The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set up a new bureau dedicated to improving the agency’s oversight of the satellite industry. It is one of two new offices to come out of an internal reorganization at the FCC, which has also created a standalone office of international affairs.
According to the FCC, the changes will help the agency fulfill its statutory obligations and to keep pace with the rapidly changing satellite industry and global communications policy. Establishing a standalone Space Bureau will elevate the importance of satellite programs and policy internally, and will also acknowledge the role of satellite communications in advancing domestic communications policy, according to the agency.
“The satellite industry is growing at a record pace, but here on the ground our regulatory frameworks for licensing them have not kept up. Over the past two years the agency has received applications for 64,000 new satellites. In addition, we are seeing new commercial models, new players, and new technologies coming together to pioneer a wide-range of new satellite services and space-based activities that need access to wireless airwaves,” said FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel in her prepared remarks.
After identifying space tourism, satellite broadband, disaster recovery efforts and more, Rosenworcel said the interest in space as a new market for investment and a home for new kinds of services is vast. She noted that “private investment in space companies has reached more than $10 billion in the last year, the highest it has ever been.”
She also said that “the space sector has been on a monumental run. Satellite operators set a new record last year for the number of satellites launched into orbit, a record they will surpass again.”
Under the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC licenses radio frequency uses by satellites and ensures that space systems reviewed by the agency have sufficient plans to mitigate orbital debris.
The FCC said also that creating the two new separate offices will allow expertise to be more consistently leveraged across the organization’s different bureaus.
Commenting on the reorganization, FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel said: “The satellite industry is growing at a record pace, but here on the ground our regulatory frameworks for licensing them have not kept up. Over the past two years, the agency has received applications for 64,000 new satellites. In addition, we are seeing new commercial models, new players, and new technologies coming together to pioneer a wide-range of new satellite services and space-based activities that need access to wireless airwaves.”
“Today, I announced a plan to build on this success and prepare for what comes next,” she added. “A new Space Bureau at the FCC will ensure that the agency’s resources are appropriately aligned to fulfill its statutory obligations, improve its coordination across the federal government, and support the 21st century satellite industry.”
Jennifer Warren, VP of technology, policy and regulation at Lockheed Martin, said during a panel following Rosenworcel’s announcement that the stakes are much bigger than broadband satellite launches. This new regulatory framework can clear the way for the US to be a leader in “the commercialization of space,” she said. “It’s not for the faint-hearted.”
The FCC bureau reorg “also gives encouragement to new space actors that there will be staff accessible to answer the many questions they must have as they try to enter this exciting industry,” according to Julie Zoller, Head of Global Regulatory Affairs, Project Kuiper at Amazon. “It’s a complex process, but it is one that is full of opportunity and benefits to consumers, as Chairwoman Rosenworcel mentioned. The number of broadband satellite systems is really supercharging the ability to bridge the digital divide curve at home and abroad.”