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Brussels, 9 July 2001

Commission supports development of competitive European satellite communications sector

The 5th Plenary meeting of the Satellite Action Plan in Brussels on July 9-10 gathers representatives of the satellite communications sector to discuss the present state and the perspective of satellite communications. Commissioner Erkki Liikanen today underlined in his address to the meeting the role played by satellite communications in the development of the Information Society. Chief Executive Officers (CEO's) of some of the most important satellite operators in Europe exposed their views about the future of this sector. This high ranking panel discussed with Commissioner Liikanen the efforts made by the European Community and the European Space Agency (ESA) to establish a coherent European Strategy for Space. The event was also the occasion for the launch of the "European Satellite Operators Association" by key European satellite operators with the objective to articulate the needs and positions of satellite communications, representing strategic service industry.

The Satellite Action Plan was launched in March 1997, as a tool for the implementation of a set of actions put forward by the Commission in its Communication on the EU Action Plan: Satellite communications in the Information Society. This Communication received support by the Council and the European Parliament. The actions proposed were divided into three lines:

  • Completion of the internal market

  • Reinforcement of the European position at an international level

  • Reinforcement of EU R&D support and applications development.

Dedicated working groups created under the Action plan allow for regular exchanges between industry experts and Commission representatives. These groups have in the past helped to identify difficulties encountered by the satellite communication sector and have led to initiating corrective measures. In addition, the Satellite Action Plan Plenary meetings are open too a larger audience and gather each year about 150 representatives from public and private stakeholders. This year's meeting was devoted to "Assessing the Space-Based Contribution to Radio-communications Services". It was opened by eight CEO's from the most important operators providing services in Europe together with Commissioner Erkki Liikanen. Erkki Liikanen said, "European players are coming to the fore front in satellite communications, a strategic industry from which Europe cannot afford to be left out".

Dedicated sessions of the Plenary meeting covers current key issues in satellite communications, such as:

  • Regulation of networks and content, taking into account the important role played by satellites in TV broadcasting and the nature of new systems providing broadband and interactive access to the Internet.

  • Overall management of scarce resources (frequencies and orbital slots) where commercial interests tend to make the situation increasingly complex. Efficient use of these resources and equitable access for all countries is a crucial issue impacting heavily on the satellite communications sector. The Spectrum Decision currently under co-decision with Council and Parliament was presented as a platform to improve European management of frequencies.

  • Free circulation of satellite terminals and services: Implementation of the directive on radio terminals, the new regulatory framework for electronic communications and the recent communication on satellite dishes are significant contributions towards this end.

  • New technologies and applications: Identification of key developments in the satellite communications sector. The joint efforts by the Commission and ESA were presented, which aim at establishing a coherent space policy. The activities of a joint task force on advanced mobile services set up for this purpose were reported.

Radio-communications services have gone through rapid change in the past few years. Today 30 million households in Western Europe receive satellite television and broadband data communication using satellites are announced for a near future. Factors influencing the development of the sector are complex. European industry is significantly contributing to develop satellite communications and stays at the forefront of these developments. Commissioner Liikanen underlined the importance for Europe to retain its competitive advantage. Satellite communications are an important means of communications with specific advantages over other means, for instance for less populated areas where terrestrial networks are difficult to deploy on a commercial basis. Satellites are strategic they not only serve communications, but also positioning and navigation services, Earth observation, environmental monitoring, crisis management, as well as defence and security applications.

Mutual understanding and co-operation between the EU and the private sector is vital to ensure positive developments in the satellite communications sector and the Satellite Action Plan remains a key tool for this today. The annual plenary meetings enable both parties to take stock of developments and to set orientations for further action.

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