FCC proposes new office for space activities

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced plans Nov. 3 to revamp the agency and create an office dedicated to its growing work with space systems.

In a speech at a Satellite Industry Association event, FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel announced plans to reorganize the commission’s International Office into a new Space Office and a stand-alone Office of International Affairs. This reorganization, she said, would give satellite licensing and regulatory work greater prominence and access to more resources.

“The agency’s organizational structures have not kept pace as the applications and proceedings before us have multiplied,” she said, saying the FCC had applications under review for systems. totaling 64,000 satellites. “You can’t just keep doing things the old way and expect to lead the new.”

Having a dedicated space office, she said, would go hand-in-hand with efforts to increase staffing levels and develop new regulations for space systems. “This organization will help ensure that the new Space Office and Office of International Affairs remain relevant, efficient and effective over time.”

Rosenworcel’s announcement is only the beginning of the process of creating the Space Office. In a panel discussion following his speech, Umair Javed, FCC chief counsel for Rosenworcel, said the proposal still needs to be discussed with Congressional Appropriations and Authorization Committees and with other commissioners, among others.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, but I think it’s a priority for the president,” he said. “Our steps forward will reflect that in the speed at which we try to move forward.”

Two industry executives present at the event welcomed the Space Office’s proposal. “It sends the message that the commission recognizes the pace of innovation in the satellite industry and seeks to match it,” said Julie Zoller, head of global regulatory affairs for Amazon’s Project Kuiper. “It also encourages new space players to know that there will be accessible personnel to answer the many questions they need to ask as they attempt to enter this exciting industry.”

Zoller and Jennifer Warren, vice president of civil and regulatory affairs at Lockheed Martin, said the new office will come in handy as the industry prepares for the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), which will take place in late 2023. Several issues regarding access to spectrum for space issues will be discussed at the meeting.

With a space office, Warren said, the FCC can bring new attention “to future WRC agenda items that we have for international regulatory frameworks that enable.”

The announcement comes as some industry players are cautiously watching steps the FCC is taking to move beyond purely spectrum-related issues, such as the commission’s adoption in September of a new order requiring satellites in low Earth orbit that it authorizes to deorbit no more than five years after the end of their missions. It also sought industry feedback on a “Notice of Inquiry” regarding in-space servicing, assembly and manufacturing (ISAM) issues.

Rosenworcel said it was seeking to create the Space Office to deal with the commission’s existing space activities, not new ones. “The changes I am announcing today are not about taking on new responsibilities at the FCC. It is about better fulfilling our existing statutory responsibilities and freeing up resources to help us focus on our mission.

Javed reiterated this point during a subsequent roundtable. “It’s not about expanding the scope of the FCC’s business. It’s about doing the job that we’re supposed to do better,” he said, noting that the FCC was working closely with the National Space Council and others on topics such as ISAM and mission authorization for new space activities. “We are very well coordinated across government.”

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