January 12, 2023

FCC Creates the Space Bureau

2 min

With a metaphorical sweep of a pen (actually, a 4-0 commission vote), FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel moved to eliminate the agency's International Bureau and create a new Space Bureau plus an Office of International Affairs (OIA). This decision moves all satellite- and space-related work to the new bureau, while placing the agency's long-standing international telecommunications policy work into a smaller office within the agency's organizational structure. The agency's goal is to "promote a competitive and innovative global telecommunications marketplace via space services."

The OIA will manage the other non-space-related functions of the former International Bureau, such as 214 international telecommunications authority, submarine cable authorizations, and foreign ownership regulation. These latter functions, while important holistically for major telecommunications carriers, do not generally require a large amount of staff time to manage. Conversely, the space and satellite work at the agency has grown significantly over the past half-decade, prompting the agency to hire more staff (including technical staff) and impose for the first time annual regulatory fees on non-U.S.-licensed satellite operators to help cover the cost of the additional work.

The new Space Bureau will be the focal point of space- and satellite-related policy work—including notice and comment rulemaking proceedings—and will process satellite, spacecraft, and earth station license applications. The FCC in recent weeks initiated a rulemaking proceeding to streamline these applications as part of the agency's focus on "streamlining regulatory processes and maximizing flexibility for operators to meet customer needs."

The FCC has not yet announced staffing for the two newly created entities, something that will indicate how much work and authority the chairwoman intends then each to have. Traditionally under the agency's organizational structure, some consider a bureau more commanding than an office, though some offices (such as the Office of Engineering and Technology) are viewed as almost at the same level as a bureau. The agency's notice does indicate that the work of the International Bureau's Satellite Division will be divided into three divisions (Satellite Programs and Policy, Satellite Licensing, and Earth Station Licensing), likely in consideration of the enlarged space- and satellite-related licensing and policy work the industry has asked the agency to undertake.

Creating a Space Bureau also serves to place the agency at the forefront of the administration's efforts to develop a national space policy, which currently is managed by a number of different agencies, including the FAA and the Department of Commerce.

The agency still must seek congressional and other approvals for this reorganization, and publish a formal notice in the Federal Register.