The Federal Communications Commission regulates many industries and practices related to telecommunications and the Internet, but it is now cementing its role as a space regulator by voting to create an entirely new agency specializing in the subject.
Agencies are the departments within the agency that handle various industry areas: media, wireless, consumer and so on, as well as enforcement and the like. They are full of specialists who research and produce the rules and advisories issued by the FCC.
The newly established space agency will handle all activities related to, among other things, satellite approval, orbital communications and space debris. These are things the agency was already doing, but now they want a new, more efficient organization to do them in.
“The satellite industry is growing at record speed, but here on the ground, our regulatory framework for licensing has not kept pace. We are working to change that,” board chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.
The current international agency is being cannibalized to form it, but that sounds more like an upgrade than a dissolution. Although the FCC voted unanimously today to form the new agency, it will need additional approvals from Congress and some other formalities before it’s final, but you can bet they’re already moving desks around and launching new chat channels.
Here’s how the FCC puts it in their order:
During this reorganization, the Space Agency will promote a competitive and innovative global telecommunications marketplace via space services. The space agency will do this by conducting policy and regulatory analysis as well as authorizing satellite systems with the aim of facilitating the deployment of satellite services, streamlining regulatory processes and maximizing flexibility for operators to meet customer needs, and promoting efficient use of spectrum and orbital resources. The Space Agency will also serve as a focal point for coordination with other US government agencies on issues of space policy and governance, and will support the Office of International Affairs for meetings with other countries, international organizations, and foreign government officials involving space policy matters. .
It may seem a little strange that the FCC regulates space, but it actually makes a lot of sense. The agency is responsible for regulating transmissions, especially interstate (making it the natural regulator of internet stuff), and satellites transmit a lot of data. In fact, with hundreds or thousands more adding up each year, they are probably one of the fastest growing sources of data transfer.
While the likes of the FAA, NASA and the Pentagon also have their fingers in this pie, when it comes to making sure orbital platforms don’t interfere with each other or surface communications, the FCC is the right tool for the job. (Though how far that job extends is an open question.)
But until recently, space was a fairly small niche in their work. Now they field applications for satellite approval from hundreds of companies and research centers, manage spectrum for networks of Comsats thousands strong, and try to make sure all that wireless traffic doesn’t drown out anything important. Then there’s the whole space debris thing, which is another story. But also important.
In any case, it makes perfect sense for the FCC to build out a space-focused agency that, as part of its work, negotiates and cooperates with other countries—the old International Bureau job. We will hear more about as the official milestones are reached in the coming months.