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FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Proposes Reorganization With a New Space Bureau

By Rachel Jewett | November 3, 2022

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. Photo: FCC

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed an effort to reorganize the FCC, creating a new Space Bureau to better support the rapidly developing commercial satellite industry. 

The proposed changes would split the International Bureau, which currently handles international telecommunications and satellite programs and policies, including licensing. It would create a new Space Bureau and a standalone Office of International Affairs 

“The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head. The way constellations are designed, satellites are manufactured, launches are organized, and even how systems are upgraded or replaced are all being re-designed and re-imagined,” Rosenworcel said, speaking to the Satellite Industry Association on Thursday. “But the organizational structures at the agency have not kept pace as the applications and proceedings before us have multiplied.”  

Under the plan, the FCC said in a statement a stand-alone Space Bureau will elevate the significance of satellite programs and policy, including the role of satellite in domestic communications and U.S. broadband goals. 

“This re-imagined bureau will support United States leadership in the emerging space economy, promote long-term technical capacity to address satellite policies, and improve our coordination with other agencies on these issues,” Rosenworcel said. 

In turn, a refocused Office of Internal Affairs will focus on international communications regulation and licensing. 

Rosenworcel stressed this reorganization does not take on new responsibilities for the FCC, but will help it perform its statutory responsibilities. The FCC has authority under the Communications Act of 1934 to license radio frequency use by satellites and ensure that space systems reviewed by the agency have sufficient plans to mitigate orbital debris. 

“Now is the time to reorganize it to better match marketplace realities. This reorganization will help ensure that both the new Space Bureau and the Office of International Affairs stay relevant, efficient, and effective over time — and that is what this effort is about,” Rosenworcel said. 

The chairwoman highlighted other ways the FCC is changing how it works with the space industry including reevaluating the satellite licensing process, making more spectrum available and changing orbital debris regulations. 

The commission recently adopted a five-year rule requiring satellite operators to deorbit defunct satellites in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) after their operational lifetime. Some members of Congress opposed the move, arguing it could create conflicting U.S. guidelines while NASA works on the issue as well.

The Satellite Industry Association applauded the reorganization plan to better address the industry’s licensing and regulatory needs. 

“SIA strongly applauds both the leadership of Chairwoman Rosenworcel and her recognition of the growing role of satellites in advancing communications policy and helping bridge the broadband digital divide,” Tom Stroup, president of SIA, said in a statement. “SIA and its members look forward to continuing to work together with the chairwoman and the future Space Bureau to help ensure the industry’s continued innovation and growth plus the long term access to a sustainable and safe orbital space environment.”