back to article Having ended America's broadband woes, the FCC now looks to space

America's comms watchdog has served notice to would-be satellite network providers that it won't abide any more unauthorized launches and orbiting relays. The Federal Communications Commission on Friday issued an enforcement advisory [PDF] warning organizations it will take action against anyone who tries to offer a satellite- …

  1. corestore

    Since when does the FCC regulate satellite launches?! Wouldn't that be down to the... FAA or something?

    And, there's a space treaty which has been in force for a long time and which places the responsibility for regulating commercial space activities on the country *from which they are launched*.

    Americans sometimes have funny ideas about this stuff - I seem to remember a small kerfuffle a few years ago where the US purported to assert the right to regulate the sale of satellite images, even when they were taken from a foreign-owned satellite and offered for sale overseas.

    1. Ole Juul Silver badge

      "Since when does the FCC regulate satellite launches?"

      Probably since they started using radio for satellite communication. If you were to launch a satellite without any radio contact it would probably be OK, but ....

    2. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

      The satellite operator is US-based which means the FCC, FAA and/or NASA does in fact have jurisdiction over their activities. In our case, as a Canadian-based operator with FULLY ITAR-free space launch hardware and ITAR-free comms and imaging satellite manufacturing, I can tell the FCC/FAA/NASA to go STUFF IT and launch from off the coast of British Columbia (i.e. a Province within Canada) and sell my imagery and sat-comms to almost ANYONE.

      I only need to notify the CAN-DOT (Canadian Department of Transport) AND the CSA (Canadian Space Agency) and some other world launch oversight committees to ensure my launch is NOT mistaken for an ICBM launch. I would also notify US, Russian Chinese, French, UK missile sites (i.e. NORAD, ESA, etc) to ensure they KNOW my launch is a CIVILIAN operation and NOT a military one because having a semi-automatic Launch-ICBM-on-Warning scenario in response my space craft systems deployment MIGHT BE a bad outcome for everyone.

      Other than that, I can tell anyone else to simply go stuff it! I'll be launching on X-date at Y-time to Z-orbit! Come see the live webstream and download all the free 6cm resolution 8k by 8k IR and Optical band images!

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        The transmitter in a US located base station presumably would require an FCC issued license, and that seems to be essentially the FCC's formal position. Things being as they are, the Canadian Space Agency probably would work out the other details with NASA and others, as in section 5(3)(d) of the Canadian Space Agency Act.

        1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

          @tom dial - If you operate a transmitter in any country you have to apply to the locals for the correct operating license. Part of this is frequency allocation as well as other technical details such as power output, etc. While the ferals are catching flack about this, it is actually true no matter where the transmitter is located, just the name of the agency is different.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            " have to apply to the locals for the correct operating license."

            FCC via El Reg, "...any satellite that wants to communicate with a base station in the US needs its clearance to operate..."

            Not exactly.

            The ground station might use a laser beam to uplink to their unauthorized satellite.

            Or they might lay out black and white blankets in an empty field to communicate via bar codes to their spy camera equipped satellite.

            They might purchase airtime on somebody else's existing licensed uplink station.

            Or just use an illegal mobile station that can't be found, due to being aimed up.

            It's entirely possible to give the FCC 'the finger', even from within the USA. The FCC retribution would be through the concept of 'Three Felonies A Day'. So a 260 year sentence awaits, even if you've correctly skirted the laws.

    3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Black Helicopters


      Wants to make sure they can see all the traffic on the net. After all the work they went through installing those fiber taps in the secret rooms at AT&T, it would be unfortunate if traffic could be routed out of the US via satellite links on which they didn't have taps.

    4. Cuddles Silver badge

      "Since when does the FCC regulate satellite launches?!"

      If only there was an article we just read that covered questions like this:

      "The FCC notes that regardless of where it is launched, any satellite that wants to communicate with a base station in the US needs its clearance to operate"

  2. JLV Silver badge

    izznt that "You either believe broadcasters should be allowed to innovate, or you don't,"'s shithead Pai FCC?

    Hard to say - is the FCC doing its job here and keeping orbits safe and clear? Or is Swarm stepping on Pai's sweetie Sinclair's toes somehow?

    Anyone know? That's the problem w being a partisan prick - people have a hard time trusting you later.

    1. Trollslayer Silver badge

      Pai is shamelessly corrupt and the Republicans protect him since they make money out of it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Before Trump I'd have suggested that it was wise to follow FCC rules but with the Republicans agenda of "decreased Government interference" in business this certainly seems like Pai making sure that any money goes into the right pockets. The whole "decreased Government interference" in business seems to be applied most to Trump supporters, as far as I can tell.

    2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge


      That this was the US ISP/cable/broadband service providers reminding the FCC commissioners that they control their retirement benefits seems obvious, but I don't think the Swarm bothers them so much as Musk's much more ambitious high-speed satellite network. If this gets off the ground all the low-speed US broadband and TV networks will be toast.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: @JLV

        "If this gets off the ground all the low-speed US broadband and TV networks will be toast."

        The only way this would be an existential threat to US broadband would be if Musk solved that pesky problem with end user upload speeds. Has he?

  3. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    American laws supersede* the laws of physics...

    ... as every fule kno.

    * I might once have said 'Trump', but not now obv.

  4. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

    correct me if I am wrong, but this really sounds like how the teamsters used to do business.....

    Hand us over brown envelopes stuffed with cash, or you don't do business with the USA... we dont care who you are, or where you are, but if you want to talk to anyone our bit of land, it has to come via our approval?

