Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced on Nov. 3 plans for a new space bureau that will better support the needs of a growing satellite industry and promote long-term technical capacity at the FCC.

The agency plans to reorganize its International Bureau, and in the process establish a new Space Bureau and a standalone Office of International Affairs. The new Space Bureau will be responsible for ensuring that agency resources are appropriately aligned to fulfill its statutory obligations, improve coordination across the Federal government, and support the 21st-century satellite industry.

“The satellite industry is growing at a record pace, but here on the ground our regulatory frameworks for licensing them have not kept up,” said Rosenworcel in a press release.

The FCC’s plans for new Space Bureau come as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigates the FCC’s satellite licensing framework and environmental review process for large constellations of satellites.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires Federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of major Federal actions before making decisions and to involve the public. If a proposal is in a category that the FCC has excluded from review, however, it will not be analyzed.

“FCC officials said that proposals for large quantities of satellites are excluded, but FCC hasn’t assessed whether its exclusions are still appropriate,” the report stated.

Among its recommendation, GAO advised that the agency review and document whether licensing large constellations of satellites normally does not have significant effects on the environment. It also recommended that the FCC establish a timeframe and process for a periodic review of its categorical exclusion under NEPA, and identify and make public factors FCC considers when determining if an extraordinary circumstance is present.

The FCC currently has applications for 64,000 new satellites, and last year the agency saw an eightfold increase in applications for fixed satellite service gateway earth stations, which deliver data between satellite and terrestrial systems. The FCC has also received applications for new space ventures like lunar landers.

By separating satellite policy from the International Bureau, the agency acknowledged the role of satellite communications in advancing domestic communications policy and achieving U.S. broadband goals.

“A new Space Bureau at the FCC will ensure that the agency’s resources are appropriately aligned to fulfill its statutory obligations, improve its coordination across the federal government, and support the 21st-century satellite industry,” Rosenworcel said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.