Bipartisan leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are working on two pieces of draft legislation that would rework Federal licensing and management regulation of the commercial satellite communications industry.

The draft legislation being prepared by committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and ranking member Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., would seek to promote competition, innovation, national security, the interests of consumers, and American leadership in the commercial satellite communications sector.

The draft legislation would modernize the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) satellite licensing rules and authorities under the Communications Act, promote responsible space management, incentivizing investment, and innovation, and advancing U.S. leadership in next-generation, satellite communications networks, the House members said.

The Satellite and Telecommunications Streamlining Act would require the FCC to come up with performance requirements, space safety, and orbital debris requirements for satellite licensees, give the FCC a one-year deadline to act on an application for a constellation of satellites and earth stations, and 180 days to act on a renewal application.

Separately, the Secure Space Act addresses national security issues. The draft bill would amend the Secure Trusted Communications Networks Act to prohibit the FCC from granting a license for satellite constellations “if the license or grant of market access would be held or controlled by an entity that produces or provides any covered communications equipment or service or an affiliate of such an entity, and for other purposes.”

American companies are at the forefront of developing and deploying broadband and other advanced communications services using satellite technologies, which is revolutionizing the communications marketplace. And according to Reps. Rodgers and Pallone, lawmakers “must streamline our regulatory processes to usher in a new era of American innovation and investment in this growing sector, particularly as our economic competitors like China race to dominate this industry, and must ensure our laws and regulations fully protect the public.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel welcomed the announcement of the draft bipartisan legislation. She explained that the smaller satellite constellations of today and tomorrow are bringing advanced communications services to some of the hardest-to-connect places in the United States.

“We have entered a new era in satellite communications,” Rosenworcel said in a press release. “While the FCC staff has done tremendous work in reviewing applications and simultaneously updating our rules from orbital debris to commercial space launch communications, the truth is that the laws were written to address a different satellite ecosystem. I welcome this bipartisan and bold effort by Congress to take on these modern challenges to ensure we capitalize on the amazing technological and economic opportunities at hand.”

Work on the House Energy and Commerce legislative drafts follow introduction earlier this year by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, of legislation to protect commercial satellites from cybersecurity threats. The Satellite Cybersecurity Act would direct the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Government Accountability Office to provide cybersecurity resources to commercial satellite owners and operators.

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