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Words From Charlie - Foreword to The 2018 Roundtable on Spectrum Policy Report

The year 2018 presented a remarkable year for satellite policy. With renewed vigor reminiscent of the 1990s, a slew of new satellite firms are aggressively exploring non-geostationary deployments for a wide variety of applications. Open source components, miniaturization, lower-cost launches and re-useable rockets are fueling a surge of new proposed constellations. Some of these involve swarms of satellites — hundreds or even thousands of coordinated units. The established geostationary satellite operations sector is seeing growth as well.

It is not immediately clear that new firms exploring the field recognize the complexity, difficulty and long time-horizons associated with obtaining rights to spectrum use. Incumbent satellite operations, while more sophisticated in navigating the international and domestic bureaucracies of spectrum control, recognize the growing pressure for other technologies, such as terrestrial 5G networks, to access what was historically considered “satellite spectrum.” Together these developments raise new questions and issues for spectrum regulation and management.

The 2018 Aspen Institute Roundtable on Spectrum Policy (AIRS), which took place October 29-31, 2018, centered on tensions between satellite use of spectrum and terrestrial uses. The resulting report, written by rapporteur Doug Brake, explores how best to enable the flourishing of satellite operations through effective spectrum policy while balancing the unique requirements of satellites with competing spectrum uses.

Conferees discussed the current satellite spectrum management system, examining the challenges posed by the complicated International Telecommunications Union (ITU) filing process, the difficulty in developing alternative methods of allocating a limited, global resource, as well as the limited enforcement mechanisms available in the current regime. Roundtable participants also discussed a number of more specific policy proposals to help improve conditions for competitive, innovative satellite services. Three of the most salient recommendations included (1) mechanisms to more explicitly incorporate receivers into the spectrum management process, (2) moving toward a risk-informed assessment of harmful interference, and (3) increasing the flexibility in accessing and using satellite spectrum, which could be done through a “spectrum sandbox” and a new “General Satellite Service” classification at the ITU.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the competing entities represented in this conference who have also contributed financial support to the Communications and Society Program. They are Microsoft, AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, Charter, Google, National Association of Broadcasters, New Street Research, T-Mobile, Verizon, Walt Disney and Emmis Broadcasting.

I also want to thank Doug Brake, conference rapporteur, for his extensive and informative account of the conference discussions, and our participants for their contributions to these complicated topics. However, not every recommendation or statement in the report reflects the views of all attendees or their employers; rather, they are the rapporteur’s view of the general sense of the group.

Finally, I want to thank Dominique Harrison, Senior Project Manager, for producing the conference and editing this report.

Charles M. Firestone
Executive Director
Communications and Society Program
The Aspen Institute
July 2019

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