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Operators Eye Universal Broadband

By | September 22, 2003

      Large satellite operators increasingly are looking to play a key role in the deployment of universal broadband services. With certain governments calling for universal broadband access within five years, satellite operators view their technology as an integral component of that effort, especially in serving rural communities and developing countries.

      The satellite operators shared their views during an historic meeting of U.S. and European satellite operators that took place in Paris earlier this month. The operators have pledged to work together to promote an understanding among governments and international bodies about how satellites can serve the broadband needs of businesses, individuals and communities in rural communities and developing nations.

      Executives from these companies plan to meet again in Washington next spring to continue their discussions.

      At Paris, member companies of the U.S.-based Satellite Industry Association (SIA) and the European Satellite Operators Association (ESOA) discussed cooperation in advocacy and governmental outreach to build positive national regulatory environments that reduce barriers to the deployment of advanced satellite communications systems.

      The industry leaders also expressed concerns about national fees and regulatory measures that could become an obstacle to national and cross-border satellite service provision.

      The industry CEOs underlined the need for their associations to work together on building improved awareness of how satellite communications offers enormous public benefits. These pluses include facilitating commerce, advancing global security and providing immediate and ubiquitous access to telecommunications infrastructure.

      Fulvio Sansone, ESOA’s secretary general, said both organizations have an interest in working together to further the level of understanding among governmental bodies of how satellites can enhance rural communications.

      Eutelsat Chairman and CEO Giuliano Berretta, who also serves as ESOA’s chairman, said satellites are an essential component for world governments to bridge the digital divide both internationally and domestically. Satellite operators play in integral role in this process by investing in spacecraft and developing products and services that enable communities and users to access leading-edge communications. However, governments need to support satellite solutions to allow users of its services to benefit from innovative services, Berretta said.

      Aside from Berretta, other industry CEOs in attendance at Paris included: Romain Bausch, SES Global [Luxembourg: SES]; Yves de la Serre, Europe*Star; Dan Goldberg, New Skies Satellites [NYSE: NSK]; Peter Jackson, Asiasat; Dean Olmstead, SES Americom; and Joseph Wright, PanAmSat [Nasdaq: SPOT]. Inmarsat Chairman Richard Vos also participated, along with representatives from Intelsat, Eurasiasat, Hispasat, Hughes Network Systems, Telenor and Telespazio.

      The meeting was an “unprecedented” gathering that allowed top industry leaders to discuss regulatory changes and new fees in various countries that threaten to undermine the rollout of new satellite services, observed Dianne VanBeber, Intelsat’s vice president of investor relations.

      “By the industry standing together as a group, we want to call the attention of the regulators and legislators around the world to the opportunities that our technology offers,” VanBeber said. Satellites have been instrumental for decades in achieving key public policy goals, including connecting nations with basic telecommunications services, while also playing a role in providing global services in telemedicine and distance learning, said SIA President Richard DalBello.

      DalBello noted that satellites are ideally suited to providing point-to-multipoint broadband communication services across a wide geographic area, but the technology is not being promoted effectively to governments and international organizations. So far, the ability of satellites in providing rural broadband services seems to have been “under- appreciated,” he said.

      Satellite operators want to spur policy changes that would support the deployment of broadband services, DalBello said. Burdens on satellite systems – such as market barriers and unnecessary regulatory fees — must be avoided, he said. Otherwise, costs could be imposed that may delay or prevent service rollouts, he added.

      The satellite industry is looking to build stronger partnerships with governments, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other organizations, DalBello said.

      The goal would be to establish policies and regulations that are conducive to the “health and vitality” of the satellite industry. “This effort is consistent with initiatives recently announced by the [Federal Communications Commission’s] International Bureau to focus on the needs of rural and remote communities in the United States,” DalBello said.

      Forward-looking policymakers could be rewarded with a wave of new services if the industry continues recovering from the recession, he predicted.

      Positive signs for the satellite industry, in DalBello’s view, include:

      • Deployment of advanced broadband services;
      • A rapidly growing subscriber base for satellite radio;
      • Next-generation mobile services;
      • The FCC’s decision to allow spectrum sharing for mobile satellite and ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) services;
      • Future rollout of air traffic control, broadband and entertainment services for commercial airliners;
      • HDTV deployment; and
      • Distribution of films to cinemas via satellite.

      –Paul Dykewicz

      (Fulvio Sansone, ESOA, 32 2 550 35 75; Richard DalBello, Satellite Industry Association, 703/739/8357; Dianne VanBeber, Intelsat, 202/944-7406; Vanessa O’Connor, Eutelsat, 33 685 81 60 08)

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