Profile: Thomas S. Tycz,
Chief, Satellite and Radiocommunication Division
International Bureau, FCC
Thomas S. Tycz is leaving the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after a 30-year career during which he forged a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable experts on satellite radio frequency and orbital-slot regulations. He has seen the satellite communications business develop from an all-government debating club into a multibillion-dollar industry whose evolution is entirely dependent on decisions made by the FCC and its global equivalent, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Tycz has been on the front lines of battles waged at the ITU over how and when new systems are permitted into the market, including numerous contentious sessions with his counterparts in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia.
No one comes away from these contests without at least some battle scars, but Tycz has managed to maintain the respect of even his toughest adversaries. Here’s how one of the toughest reacted to the news of Tycz’s departure: “It has always been a pleasure for me to work with Tom, who is the kind of intelligent, talented and cultivated partner with whom one dreams of debating problems of radio spectrum,” said Francois Rancy, head of the French National Frequencies Agency and regularly on the opposite side of the negotiating table from Tycz. “These debates call on technical, legal, regulatory, political and diplomatic skills. Tom has all of them. He will be missed.”
Tycz spoke with Space News staff writer Peter B. de Selding.
T he FCC has modified its satellite licensing system in recent years to include milestone deadlines, a performance bond and other features. Have the changes improved the system?
They have improved the whole application process. Our first-come, first-serve policy lets people know who is in front of them in the queue. It’s much more transparent for companies now. We are about eight times faster than we were before. What used to take three years or more now takes less than six months.
If it works for the FCC, why hasn’t the ITU adopted similar measures?
Some things the FCC does may not be appropriate for the ITU. The ITU has considerably reduced the backlog of systems it is reviewing in some areas. In others, such as the BSS [broadcast satellite services] area, there is still a significant backlog. I am not sure what the cause is.
Should the ITU adopt FCC-type bond payments, project-milestone deadlines and the like?
They do require that systems be brought into service within seven years, or risk having to start over at the back of the queue. They also have amended their cost-recovery schedule, so that the administrative costs of processing a system are reimbursed by the system sponsors. We now have to see how these relatively recent modifications are implemented. I think the ITU is on the right track.
Why not require that licensed systems pay the ITU a bond that is gradually reimbursed as they meet their project milestones?
I don’t know if that would be a good thing for the ITU. I would have to study it further. The ITU at this point does not have a milestone-schedule requirement. And there is the question of where a bond paid to the ITU would go — to the staff of the ITU? Cost recovery and due diligence are still in a transition period at the ITU. I would hate to start making modifications before we see how the earlier modifications work.
Politics seems to play a big role at ITU decision-making meetings the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) holds every three or four years. Is this a problem?
The WRC is not just a technical meeting. Politics is a part of the process. You have 180 sovereign nations, many of them showing up with delegations to address their national economic or strategic issues. When a nation wants to defend its national economic and security interests, politics is there. I am not sure politics plays any more of a role now than it did in the past.
Does money play too big a role in WRC decision-making? Many of the systems being addressed are multibillion-dollar proposals by the sponsoring companies.
Companies who go to WRC meetings wish to have issues of concern to them resolved favorably. Delegates’ time is very precious, and companies certainly have sponsored breakfast nooks and pizza parties to discuss issues with delegates.
I was thinking about more valuable gifts distributed to sway votes. Is this an issue?
I am not aware of these types of gifts or this level of gifts, and I haven’t heard of delegates complaining about this as an issue.
Would delegates complain about being showered with gifts?
Not sure. The FCC and the U.S. delegations have rules about what we can accept. The United States has a right to determine who represents it, and the same is true for the other sovereign nations. I don’t feel the United States should be stepping in to determine rules for other delegations. We wouldn’t like it if they did that to us.
In the past decade, U.S. and European delegations to the WRC lobbied hard for two broadband systems that were never built: the 800-satellite Teledesic, and the 80-satellite SkyBridge. Was the WRC work a waste of time?
It’s not WRC’s job to make these kinds of calls. We are there to provide opportunities for new systems — whether they are built is another matter. Look at direct-broadcast satellite television: There were several failures at first, and eventually a new, successful business was made. I have consistently been wrong in predicting what systems will succeed.
You stayed at the FCC for 30 years — a long time. Why?
I consider myself a public servant, and I think I helped make a difference to the average person’s life by helping to bring new technologies into service. It is challenging and interesting work.
Is the FCC still able to attract bright young engineers and lawyers? The attractions of the private sector are many.
They are. But we are still able to attract bright young people, and we also get people who have spent years in the private sector who want to go into government service. We have a mentoring effort, a training program and we have even sent some engineers to graduate school. I think we are able to provide the mix of young and old. Public service has a unique attractiveness, and I am certainly not alone in having spent 30 years here.