I rise in opposition to H.R. 1338, the Satellite and Telecommunications Streamlining Act.
As chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, I have prioritized ensuring U.S. leadership in space as we face growing competition from actors around the world.
I am concerned this bill would jeopardize our leadership in this field and could result in redundancy, duplication, and confusion for the commercial space industry.
Let me begin by stating that I believe this bill is well-intentioned, and by emphasizing that the Science Committee supports the vast majority of the provisions in this bill. We absolutely should support the growing commercial space sector by seeking ways to streamline and quicken licensing processes for commercial space operations, including the use of spectrum by spacecraft. As the Trump Administration recognized in Space Policy Directive-2, streamlining the licensing process will promote economic growth, minimize uncertainty, and encourage American leadership in space commerce.
However, this bill goes beyond that and also includes a significant and unprecedented grant of authority to the FCC, explicitly directing the agency to issue rules related to both “space safety and orbital debris” that applicants must comply with to obtain a license for use of FCC-controlled spectrum.
The FCC has exclusive jurisdiction over the licensing of spectrum use, but the language in the bill would extend to that reach to the design and operation of any space object that carries an FCC-licensed system.
To explain what a massive overreach this is, this would be equivalent to allowing the FCC to regulate the design and operations of tractor-trailers simply because the driver uses a CB system that uses FCC-controlled spectrum. Not only would this new authority fly in the face of existing efforts to coordinate space safety and orbital debris roles across the federal government, but it would task the FCC with regulatory responsibilities that are outside of the agency’s areas of expertise.
In 2019, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr noted a range of other agencies with expertise and jurisdiction over the launch and tracking of satellites. He asked “What are the right agencies and experts to answer these questions? Should the FCC be one of the lead agencies? Should [the FCC] play a supporting role and coordinating role instead?” These important questions still exist today.
This expansion of authorities could bog down FCC’s already-taxed staff with new roles that would distract from FCC’s primary function of managing spectrum. Rather than create a quicker, more streamlined licensing approach, this bill complicates the licensing process by adding new requirements with which the FCC does not have experience. This could create a process that is more cumbersome for commercial space operators to navigate, especially for new entrants--a result which would run contrary to the stated intent of the bill.
Several federal agencies have a role in licensing and authorizing space activities, most of which fall within the Science Committee’s jurisdiction.
Space Policy Directives 2 and 3, issued during the Trump Administration and continued into the Biden Administration, direct a concerted effort to ensure that federal agencies have clear roles in space activities and operate in a coordinated manner.
This bill would undermine those efforts by giving FCC authority to engage in subject matter that is more effectively and efficiently addressed by other agencies.
Additionally, this bill would undermine the National Orbital Debris Implementation Plan, issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy just last year, which directed FCC to take a supporting role in four of 43 implementation actions.
The Science Committee recently held a hearing with stakeholders on the state of the commercial space sector and considered how Congress can ensure continued U.S. leadership in commercial space activities.
A witness at that hearing told us that “[t]he FCC has had great difficulty in keeping up with the licensing of spectrum, and to put more on their plates in areas that they are going to have to come up to speed on, I think, is going to slow those activities down substantially.”
In short, this response is why I must oppose this bill.
We must be certain that federal agencies are working hand-in-hand to support our commercial space industry and are working within their areas of expertise to obtain the most efficient result possible. This bill does not do so.
Unfortunately, the bill before the House today goes a step too far and still contains a massive and problematic expansion of FCC’s authorities.
Therefore, I must oppose this bill and I urge my colleagues to do the same.