With Disaster Comes A New focus

Hurricane Katrina changed things for the Satellite Industry Association (SIA), a Washington-based trade group that today has 25 corporate members in the United States and overseas.

When David Cavossa took the helm in June 2004, SIA was focused largely on spectrum policy, export reform and the U.S. government’s transponder-leasing habits . Then came Katrina, which in the course of devastating New Orleans and other Gulf Cost areas, knocked out terrestrial networks throughout the region, leaving rescue authorities almost completely dependent on satellite communications.

While the experience demonstrated the critical role satellites play in disaster management, it also highlighted some weaknesses, stemming in part from the unfamiliarity among relief workers with the technology. Educating the disaster-response community on the uses, advantages and limitations of satellite technology has since become SIA’s main priority.

Cavossa, who originally joined the SIA in 2001 as director of external relations, spoke recently with Space News staff writer Missy Frederick.

What is the most pressing issue facing the satellite industry today?

Homeland security, and specifically how first responders and emergency workers are using satellite communications. It’s only the most pressing issue because of what happened with Hurricane Katrina. If that hadn’t happened, it would still be a background issue.

We’re trying to get the word out that satellites are part of the solution. That’s what we’re working on full-time now. We’re trying to raise awareness through education and outreach. I feel like I do very little lobbying at SIA and spend 90 percent of my time doing education and outreach on the Hill, in the administration and now at the state and local level with first responders and public safety organizations.

On Aug. 10, we will release the “First Responder’s Guide To Satellite Communications.” It’s a small, 24-page guide that is a basic 101 on why satellites are important, directed to everyone from the first responder in the field to the chief information officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency . So for the next few months, we’re going to go out to conferences and just brief them on satellites.

What needs to happen for the emergency-response community to fully embrace satellite technology?

We’re in a two-step process right now. The first is awareness. People need to know that satellite technology exists, and hear anecdotal evidence on how they could be using it. Second, we need some money appropriated at the federal level, and, if need be, the state and local level, that specifically says, “Go out and purchase satellite equipment” with this money; not “interoperable communications,” because when first responders hear that, they buy what they know — your typical land-mobile radio.

They need to specifically say, “We need something non-terrestrial,” which is a code word, basically, for satellite. We’ve been talking to members of Congress to get legislation and hopefully, in the long run, appropriations, for this need.

What are some of the SIA’s other big issues these days ?

We look to assure access that is free from interference, and examine other regulatory issues. We’re also concerned with opening markets throughout the globe. We meet with foreign regulators when they’re here in town; the Malaysian government was here last week. We were just meeting today about strategies for gaining better access in India. Some countries have barriers to access that just don’t make sense; some make you set up a majority-owned company in their country.

We also are looking to rationalize export control; it was one of the first issues that SIA took on 10 years ago, and it is still an issue today. We work to improve our relationship with the government, and to make sure that the Pentagon is a smart buyer. We’ve been working to try to encourage multiyear leasing for the past three to four years now.

The government cracked down on satellite exports in 1999, and has not softened its stance much since then. Have you changed your approach to encouraging reform?

When we first took this on, SIA was very much focused on trying to get export licensing switched back to the Commerce Department from the State Department. After we failed in that effort, we realized that wholesale change is very difficult these days. In a post-9/11 environment, it is very difficult to push for a loosening of export controls.

Our new approach is education and outreach on the Hill, to make them realize the effect this is having on the tier-one and tier-two subcontractors and suppliers. These are folks that don’t have the level of business of maybe a Boeing or a Lockheed Martin, that don’t have the export compliance officers these guys have. It’s a cost of doing business for the big guys, but it’s having a more severe effect on what I call the mom-and-pop firms.

Can you claim any successes on the export-reform front?

One of the things the industry has been pushing for is more full-time licensing officers. There was some money put in the appropriations bill this year for additional licensing officers, so there’s a small victory.

What role does SIA play in mitigating satellite interference issues?

For the accidental issues, the companies themselves handle it on a case-by-case basis. We get involved with regulatory issues at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when there are new services such as terrestrial services or broadband that cause interference or could potentially interfere. We will submit a filing if that is the case.

We also — in instances of specific or purposeful interference — are in contact with the enforcement bureau. In the past few years there have been a few cases of purposeful interference, and we have tried to work with the government to make sure the enforcement process moves extremely quickly, and that when it happens the next time, it reacts quickly.

How does SIA treat issues on which its members disagree ?

It’s important to note that SIA is a consensus-based trade association, which is different from other trade associations. All 25 of our members need to agree on what we’re doing. SIA stays away from any issue that would benefit any one company.

A year ago, there was the issue of whether the Pentagon should be using Defense Satellite Transmission Services Global contractors to procure government services. At the beginning, we had a consensus on the idea that a new procurement mechanism was needed. Over some time, there was some disagreement on that and as soon as one member said, “I don’t agree,” SIA stopped work on that issue.

It is my job and my staff’s job to constantly find that consensus, even if we have to water down our position sometimes and try to find that middle ground. That way, when we make a filing with the FCC, everyone agrees, and it is not just the loudest people, not just the two biggest companies.

How has SIA membership changed over the years and what are your goals in this regard ?

What we’ve done in the last five years is double SIA’s membership, bringing in smaller companies, partially because of consolidation in the industry. The SIA has two categories of membership: the executive board, which is U.S.-owned and operated and headquartered here; or associate membership, which is non-U.S. companies. We have 10 associate members now, including Inmarsat of London, Eutelsat of Paris and Space Communications Ltd. of Alberta. We’re going after new members, period. I’d like SIA to be a much larger trade association that truly represents the industry, not just niches.

Are there any particular bills or regulatory issues you’re keeping an eye on this year?

We always follow the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security appropriations bills. We’ve been closely following the Telecommunications Bill; the Senate version (S. 2686) mentions satellite a number of times.

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) has introduced a bill to make the export control act even tougher (H.R. 4572) so we’re following that. Unfortunately, it looks like things in export control are getting worse before they get better.

As for the FCC, we’re looking at a few small things. The Ancillary Terrestrial Component licensing was a big one. Our membership was divided on that, so we didn’t speak up, but now that some have been approved, a lot of our members are extremely happy. But we’re following several proceedings such as those related to the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act.