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Member of the European Commission responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society

"Satellite Communications and EU policies"

Satellite Action Plan, Plenary Session 2001

Brussels, 9 July 2001


I am pleased to meet the satellite communication community for the second time in this forum

Your presence - and the participation of the CEO's who will take the floor in a moment - is a good indication that the Satellite Action Plan addresses the right issues, regarding satellite communications.

In order to define and implement a balanced and dynamic information society policy in Europe, this kind of industrial consultation and debate is obviously necessary. Radio-communications services have gone through rapid changes these past few years and the European Community cannot afford to neglect the impact on and the role of satellite communications.

Recent Development in the market place make mutual understanding between the Commission and the sector even more necessary.

One figure should be enough to convince us that satellite communications are a significant sector for the European Community : 30 millions households in the European Union receive satellite television directly. This represents 20% of all TV households, EU-wide. In addition, TV content are also feeded via satellites into cable-TV networks that reaches some 50 million households in the European Union.

However, recent developments are complex and trends are not uniform:

  • growth in data transmission,

  • difficulties experienced by the "constellation" generation of mobile communications satellite systems in the last few years,

  • significant commercial success of satellite broadcasting

  • promising projects focusing on broadband, multimedia services.

All this makes one thing clear : if any political initiative is to be efficient, then it must take into account these trends. However, it would be wrong to jump too quickly to conclusions. One objective of this gathering is discuss jointly results and perspectives of the sector, to consolidate our assessment.

In this landscape made of successes, difficulties and questions marks, I am pleased to observe that European players are coming to the front of the scene. I am confident that the high level representatives who have accepted my invitation will offer you in a few moments details on how they achieved this success; and indications of how they intend to carry on. The increased profile of European players deserves political support, because it benefits European people in terms of growth, employment and access to high quality services. And this is where the Community has to play a leading role.

Satellite communication in the context of EU policies

As you know, satellite communications are impacted by various policies led by the Commission : information society policy, including parts of the research policy, industrial policy on space and the current establishment of a European Strategy for Space, jointly with the European Space Agency.

    Information society policy

Satellites are a significant network infrastructure for information society services like broadcasting, personal communication, data, internet access, etc. The dynamic development of satellite communications is one of the key factors for obtaining the appropriate access to these services for European people, especially in rural areas where terrestrial networks are difficult to deploy on a commercial basis. But not only there, as the number of satellite dishes to be seen in urban areas demonstrates.

    Maintaining and developing a space system manufacturing capability

Providing the satellite communication services you will be discussing over the next two days requires the availability of advanced satellite systems.

Aside from the US industry, the European industry is the only one in the world having the capability to develop complete turnkey satellite communication systems. It is of major importance for Europe to maintain its industrial capability, and to have our industry well-positioned on the emerging markets for digital satellite communications systems, especially considering the strong competition from the US players.

Thus, from an industrial policy viewpoint, satellite systems are a strategic industry from which Europe cannot be absent. The High Level Space Industry Panel has been established as the interlocutor with the Commission, in order to address this issue.

    European Strategy for Space

Satellites play a crucial role in various services outside the mere communication field: positioning and navigation services, Earth observation, support to environmental monitoring and crisis management of disasters. They imply high technology capacities and are involved in defence and security applications.

Satellites are strategic. A good example of this dimension of space-based services is the ongoing definition of the European navigation programme Galileo. This European system will add to the existing global navigation satellite system new services. It will be independent from - but compatible with - GPS.

Also, with my colleagues Mr Busquin and Mrs de Palacio, I have been working over one year now on a European Strategy for Space. The Commission and the Council decided that political and technical activities of the Community and ESA should lead to a co-ordinated approach. I think this is wise.

It will not be an easy task, but good will on all sides should lead to success. A report on this issue will be presented by both organisations to the Council and the ESA-Council respectively before the end of this year. My view is that the socio-economic impact of satellite communications world-wide and within Europe should be taken into account in this strategy. Therefore I want to see in this strategy that regulatory policy and support to new technologies, applications and services are regarded as essential elements. Another aspect is the availability of radio spectrum which is essential to the satellite sector and where we need a co-ordinated Community approach.

Today's relevance of the Satellite Action Plan in its 3 fields

As an interface between the Commission and the satellite communications sector, the Satellite Action Plan is a very useful forum. From the very beginning, in 1997, it has dealt with three issues of major importance for the satellite communication sector : completion of the internal market, reinforcement of the European position at international level, and R&D.

Regarding the internal market, I would like to mention several aspects of the Community's activities impacting satellite communications, starting with :

  • the Decision on Spectrum policy

  • the new Communications Directives

As you know, both are currently being negotiated with the Council and Parliament. Major milestones have been reached at the last Telecom Council, on the way down towards final adoption.

I would like to highlight a key point in the Spectrum Decision: since all satellite are frequency users, with regional if not global coverage, they will benefit a great deal from this new harmonisation tool.

