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IAFI seeks assignment of satellite spectrum on non-exclusive basis

With the use of satellite communication services rapidly increasing over the years, and also given that demand for high-speed internet and wireless services is ever-growing, the allocation of satellite spectrum has become a crucial issue. Understandably, the decision on how to allocate the spectrum has been a topic of debate, in the case of satellite spectrum.

In response to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)’s soliciting views on allocation of spectrum, the ITU-APT Foundation of India, IAFI, firmly believes that administrative assignment is a more appropriate approach than auction-based approach for satellite spectrum, due to the following reasons:

  • Unlike the mobile services, where each operators needs a separate dedicated spectrum band, the satellite spectrum is used as a shared resource and the same spectrum is used by a multiple number of satellites and there are ITU rules for such sharing.
  • The administrative assignment of satellite spectrum enables efficient spectrum allocation.
  • The administrative assignment of satellite spectrum is consistent with international best practices. This approach has been adopted by all countries worldwide.
  • The assignment of spectrum for satellite services and the associated orbital resources is governed by international treaties and agreements, established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), so coordination at a global level has to be followed as per the Radio Regulations (RRs) issued by ITU. Spectrum to the satellite operators in C band, Ku band and Ka band, should only be assigned on non-exclusive basis. Allocating spectrum on a non-exclusive basis allows for more efficient use of the limited spectrum resources available. This is particularly important for satellite services, which require large portions of the spectrum to operate effectively. Any spectrum serving an area on Earth can be used by multiple satellites.
  • Non-exclusive spectrum assignment enables multiple satellite operators to share the same spectrum, which can result in lower costs and better service for consumers. Sharing can also increase the flexibility of spectrum use.
  • Contrary to the exclusive spectrum rights that are enjoyed by terrestrial cellular operators for decades, space-based communications reuse the same spectrum repeatedly to service multiple countries from the same satellites from both the GEO and non-GSO systems, as also by multiple satellites serving the same area on Earth. As acknowledged by TRAI, only four countries have engaged in some form of competitive allocation in connection to space communications (Brazil, Mexico, United States, and Saudi Arabia) and three of those countries (Brazil, Mexico and United States) decided to discontinue the auction system for satellite communications, as it was not practicable. These administrations rescinded that approach and moved back to administrative assignment. The United States passed legislation that is still in effect today (the ORBIT Act) that prohibits the FCC from auctioning satellite spectrum and requires the President to advocate against international satellite spectrum auctions. In the case of Saudi Arabia, portions of MSS “S band” were auctioned only once in Saudi Arabia’s history, and no other country has replicated that practice. iIt is noted that half of the S band spectrum auctioned in Saudi Arabia was sold specifically for terrestrial use (i.e., 3GPP carriers), and the other half was sold as MSS. However, these MSS blocks were sold with a path to convert their usage to terrestrial. Therefore, it is arguable whether, in reality, the Saudi Arabia auction of S band spectrum was targeted for space-based communications for the long term.
  • Non-exclusive assignment of spectrum can reduce the interference, as satellite services cover large geographic areas for instance, increasing the flexibility in frequency reuse. Non-exclusive spectrum assignment allows for coordination and cooperation between countries, reducing the risk of interference and ensuring that satellite services can operate without disruption.
  • The assignment of spectrum is governed by international treaties and agreements, established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as well as bilateral coordination among different countries, so coordination at a global level has to be followed as per the ITU Radio Regulations (RRs). In case of satellite services, the ITU and national regulatory agencies aim to promote the efficient use of spectrum by allowing multiple users to share the same frequency bands through various coordination and interference mitigation techniques.
  • Satellite systems have a predefined range of frequencies, filed with the ITU and follow long and rigorous process of notification and registration into MIFR, so cannot be subsequently pick and choose depending on the outcome of the spectrum assignment of a market.
  • An auction of satellite spectrum will create anti-competitive and monopolistic conditions and augment the price of satellite spectrum by artificially making it a scarce resource and it will exclude some operators/service providers from the market entirely. Additionally, auction of spectrum for satellite services invariably results in a fragmentation of the available spectrum into small pieces, making it difficult for multiple satellite operators to share this limited resource.
  • Auction will also result in reduced quality of service since satellite operators will not have enough spectrum to meet the demand for services, this will in turn impact consumers in remote and underserved areas who rely on satellite communication services for internet connectivity, television programming, or emergency communications, among other offerings. Lack of spectrum can result in higher subscription fees or equipment costs, which can result in higher costs for consumers.
  • The unavailability of the necessary quantity of spectrum limits innovation in the satellite communication industry, as satellite operators may not have enough incentive to invest in new technologies or services when the spectrum required for such offerings is lacking.
  • Connected and allied industries that rely on satellite communication services for critical operations will be impacted by the restricted availability and affordability of satellite communication services due to restrictions in access to required spectrum, rendering these industries unable to use satellite technology for critical operations, with an evident impact on the productivity and profitability of these industries.

CT Bureau

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