Resolution of Issues Facing Singapore and Malaysia Concerning the Licensing and Privatization of Orbital Slots
by Stella Bloom
Malaysia and Singapore should both favor the sub-licensing of orbital slots to private companies and consortiums, because companies from both countries have been big players in the launching of satellite systems. A Malaysian company has partnered with a Canadian company and a U.S. company to form Orbcomm, which will launch 36 LEOs that will provide paging and e-mail services through 13 licensees covering almost 100 countries. Singapore Telecom is one of the top ten investors in ICO Global Communications, which will launch 10 MEO satellites to provide voice communications throughout the world. In addition, Asia Pacific Mobile Communications, a consortium run by government-affiliated state-owned firms in Singapore and China will use GEO satellites to supply mobile telephone service in Southeast Asia. By 1997, Singapore Telecom was a major investor in multinational satellite projects in 21 countries.
However, Malaysia and Singapore will probably not favor the direct licensing of orbital slots to companies by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Such a licensing program would quickly become a bidding war, with companies from the richest countries winning all the choicest licenses. The present system favors developing nations because sponsoring countries, at little or no cost, are able to obtain orbital slots, which they preferentially allocate to consortiums composed at least partially of companies from their own countries.
Both countries should favor harmonization of the process by which individual countries sub-license their orbital slots. This is because much of the rogue launching of satellites in Asia has been by consortiums who expected to win licenses from their parent countries, but did not.
If the ITU adopts new measures for the more rapid allocation of satellite slots, both countries will disfavor any procedure for disqualifying a country for a slot due to delays in projects that are already underway. The Asian financial crisis has hit both countries hard. The launch of Measat 3 by Malaysia's Binariang has already been delayed. Disqualifying countries for orbital slots when projects are already underway will only worsen the problem of rogue satellite launchings in Asia.
Singapore and Malaysia's stances on the deployment of LEOs, GEOs and MEOs, and the problem of space debris
Malaysia and Singapore have both already had experience with the problem of deploying satellites that operate on frequencies used by existing satellites, so they should both be in favor of tighter controls on the deployment of satellites in violation of ITU recommendations. One of the three GEO Measat satellites owned by Binariang of Malaysia was designed to operate on a frequency already being used by a nearby Australian satellite, but the investors decided to launch anyway. Even worse, Singapore Telecom was an investor in the mainland China controlled consortium that launched ill-fated Apstar-1 and Apstar-2 in violation of ITU recommendations. Apstar-1, launched in 1994, threatened to interfere with US owned Rimsat and a Japanese satcom system. To make matters worse, 13 of Apstar-1's 24 transponders were subject to frequency interference from a Russian satellite that cut through the heart of its beam. Apstar-2, which exploded shortly after launch, would have been placed in orbit closer to Thailand's Thaicom I and II than recommended by the ITU to avoid signal interference.
Hopefully, the expense attendant upon both ill fated ventures will lead the two countries to enact legislation more tightly controlling the deployment of satellites by consortiums composed of companies incorporated in their respective countries. Great expense is involved when satellites are placed too close to other satellites, or when they are designed to operate on the same frequencies as nearby satellites. Redesign of a satellite that hasn't been launched yet is expensive, as is the inevitable delay in launch. If the satellite is launched anyway, the interference cuts back on the satellite's capacity, lessening the potential return on investment. Singapore and Malaysia have already learned the hard way that deployment of satellites in violation of ITU recommendations is expensive to all parties involved.
Singapore already has an agency, called TAS, which is responsible for the allocation and use of satellite orbits. Malaysia has also delegated to its Department of Telecommunications (JTM) the power to regulate the national use of the geo-stationary satellite orbit as well as satellites in orbit. The JTM will be replaced by an independent regulatory agency called the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission on April 1, 1999 when Malaysia's new Communications and Multimedia Act comes into effect. The government will pick four members for the commission, one from the government and three from the private sector. Hopefully, the commission members will not allow themselves to be compromised by their private-sector affiliations, or Malaysia will have a difficult time controlling any potential renegade launchings by Malaysian companies.
Malaysia and Singapore don't appear to have any clear policy on space debris yet. However, since companies from both countries have invested heavily in LEO and MEO consortiums, and since space debris is more of a problem for LEOs and MEOs than for GEOs, it is in both countries' interests to put in force measures to prevent the accumulation of space debris.
Singapore and Malaysia's views on the proper role of international organizations in facilitating public-private partnerships in the licensing and deploying of satellite technology
As a result of their experiences with launching satellites in violation of ITU recommendations, Malaysia and Singapore should favor the creation of a more efficient mechanism for determining satellite frequency interference prior to the design of satellites. Perhaps ITU members could lose their rights to complain of interference if they do not respond to advance publication in a timely manner.
It seems the governments themselves are not able to effectively control renegade companies that have decided to buck the ITU. However, Southeast Asia appears to have more respect for the WTO, which sponsored the recent World Trade Organization Telecom Trade Agreement. Since most of the recent problems appear to have occurred with satellites owned by private consortiums, Malaysia and Singapore may favor a World Trade Organization (WTO) based solution, as the WTO may hold more influence over such entities.
Singapore and Malaysia are also both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN has already begun a program to harmonize statistical definitions and data collection methods in order to make region-wide statistics more readily available to policy-makers and corporations, etc. Other potential facilitating organizations include the Asia Pacific Satellite Communications Council (APSCC) and the Global VSAT Forum.
Singapore and Malaysia's attitude toward protections and procedures for resolving and facilitating dispute settlements relating to telecom issues
Singapore and Malaysia both appear to respect the WTO. Unlike the ITU, which has no real enforcement power, the General Council of the WTO meets as a dispute settlement body. The WTO is therefore the logical organ for handling telecom related dispute settlements. This body already has the power to authorize retaliation against countries that control or own a certain percentage stake in consortiums that launch satellites in violation of ITU recommendations.
ASEAN could also conceivably evolve dispute resolution powers similar to those of the European Court of Justice. Regional bodies often work when global institutions fail. Another regional organization which might conceivably evolve into a rule-making body with interpretative, enforcement and adjudicative powers is APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation). However, at least one authority in the field believes such a proposition would be "met with strenuous opposition by many of its members."
At present however, the WTO is the existing body most likely to effectuate telecom related issues. Indeed, it is believed that Singapore agreed to open its telecom markets by the year 2000 largely as the result of pressure from a WTO Negotiation Group.
The strongest factor that will force Southeast Asian nations to resolve their telecom issues is economic. Because LEO and MEO satellite networks put up by consortiums from other world regions fly over Southeast Asia as they orbit, Asian-led LEOs and MEOs will be facing worldwide competition for their local market. Several satellite operators from the Asia-Pacific, including Singapore, are already in talks to establish an organization of regional operators that will cooperate and coordinate to develop a regional stance on policy positions at ITU World Radio Communications Conferences.