Some have very high hopes for the implementation plan of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as it relates to the new accords reached with respect to trade in telephone services under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. These individuals see these new accords as providing both the basic framework for deregulating telecommunications and also solving most of the problems in providing open market access for satellite communications. Unfortunately such outcomes seem unlikely.

Inmarsat has documented dozens of cases of major constraints in international satellite trade in terms of unreasonable landing rights agreements, annual licensing fees for terminals, non-tariff barriers, and so on. Countries forming competitive systems at the legislative level are in some cases maintaining a de facto quasi-monopoly environment. WTO enforcement procedures will not necessarily be able to alter the "voluntary reforms" offered because of the "loop hole" language that allows many types of exceptions to be formally accepted. Further, WTO enforcement procedures are essentially weak.

Other key policy issues encountered in the site visits were concerns about allocation of frequencies and orbital slots and how to provide adequate protection against "paper satellites." There were also concerns expressed about the adequacy and effectiveness of intersystem coordination procedures and how assigned frequencies might be more effectively used by more multi-purpose allocations. Further, there were concerns about security and privacy of information being relayed on satellite systems, and how this might be better achieved by more effective international security standards.

The numerous site visits with U.S. government agencies, U.S. industry, and many agencies and companies around the world confirmed that serious standards, trade, frequency allocation, security, intersystem coordination procedures, landing rights and licensing issues remain to be solved.

Most important of all is the need to develop protocols for seamless interconnection of satellite, wireless and terrestrial fiber networks. In the 21st century inter-connection of satellite systems, particularly via intersatellite links, will be a key challenge. Connecting them to low latency terrestrial networks is truly a challenge. Current mechanisms to develop needed protocols in a timely manner (such as the ITU) do not seem adequate to the task. Leadership by NASA and other U.S. government agencies may be required. Some work by the Satellite Division of the TIA is actively addressing these issues and its work should be encouraged, but this is far from enough. The greatest barrier to satellite communications participating in the NII and OII is that of effective interoperability standards.

In fact, these policy challenges and protocol developments are likely to be more time-consuming and involve more human and financial resources than the development of new satellite technologies.

Concern About the U.S. GPS Monopoly

In a related field there have also been important new approaches to space navigation as they pertain to aeronautical, automobile, and even personal location services. The panel detected growing concern and frustration with the U.S. "virtual monopoly" in this field through the GPS network. The French (particularly Aerospatiale), and Inmarsat have launched detailed planning projects to offer alternative space navigation systems. In addition, position fixing as an adjunct service in a satellite communications system is being preserved as an option and Boeing has now filed for a 2 GHz system that provides both communications and navigation. However, the fact of the GPS system's existence at no cost to users, and the availability of low cost receivers, may effectively eliminate other navigation and positioning systems as revenue services.

Published: December 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian