enlightened regulations that facilitate essential communications.

      The following are a few satellite-related regulatory fixes that are increasingly being applied throughout the world and which the satellite industry should resolve to promote this year:

      Blanket Licensing: Traditionally, most governments have required each individual VSAT terminal to be licensed; this was in addition to requiring a network operator’s license. But years ago, the U.S. government implemented a new approach to regulating VSATs– “blanket licensing”–and it has been very successful.

      With this regulation, certain classes of VSATs are configured based upon technical criteria–involving power level, frequency, etc.–that eliminate the risk of unreasonable interference. Thus, a single blanket license can be issued covering a large number of VSAT terminals.

      This approach has worked well both for the U.S. regulator, for the industry, and for end users. The United States–which has one of the most highly developed fiber-optic infrastructures in the world–is also home to the largest installed base of VSAT networks in the world.

      The United States isn’t the only country to streamline VSAT licensing. Indeed, 43 European nations have now adopted a set of policy principles that eliminate licensing of receive-only and interactive VSAT terminals.

      Transparency: Huge amounts of time, money and effort are spent each year by the communications industry in an attempt to determine what regulations apply to VSAT-based systems and services. This difficulty–often referred to as a lack of “transparency”–is so severe that in many cases the service provider simply gives up.

      Again, recognizing the importance of facilitating VSAT service provision, governments around the world have begun posting all such data on a Website.

      The countries of South, Central and North America have developed a VSAT database that includes the licensing requirements for many administrations in the region. The database, which is administered by the member states of the Inter-American Telecommunications Commission (CITEL), can be seen at

      Meanwhile, the European governments have gone even further. A database has been developed by the CEPT that includes the satellite-licensing data for many of the 43 administrations at

      Type Approvals: Type approval of telecom terminals has long been recognized by national administrations as a problem. Testing requirements from country to country are often redundant, resulting in major delays, higher costs and less efficient provision of communications.

      That’s why the Asian members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group (APEC) signed a Mutual Recognition Agreement to facilitate the elimination of redundant type approval testing. And that’s why CITEL is currently moving toward adoption of a similar regime for South, Central and North America.

      Further, European Community (EC) legislation has begun to be implemented that eliminates government type approvals of VSAT and other telecom terminals. This change is being brought about with the Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive 1999/5/EC (the “R&TTE Directive”), which introduces a system based on manufacturers’ declaration of conformity and relaxation of the regulatory constraints on the free movement and putting into use of terminal equipment.

      Open Skies: In the past, governments have developed policies to protect their country’s satellite systems. These “Closed Skies” policies require service providers to use only locally-owned satellite capacity when providing VSAT services.

      But in the long run, governments are realizing that tremendous demand for Internet, data, voice, video and other essential services is best addressed by policies that permit open access to all satellite resources, assuming they have been properly coordinated through the ITU.

      While the policies being implemented around the world today are not completely open, they all involve permitting increased access to orbital resources, regardless of the satellite operators’ country of origin.

      So, the next step to facilitate universal access to communications–from Asia to Europe to the Americas to Africa–is for the satellite industry to encourage national regulators to continue to improve regulatory conditions governing the use of VSAT networks.

      And this year, you can forget the diet.

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

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