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In the past, national satellite regulations in most countries were dictated by their domestic communication policies. National satellite regulations focused on who could provide services and in what markets. Since the 1990s, governments have liberalized satellite communication regulation, opening up the market to new players and promoting universal services. Such governmental liberalization of satellite regulation has two goals.
The blanket licensing policy, which was proposed by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the 1990s, facilitates licensing of the maximum number of systems, with minimal interference. This regulation has streamlined licensing procedures and provided a wide variety of business opportunities for the telecommunications industry. The open skies policy provides licensees maximum flexibility in operating their systems to meet market demands with minimal regulation. In the past, governments developed policies to protect their own satellite systems. These ‘closed skies’ policies required service-providers to use only locally owned satellites when providing satellite services. National regulators realized that the massive demand for data, voice, video, and other convergence services is best addressed by permitting open access to all satellite resources.
The changes in international satellite communications have been driven by competitive global markets and technological capabilities. The major goal of the two largest international satellite organizations – Intelsat and Inmarsat – has been to eliminate unnecessary regulatory barriers that tend to inhibit the use of satellite services. Intelsat and Inmarsat have consistently applied competition as a policy to increase efficiency in the global market. As the key objective of communication reform is increased efficiency, competition and cooperation are two tools available to policymakers to achieve this goal.
Meanwhile, a series of international efforts have been launched to improve satellite regulation in developing countries. Despite several open border initiatives by European and American countries, the Asia Pacific nations show little concrete effort to harmonize the use of spectrum and licensing policies and regulations. In Korea and Japan, for example, satellite communications have been hindered because of separate licensing (or sometimes duplicate licensing) requirements for satellite service-providers, space segment operators, end-users, and radio spectrum. Many regulations in these countries focus mainly on technical issues, such as technical coordination and avoidance of system interference, and few regulations focus on international satellite interoperability or interconnection. In Africa and Latin America, satellite communication regulations entail a multiplicity of authorities and application forms. Besides, lack of transparency, requirement for bilateral and interconnection agreements, and security and trade issues remain challenges to satellite policy and regulations.
With the proliferation of satellite communications, content regulation has emerged as a major concern. Internationally, the degree of content regulation varies from country to country; however, the majority of industrialized nations regulate obscene and/or objectionable content. In Europe, indecency regulations are now extended to satellite communications, which did not previously have as many restrictions. Interestingly, the content regulation of satellite broadcasting in Europe is related to the structural questions of how much market share satellite communications have, how much of a threat the satellite industry is to broadcasters, and what impact the satellite industry will have on the media market.
In the matter of ‘satellite spillover’ (when the signal falls outside the beam pattern’s defined border of coverage) the world is dividing into two opposing camps. The US and the EU nations, which support free flow of information, base their argument on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Charter, customary law, and the International Telecommunication Convention. Less liberal countries (mostly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America) support national sovereignty and turn to customary law, the United Nations Charter and UN Resolution 110, and Resolution 37/92. To protect their interests, these countries prefer strict regulation of content and sanctions for nonconforming communications. The free-speech countries like the US and the UK view this state intervention as little more than government-sponsored censorship.
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