  5. DougS Silver badge

    This is targeted at rogue broadband mini satellites

    Like the test ones recently launched without FCC approval.

    Those will require FCC approval unless the company doing the launch doesn't have any nexus in the US, and they won't communicate with any US earth stations (or US consumer/business receivers) Someone wanting to go to all the expense to set up a worldwide constellation of broadband satellites isn't going to want to totally lock themselves out of the US market.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is targeted at rogue broadband mini satellites

      The US is a big market but they might be safer to do just that. Sadly, that'll increase the isolation that Trump and his cohort of crazy want.

      1. Grikath Silver badge

        Re: This is targeted at rogue broadband mini satellites

        That's the thing, isn't it? The world has *changed*, and when it comes to market, there's places now that are way more interesting than the US market. And those places don't really care about what the USofA thinks. In fact, they're known to be able to shoot back..

      2. DougS Silver badge

        Re: This is targeted at rogue broadband mini satellites

        Just ignoring the US only lets you off the hook from the FCC. You don't really believe that no other countries (or group of countries like the EU) doesn't have similar regulations, do you?

        Allowing space to be a free for all would be a disaster. All it takes is a few collisions that put debris everywhere and space would rapidly become unusable for everyone since there would be no way to track all the bits the size of a BB flitting around at thousands of miles per hour.

        This what a half ounce of plastic does to solid aluminum at 15,000 mph...

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: This is targeted at rogue broadband mini satellites

          "Allowing space to be a free for all would be a disaster."

          No one's asking for a free for all. There are international bodies to oversee the locals around the world. People are just a little taken aback by the FCCs later claims that they can control those other local governments, ie claiming they have to approves a launch or frequency allocation handled in another sovereign domain. Certain US agencies sometimes seem to forget they are still just "locals" on the world stage. Most countries have their own satellites nowadays and there are many more places they can launch from other than the USA.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This what a half ounce of plastic does to solid aluminum at 15,000 mph...

          unless I miscalculate, the kinetic energy of this plastic fragment is about 0.3MJ

          1. Paul Kinsler

            Re: the kinetic energy of this plastic fragment is about ...

            ... one tenth of an English Breakfast.

            Doesn't sound so impressive now, does it? :-)

            1. Paul Kinsler

              Re: ... one tenth of an English Breakfast.

              ... although you'd have to eat it in about 4 microseconds to get a more reasonable equivalence.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: This is targeted at rogue broadband mini satellites

      "isn't going to want to totally lock themselves out of the US market."

      The US market is a "nice to have", not a "must have".

  6. onefang Silver badge

    "US satellite operators should also be aware that, if operations using earth stations outside the United States are contemplated, regulatory authorities in other countries may decline to issue an earth station authorization until a US space station authorization is issued."

    Does that ever actually happen?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      In Client States? Yes of course. Whatever the master says, the slave does.

  7. Mike 16 Silver badge

    Does that ever actually happen?

    @onefang: I suppose it might if the alternative is losing out on deeply discounted (subsidized by U.S. Taxpayers) top of the line military hardware for their love and peace patrols. Or the threat of a "terrorist money laundering" investigation of some top officials might sway the decision. It is indeed brown envelopes all around.

  8. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge


    Pai the backhander

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Just

      Pai the backhander.

      And a new nickname is coined!

  9. Louis Schreurs BEng

    so some murrican shyster is claiming US jurisdiction in space

    murrican law is Universal, my @$$

  10. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

    I can STILL launch off-coast because I could sell imagery, cell phone service internet and video broadband, etc to countries such as China, India, Russia, South America who be HAPPY to pay for it...OR...I can just GIVE IT ALL AWAY FOR FREE! I don't mind doing that !!! My sats are RAD hardened, power de-coupled from Earth and COMPLETELY commands or control WOULD BE ACCEPTED FROM EARTH AT ALL - They can orbit and de-orbit all by themselves!!!! Unlike OTHER operators, I like putting BIG SUPER RAD-HARDENED MULTI-CORE CISC chips on my sats and comms systems, so the things can fail gracefully, ADAPT by themselves AND simply work for DECADES and DECADES at any bandwidth.....just remember to put big antennae for multiple frequencies from 300 MHz all the way up to 60 GHz!

    ON a moral basis, I would at least TRY to find an orbit that's out of the way of all the other satellite operators and keep my RF/EM communications/emissions OUT OF THE WAY of everyone else too. With Software defined radio I can code for ANY frequency-hopping and data packet structure using techniques DESIGNED to NOT cause interference...IT"S CHEAP AS DIRT TO DO!

    If I can do it, ANY operator can do it too!

    i.e. keep Space and the EM Spectrum CLEAN!

    1. Chris Hance

      You seem to be having signal attenuation issues.

      Are your El Reg posts coming through your satellites? Perhaps you forgot to "super rad harden" the Ascii capitalization bit?

  11. Identity
    Black Helicopters

    I should think

    space is outside their jurisdiction!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The IEEE sheds some more light on the matter. Apparently the FCC was concerned the satellites were to small to be reliably tracked. On the other hand, they had no problem with earlier launches of smaller satellites. It seems that their approval process is inconsistent and predicated on their whim on that day. Hard to plan when they keep changing the rules.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Maybe the others agreed to sell the data they harvested to 3rd parties to sell on to others. Maybe SWARM don't and therefore Pai thinks they are Anti-American.

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