Policy Considerations for Satellite Communications

Let us have a look at Policy Considerations for Satellite Communications. Satellite communications are part of African State’s critical telecommunications infrastructures, and support various other infrastructures such as transport, banking, and finance. In a future digital economy, these commercial satellites will enable African states to participate in the market, however, owing to the relative paucity of satcoms policy in most states and some space-faring, the capacity to achieve this is reduced. Some of the services from which the continent stands to gain are in information, communications, internet, rescue, navigation, disaster relief etc.

This section will detail the global business trends, international legal and regulatory issues associated with satellite communications and how these activities can further be supported through policy measures. It will become clear that in the African space sector, the financial, economic and competition factors have a substantial role to play in the viability not only of space programmes but satellite communications activities as well.

In Africa, substantive steps have been taken in the last decade to either create or upgrade telecommunications networks. The focus of doing so has largely been to provide low cost services, especially telephony, to both urban but particularly rural regions, through the use of satellite technology. To curb the stagnation of this critical sector, some nations have resorted to privatising and deregulating their communications sector, so as to open up competition, attract foreign investment, and also generate innovation for new technologies.

As the Regional African Satellite Communications Organisation (a consortium of forty-six nations) constructed and launched a dedicated satellite system for Africa, sound policy hinged towards regional integration was required. These ambitions are indeed alluded to within the African Space Strategy and Policy, but not, however, to the extent that delineates succinctly the expected contributions, liability, and concomitant benefit-sharing that will ensue from this multilateral project.

For the most part however, African countries rely on the INTELSAT network for traditional voice, data and video services. On top of this, INTELSAT has also accelerated the growth of internet services throughout Africa to boost telecommunications networks across the region.

Interagency Coordination and Legal and Regulatory Environment

A National Policy Approach

Responsibility for national space policies are usually delegated to the government of nation States. These activities for the most part are focused on governmental initiatives. It is fundamental that African government’s develop a national policy approach which speaks to the multi-stakeholder characteristics of outer space, particularly the rising NewSpace industry. To this end, emphasis on interagency coordination must be a priority.

Satellite Regulatory Issues

Radio Frequency Spectrum and Orbital Locations

Any equipment that uses wireless communications will require a radio frequency spectrum. Satellites are but one of these kinds of services, so it is expected that demand for radio frequency spectrum will increase. Few African countries have in place a frequency demand map which manages equitably the allocation of spectrum according to industry. Some countries, like Angola for example, have a National Frequency Map which delineates according to usage and priority industries. Having this plan at hands alleviates the difficulties and time-consuming task of allocating, assigning, and coordinating radio frequency spectrum of orbital locations for both public and private interests. These challenges are important to address as radio frequency and orbital location are necessities for operation in space.

Licensing of Satellite Systems

Concerning Policy Considerations for Satellite Communications, licensing of satellites is both an opportunity and a challenge. It is required that nations provide both public and private players an opportunity to review and influence the policy process. This kind of openness and transparency helps to instil public confidence and creates an investment incentives and rewards. This provides certainty which is an inherent feature of and regulatory activity. The State needs to accordingly provide for a public interest standard. Owing to the complexities of the process, private companies can wait upwards of two years so receive licenses for a satellite system. This time can vary according to whether there already is an allocation or not. The commercial satellite communications market is fast-paced, and with demand for radio frequency spectrum high, competition for terrestrial wireless services is strong, then time and certainty matter.

Export Licensing

Export regulations, especially those enclosed within International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR). This restricts nation’s ability to source manufactured components to develop space technologies, including nations such as Zimbabwe, Eritrea and CAR, which are all on the embargoed countries list. In the interests of boosting regional capacity, the role of regional integration will assist to alleviate the costs and burdens of shouldering national programs in the face of these and other technical, regulatory or human skills capital impediments.

Conclusion on Policy Considerations for Satellite Communications

Commercial space, though with its vulnerabilities, offers quicker and more innovative technologies and services, which on the whole increases levels of efficiency and broadens the types of applications. The demand for space resources can only increase in a set up where space-based technologies and services will be integral to explore, govern, teach, learn, conduct business and defend national territories. These are all expected realities of the 4th industrial revolution which is characterised by a digital knowledge economy. To this end the recommendations above are made in the hopes of enhancing these future critical satellite services for the sustainable development benefit of all African nations. This is what can be said concerning Policy Considerations for Satellite Communications.