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Global VSAT Review: When The Question Is The Answer

By | September 1, 2002

      by David Hartshorn

      When the meeting began, there were about 50 of us in the room, mostly regulators, who had flown in from emerging regions of the world–Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Seated at the front of the room was a panel. They were regulators from some of the same regions, but their administrations differed in one important way: They had recently implemented new policy approaches designed to promote access to satellite-based communications.

      A regulator stood up from the audience and introduced himself. He was from what the United Nations classifies as a Least Developed Country (LDC): “Our people need satellite services,” he said. “Desperately. But our regulations don’t allow it. What do you suggest?”

      The question–so direct and straightforward–summed up in a few words one of the most compelling truths of our time–that the tools necessary to provide access to communications in even the most remote regions of the world are already available. Missing, however, are regulations and policies that facilitate the use of, among other services, satellite communications.

      This point was made repeatedly during the event–a regulatory seminar organized in Geneva by the Global VSAT Forum (GVF)–as the panelists took turns responding to the delegate’s question. One regulator explained how they had successfully implemented blanket licensing of satellite earth stations. Another recounted the overwhelmingly positive results of implementing an “Open Skies” policy. And yet another explained the expanded access to services realized by “strategically liberalizing” the VSAT sector.

      Fortunately, such examples are gradually becoming more commonplace. What remains is for more regulators from the LDCs–and indeed, from numerous developed countries–to learn more about the practical application of such approaches.

      That’s happening, as well. The GVF Regulatory Seminar was repeated, this time in Istanbul, Turkey, where it was standing room only and where another group of regulators intently listened as their counterparts from other administrations related how satellite regulatory reform was helping to literally transform their nations.

      More importantly, even as the seminar got underway, a closely related initiative was launching on a much bigger stage–the ITU’s World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC), underway nearby.

      During WTDC, the ITU Member States formally adopted a program designed to promote understanding of optimal satellite regulations. Named Question 17/1: Satellite regulation in developing countries, the ITU program involves a global survey of the regulatory conditions applied to satellite systems and services throughout the world. The ITU member states will create a report suggesting an effective way to move forward once the findings are analyzed.

      Crucially, information is to be generated relating to:

      • Conditions for authorization and licensing of end users of satellite services, as well as of network operators and service providers/resellers;
      • The ability of network operators to enter a market directly, through a distributor, or through resellers;
      • Regulatory requirements for, and ability of, end users and/or resellers to access different satellite operators;
      • Licensing categories in existence;
      • Legislation in the field of telecommunications, and if differentiated, in the field of satellite communications; and
      • The impact of administrations’ commitments in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on basic telecommunications services on any given category of satellite services, and on the operators/service providers. For example, do comparable applications (e.g. voice, data, Internet) provided via satellite enjoy the same market access opportunities as via other transmission media (e.g. wireline, terrestrial wireless)?

      According to Question 17/1, this information will be entered into a database and then compiled into a report for ITU-D administrations, according to Question 17/1. “This report will identify regulatory approaches that have been successful in facilitating a competitive environment.”

      The program’s potential impact cannot be overstated. “Over the past few decades, the satellite industry has evolved from one of few networks, operators and service providers to one of many.

      The importance of these existing and future satellite networks and their range of services has taken on greater currency in the context of bringing digital services to all people: remote and rural populations can be linked to health, educational, and government services previously available only to urban populations; telephone and Internet service can be provided to traditionally underserved areas without the often prohibitive cost of traditional terrestrial infrastructure; satellite capabilities, including broadcasting and broadband, can instantly link communities to news, educational programming and data services,” according to Question 17/1.

      Thus, what was once an abiding question–Will regulatory reform ever unlock the full potential of satellite-based solutions? –has now begun to be answered with, appropriately enough, a question.

      David Hartshorn is the Secretary General of the Global VSAT Forum. His e-mail address is

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