The Communications Satellite Act of 1962

The Communications Satellite Act of 1962 is a U.S. federal statute. The Act is the successor to the Radio Act of 1927. The object of the Act is to deal with the issue of commercialization of space communications and to establish a commercial communications system utilizing space satellites which will serve American needs and those of other countries and contribute to world peace and understanding.

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The Communications Satellite Act of 1962

Arthur C. Clarke’s October 1945 article, “Extraterrestrial Relays”, in Wireless World, is generally considered to be the first description of geosynchronous communications satellites. His satellites orbited the Earth in twenty-four hours – the same rate as the Earth revolves – and would therefore appear stationary. Clarke hypothesized that three of these “geosynchronous” (synchronized with the Earth) satellites, each fixed over a specific longitude on the equator, would be sufficient to provide communications services for the entire globe, except for the poles. The satellites would be used for broadcasting – especially television broadcasting.

Several of Clarke’s assumptions turned out to be false – or at least premature. His satellites would have been huge – weighing hundreds of tons rather than hundreds of kilograms. He assumed the station would be manned because the vacuum tubes would have to be changed on a regular basis. Clarke powered his satellite with solar steam boilers, but imagined solar-electric devices (solar cells?) in the near future. Transistors were simply unknown to him and solar cells were not well understood. He also assumed the three basic locations for geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) satellites would be over land masses, rather than over oceans, to maximize broadcast coverage.

Seventeen years after Clarke’s article, on August 31, 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed the Communications Satellite Act, which had been debated since the beginning of the year. Just a few weeks before, on July 10, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) had launched Telstar 1. The Act aimed to join together private communication companies in order to make satellites more obtainable. The two most notable commercial entities involved in the build-up to the Communications Satellite Act were AT&T and Hughes Aircraft Corporation.

The Act states that “The Congress declares that it is the policy of the United States to establish, in conjunction and in cooperation with other countries, as expeditiously as practicable a commercial communications satellite system, as part of an improved global communications network, which will be responsive to public needs and national objectives, which will serve the communication needs of the United States and other countries, and which will contribute to world peace and understanding”. Communications satellite system is defined as “a system of communications satellites in space whose purpose is to relay telecommunication information between satellite terminal stations, together with such associated equipment and facilities for tracking, guidance, control, and command functions as are not part of the generalized launching, tracking, control, and command facilities for all space purposes”.

The Communications Satellite Act of 1962 then declares that “The new and expanded telecommunication services are to be made available as promptly as possible and are to be extended to provide global coverage at the earliest practicable date. In effectuating this program, care and attention will be directed toward providing such services to economically less developed countries and areas as well as those more highly developed, toward efficient and economical use of the electromagnetic frequency spectrum, and toward the reflection of the benefits of this new technology in both quality of services and charges for such services”.

Then it enounces that “In order to facilitate this development and to provide for the widest possible participation by private enterprise, United States participation in the global system shall be in the form of a private corporation, subject to appropriate governmental regulation. It is the intent of Congress that all authorized users shall have non-discriminatory access to the system; that maximum competition be maintained in the provision of equipment and services utilized by the system; that the corporation created under this chapter be so organized and operated as to maintain and strengthen competition in the provision of communications services to the public; and that the activities of the corporation created under this chapter and of the persons or companies participating in the ownership of the corporation shall be consistent with the Federal antitrust laws”.

Finally, speaking about the Communications Satellite Act of 1962, the Communications Satellite Act affirms that “It is not the intent of Congress by this chapter to preclude the use of the communications satellite system for domestic communication services where consistent with the provisions of this chapter nor to preclude the creation of additional communications satellite systems, if required to meet unique governmental needs or if otherwise required in the national interest”.

The Act established the Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT). Agencies from different countries joined the COMSAT and formed the International telecommunication Consortium (INTELSAT). INTELSAT established a global commercial communications network. The Act governs all nongovernmental wire and wireless telecommunication. The Act established the Federal Communications Commission. That is what we can say about the Communications Satellite Act of 1962.