Yesterday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced a plan to create a new Space Bureau at the Commission. While the Commission claims the announcement is “not about taking on new responsibilities at the FCC,” this development, coupled with the ongoing proceedings for In-space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM), indicates that the FCC is moving toward regulating much more than spectrum.

“It’s way past time for the FCC to stand up a separate bureau to handle spectrum allocation and licensing issues for the space industry,” said James E. Dunstan, TechFreedom’s General Counsel. “The FCC is being inundated with requests for additional spectrum and license applications that have overwhelmed the International Bureau’s ability to keep pace with the second space race.”

The problem, however, is that the FCC appears to want to play a larger role in space than just being the spectrum traffic cop,” Dunstan said. “The Commission has no statutory authority to regulate operations and activities conducted on-orbit, outside of their role in spectrum allocation and licensing, and somewhat questionable authority to require satellite communications systems to abide by orbital debris mitigation requirements.” 

“It is also unclear whether the FCC has the expertise necessary to promulgate rules beyond those currently applied to satellite systems,” Dunstan continued. “This is in sharp contrast to the decades of study and development in both the government and private sector of innovative space operations. As a result, the Commission should avoid wading into different areas of regulation during this transformational moment in the history of spaceflight.”

“If the FCC stays in its regulatory lane, and resists the temptation of trying to morph itself into the Federal Space Commission, it can make positive contributions to the new space age,” Dunstan concluded. “On the one hand, this might only be a symbolic move that won’t result in actual change. If, however, the Space Bureau can be constructed to speed processing of satellite applications and break the ‘three-year cycle’ of licensing that’s been the norm for decades, it could be a huge leap forward.”


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