The new regulatory framework for electronic communications is also extremely relevant for the satellite sector. Negotiations on the five directives are making good progress, and we are still hopeful of concluding them by the end of this year.

The new framework is designed to ensure that regulation promotes vigorous competition in electronic communications markets; competition in which the satellite sector has a key role to play. The new framework will make market access easier for all operators. In particular, the new authorisation directive should make a big difference in reducing the red tape which currently characterises many national licensing regimes. I see that these issues will be addressed in dedicated sessions of this plenary meeting. I look forward to the outcome, as modern licensing regimes are crucial for healthy, competitive markets.

Plus, we are ensuring that any barriers to the free movement and the use of satellite equipment are being removed, through the implementation of the directive on terminal equipment. The former process of promoting license exemptions for particular terminal equipment has been radically modified : free circulation is now the rule and not any more the exception.

Regarding broadcasting and contents: at the end of 2000, nearly half of the European TV households equipped with satellites dishes had already changed to digital television. Satellite is still the leading delivery mechanism for digital TV : satellite accounts for 75% of digital television households in the EU.

Thanks to interactivity, digital television may become a wider source of information and interaction, with offerings that have only been available on the Internet until now.

Due to the convergence of the telecommunications, media and information technology sectors, the Internet will increasingly be an outlet for audio-visual products. It is possible to send and receive audio-visual content via Internet, provided that sufficient capacity is available. On the Internet, broadcasters will have to compete with other content-providers. Of course broadband Internet connections are still quite rare : only a few percent of Europeans citizens have access for now, but you will have presentations focusing on promising projects this afternoon. Users will benefit from a two-way broadband high-speed connectivity via satellite and will be able to receive data, video, and audio.

Obviously those new platforms will only thrive if high quality contents are produced accordingly. On this front, the new eContent programme is an example of EU level action. eContent was adopted by Council at the end of 2000. It has a budget of 100 MEURO. It supports the creation and deployment of digital content on the global networks, paying special attention to multilingual, localised services, the wireless internet and the exploitation of content held by the public sector.

The Commission has also very recently adopted a Communication in which it sets out the right to use a satellite dish in the Internal Market, based on the free movement of services and goods, which are both fundamental freedoms provided by the Treaty of Rome. According to this communication, users should be free to use satellite dishes without undue technical, administrative, urban planning or tax obstacles.

Satellite dishes have indeed become an increasingly powerful, inexpensive and popular tool for receiving a growing range of services by satellite, both broadcasting and information society services. Given the cross-border nature of these services, the Commission attaches considerable importance to this issue in terms of economic and cultural exchanges and the dissemination of the new technologies in the context of the Internal Market, notably in view of the prospects for an enormous expansion of satellite reception in Europe.

As for the international level, the Commission will persist in its efforts to remove market access barriers on a global basis for satellite operators. The implementation of the GATS agreement on basic telecom services has to be monitored very closely. Also, the Community, as an adviser to the CEPT and a observer at ITU level, shall keep an eye on the global management of frequencies, which are vital to satellite systems.

In the specific field of research and development, there is no doubt that the European Space Agency is the core competence centre in Europe. The Framework Programme also allows research players to benefit from public support, and you are certainly aware that the current Commission proposal towards the 6th Framework Programme has identified space as a key research area.

Today, the IST programme represent about 50 M€ directly dedicated to satellite communications, and these activities are already co-ordinated with actions of the Space Agencies. Our actions in this field are obviously not intended to compete with those of the Space Agencies, but rather to complement them. In particular they will provide the space community with opportunities to establish closer links with the wider context of terrestrial communications and Information Society technologies developments.

I expect that the on-going development of a European Strategy for Space- jointly developed by the Commission and ESA - will further outline how tighter links can be established between the Community and ESA, to the benefit of the European satellite communication industry .

This plenary meeting will reflect the ongoing and future activities of the SAP

This two-day plenary session will cover the most critical aspects. The contributions of all speakers and the audience will help the Commission to determine policy on several issues :

how to tackle the evolving relationship between networks and contents in the case of satellite broadband communications ?

how to improve the management, on a global basis, of scarce resources like spectrum and orbital slots ?

how to enhance at all stages of the value chain the free circulation of equipment and services within the internal market?

how to target support for appropriate new technologies and applications, in order to contribute to the future competitiveness of European actors ?


On all of these fronts, the Commission is very active, whether by proposing legislation or by adopting measures like the ones I mentioned earlier.

However, the Commission cannot consider today's situation to be satisfactory : there is still a lot to be done in order to foster a competitive market for satellite communications both at world level and within the internal Market.

A knowledge-based society requires all possible means to provide and access information society services. Satellites have a role to play, which should be further defined. I have no doubt that this meeting will help us all in this respect.

Finally, we should not forget that we are all here to talk about market and policy, with a view on the future; so please help us to help you.

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