Patricia Cooper

President, Satellite Industry Association

The public perception of the importance of satellites to daily life has changed dramatically over the past decade as new technologies like GPS navigation and satellite radio have become fixtures in the consumer marketplace. At the same time disasters like Hurricane Katrina have demonstrated the importance of satellite communications to public safety in addition to the integral role they now play in support of
military forces around the globe. Along the way, the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) has been quietly working in the background to make sure the satellite industry has a voice in
policy and regulatory issues.

Washington-based SIA was born 13 years ago as a working group of
satellite operators within the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association. It sought to create a common voice on global communications infrastructure. Today the organization has 30 members and associate members from all parts of the satellite communications world, including manufacturers, operators and service providers.

While most of its members compete with one another in many areas, the organization and its membership are in lock-step on certain issues, including: how the industry is regulated, how satellite technology is incorporated into broader communications architectures and how the export controls on satellite technology should be implemented. SIA will not take any position unless all of its members are in agreement.

The satellite industry today faces many challenges. Though it successfully pushed back an attempt in 2007 by the terrestrial wireless industry to gain global access to C-band spectrum, similar proposals already have surfaced at the local level that still seek to grant the wireless industry access to C-Band or other spectra like Ku-band. Manufacturers have long complained that the
government’s restrictions on the export of satellite technologies are outdated and create a disadvantage for
companies in the global marketplace. And with much of the satellite industry dependent on government business, a new presidential administration, growing
economic turmoil and the possible contraction of defense spending could all impact the industry.

Patricia Cooper was named president of SIA in December 2007 after serving as the Federal Communications Commission’s senior satellite competition advisor. She spoke recently with Space News staff writer Turner Brinton.

What are the biggest uncertainties with a new presidential administration coming in?

One area that will be interesting is the communications infrastructure that will continue to be procured for the Defense Department. How the new administration views the overall department, its mission and its budgeting will be important. That will have a big impact on a community like ours that is an essential provider to that military community. Another issue is public safety. I don’t know that any major philosophical changes, in terms of investment and budget, will come. But the extent of the commitment is probably a political choice we will want to watch. The last thing is the possibility of change in export control regulation. That is one that will be heavily dictated by the contours of the new Congress and the interest of the new administration.

Which of your companies or markets would be affected by a downturn in military spending?

I’m not sure that we’re hearing that any particular kind of service is going to contract. What we’re hearing is that as military operations change, and as their military space capacity changes, the proportion of commercial to military capacity may change. But there’s also this insatiable hunger for more bandwidth. We’re hearing there’s still going to be a strong demand. The military’s needs are for bandwidth-hungry and highly specialized applications that our integrators, suppliers and resellers provide, in addition to the military satellites built by our members.

What is SIA’s stance on export controls?

The association has long been an advocate for sensible export regulation of satellite technology. And for the last several months, we’ve been working on two levels. One is supporting the work of the Coalition for Security and Competitiveness in
, which is working to improve the process at the State Department. We’ve also been interested in the work that the Center for Strategic and International Studies has done and the dialogue to revisit whether it’s appropriate to have all satellite products on the munitions list. We would want to see some discretion about the appropriateness of having satellites on that list. I feel that there’s an underlying interest in the issue, but I don’t see it happening this year given the political cycle.

What are your concerns in the public safety arena?

Since Hurricane Katrina, we’ve had a very active dialogue with public safety officials and the homeland security policy community. We spend a lot of time working with first responders and public safety officials to help them understand what satellites can do and the particular requirements of satellites in practical application. On a higher level, we’ve worked to ensure satellites are embodied in national policy; that’s everything from national emergency communications plans, to a voice in the communications infrastructure groups, to things like spectrum auctions.

What was your main goal when you took the job?

The strongest single goal was to make sure satellites were not lost in the policy mix or the debates on broader subjects, whether it’s broadband Internet, government communications or even digital TV transition. Satellites have historically been part of the background, the quiet, reliable backbone of the network that has provided redundancy. That changed fundamentally as our products became more consumer oriented and as what we do became more appreciated and noticed.

How do you focus your agenda?

I have really smart people on my board and in my working groups, so it is a balancing act between the many issues we care about. But it’s pretty clear which issues are most important to this group. They really care about the way they’re regulated.

We care about the way that satellites are used by the government and how they are used by the public safety community. We care about making sure that our technology is in both the policy and also the actual procurements in a big way. And we want to make that the architecture that’s envisioned for the government, the military and for public safety is the same as what’s actually procured.

We also care a lot about foreign market access issues. Because satellites are inherently international, the rules overseas matter to us. And we have always had an interest in, and recently had more activity in, promoting sensible export regulation. Those are our five areas of interest, and they’ve been pretty consistent.

What are your regulatory priorities?

Part of it is to make sure satellites fit into the Federal Communications Commission’s overall telecommunications regulations and global regulations. That might be something like making sure satellite-delivered broadband is appropriately captured in broad policy and that policy makers understand what role satellite broadband is playing in the global marketplace.

We also look at how our spectrum is allocated and regulated and how adjacent spectrum is being used. We have special concerns about how we share spectrum in order to deliver the services that our customers request and rely upon. So we’ve looked a lot recently at the terrestrial interest in sharing the traditional satellite bands. Although we were successful in ensuring there was no global rule to allow terrestrial use in the C-band, there are still national proposals to allow that and we continue to partner with other European groups of satellite operators and service providers to push against that.

The C-band and Ku-band proposals are the most active right now, but there is always a spectrum fight somewhere, and our goal as an association is to make sure regulators understand what satellite services are provided in that band and the technical requirements that satellites have that may be different than terrestrial applications.