Memorandum submitted by ASTRA Marketing
1. ASTRA is Europe's leading satellite system.
Owned and operated by Societe Europeenne des Satellites (SES),
based in Luxembourg, ASTRA transmits to over 80 million homes
across Europe, including over eight million homes in the British
Isles. Digital satellite via ASTRA represents the largest digital
television platform in the British Isles, serving over five million
2. A growing part of ASTRA's business is
the provision of broadband interactive services throughout Europe.
This system facilitates communications between sites regardless
of geographical location. Many broadband interactive users will
have a large number of dispersed sites. Others, especially in
rural or remote areas, may simply have poor access to other means
of broadband type infrastructures.
3. Broadband interactive services represent
an important step change in technology and we believe that services
of this type will be crucial to competitiveness in the future.
ASTRA offers users the ability to communicate in both directions
to other users regardless of location or access to infrastructure,
in the UK or throughout Europe. To join the system, users only
require a low cost Satellite Interactive Terminal consisting of
a transceiver and a small dish. The system is extremely cost-efficient
in use, paying only for the exact amount of bandwidth used and
is easily scalable, sites can be deployed quickly (subject to
prevailing licence agreements) and integrated into existing networks.
1. ASTRA welcomes the Government's publication
of a White Paper on reform of the communications industry. The
industry moves very rapidly and is constantly adapting to keep
pace with changing patterns of demand and evolutions in the understanding
and use of new technologies. As a key player in the industry,
we want to see the UK achieve the most effective communications
2. The speed of technological change is
such that any system of regulation proposed for this sector must
ensure that it is flexible, globally relevant and alert to the
competitiveness challenges we all face. We believe that such a
system requires a genuine partnership between industry and government,
with clear recognition of the roles and responsibilities of each.
3. ASTRA therefore very much welcomes the
commitment in the White Paper to roll back regulation and, in
particular, the proposal to "reduce the regulatory burden
upon communications operators by using general authorisations
rather than individual licences wherever possible" (paragraph
8.8, page 80).
4. Nevertheless, we are concerned that the
White Paper may not recognise that the use of spectrum does not
always require individual licences, as seems implied in section
8.8.2. To the contrary, there is clear acknowledgement of the
numerous decisions of the European Conference of Post and Telecoms.
Administrations that make use of spectrum can be exempted from
licensing or subject to general authorisations under conditions
where there is no risk of harmful interference, which can be accomplished
through technical conditions or dedicated frequency allocations.
5. In particular, the CEPT has adopted a
decision on licensing exemption for classes of satellite earth
stations referred to as "VSATs, SITs and SUTs", CEPT/ERC
Decisions (00) 03, 04 and 05. These classes of earth stations
will be major instruments for delivering broadband services, and
we urge that the UK Government expeditiously consider implementing
this CEPT decision, as well as including this concept in the results
of its White Paper inquiry.
6. However, the practical details of the
proposals suggest that full implementation of this important new
regulatory principle may be several years away. Such a long timescale
raises the possibility that the UK will lose competitive advantage
by lagging too far behind its European neighbours and other major
global communications players.
1. ASTRA believes that there may well be
instances in which a faster reform of regulatory procedures would
be appropriate. While we cannot comment specifically on other
parts of the communications sector, our own broadband interactive
services represent an example of how faster reform might be secured.
2. ASTRA's broadband interactive services
are delivered through special terminals called "Satellite
Interactive Terminals" (SITs). At present, each SIT must
be licensed by the Radiocommunications Agency (RA). In the vast
majority of expected cases, licensing will be quick and easy.
Nevertheless, an organisation wishing to install a communications
network of, say, 200 identical terminals, will currently require
3. To date, there have been relatively few
licence applications for this new technology. ASTRA and its clients
have been able to spend time with RA officials and others to ensure
that each application was fully understood, that any issues of
detail were addressed individually and that each licence application
was progressed as smoothly as possible.
4. However, as the technology becomes more
widely adopted, licence applications will increase significantly
and the "bespoke" approach adopted to date will clearly
not be possible. Massively burdensome commitments for ASTRA, its
clients and end users of the new services may be created. The
RA may face resource issues, particularly as regards time elapsed
during the processing of licences. Users may be required to "queue"
for licences as a result. The UK's take-up of the technology may
be put at risk.
5. The individual nature of the current
licensing regime for SITs means that future growth of this innovative
and highly competitive new technology may be slowed by unnecessary
regulatory hurdles. In order to encourage adoption of this new
technology, and to ensure the best competitive advantage for the
UK, our view is that simplicity and transparency in the licensing
process should be confirmed at the earliest possible opportunity.
6. While the proposal for general authorisations
will help deliver such a process, ASTRA is concerned at the speed
of change. There is, at present, no definitive timetable for introduction
of legislation to establish OFCOM, the new regulator, and no clear
view about the timetable for then bringing in the changes to licensing
proposed in the White Paper.
7. We have urged the Government to examine
best practice in other European countries and to adopt the most
rapid and flexible model of licensing available. In common with
many others in this sector, we have offered to work with regulators
to ensure that such ease of licensing is properly balanced by
a duty of appropriate investigation.
8. As proposals for OFCOM develop and more
detail emerges, we would like to see pilot schemes come into operation,
and early changes to existing regulations passed to allow for
agreements reached between industry and regulators to come into
force prior to the full transfer of powers to OFCOM. Rapid "class
licensing" arrangements are one such area where this is possible