Satellite spectrum, which has no national territorial limits, is coordinated and managed by the UN agency, International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and is subject to their Radio Regulations for satellite networks to operate without harmful interference.
What is ‘satellite spectrum’?
- Satellite spectrum is a shared commodity that is not given exclusively to any operator, and thus, does not meet the fundamental prerequisite for being auctionable.
- Satellite-network operations require bilateral/multilateral coordination and cooperation. In fact, India is signatory to a specific treaty for spectrum cooperation involving 194 other administrations.
- Spectrum for satcom services is authorised for ‘right-to-use’ by all nations across the world, and is allocated only by administrative process, at charges that essentially cover the cost of administration.
- The satellite spectrum bands are completely different from terrestrial bands. Once the filing is made and approval is granted, the spectrum band(s) in which the said satellite(s) will operate is pre-fixed. There are multiple satellites—sometimes tens, if not hundreds—operating in the same band, albeit in different orbital slots. By giving away that spectrum band through an auction-based mechanism, usage is restricted to only one service provider, whether for satellite use or terrestrial or mixed use case.
Why should we not go for satellite spectrum auction?
- When countries assign spectrum administratively for this critical sector, why should India—perhaps the most ambitious and progressive in its pursuit of a digital economy—adopt an obviously-retrograde measure?
- The situation is even more bewildering if we consider the government’s repeated and clearly demonstrated intent to help the satcom sector grow expeditiously, by enabling provisions for liberalisation, facilitating more private participation, and empowering satcom to become a mainstream communications technology for India.
- Currently, there is great emphasis on using satellite broadband to efficiently serve the unserved and underserved areas of the country. But it would come under threat if the said spectrum bands for the ISRO-GSAT satellite being used to deliver satellite broadband to serve those areas are auctioned to service providers, who would like to use it for either terrestrial purposes or any other application.
- The minister for communications and electronics & IT has stated that the public good is, without doubt, enabling ubiquitous digital connectivity to empower the citizens and facilitate digital inclusion.
Judiciary’s view on auctions –
A common misrepresentation is that the Supreme Court has mandated spectrum auction. The SC opined, in its advisory jurisdiction in the Presidential Reference in the 2G case, that “Auction, as a method of disposal of natural resources, cannot be declared to be a Constitutional mandate under Article 14 of the Constitution of India.” The SC further stated that “Auction may be the best way of maximising revenue, but revenue maximisation may not always be the best way to serve public good.”
India presently holds barely 2% of the global revenues of the satellite sector. If we are to meet the stated goal of achieving 10% of the sectoral revenues globally by 2030, and truly emerge as a leading digital economy where satcom is a vital pillar, an intent to auction satellite spectrum can only be a massive setback.
Source – Financial Express
QUESTION – On the lines of telecom spectrum auction, some groups are calling for satellite spectrum auction for commercialisation of the satellite networks space. Examine the issue in brief and what could be its impact on the national economy.