In the days since the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, there have been numerous articles and discussions about what Brexit means to the global economy, immigration and human rights, but little focus on telecommunications or more specifically on the impact on satellite operators. This lack of focus may be for many reasons but one important reason has been the role that Ofcom, the United Kingdom’s progressive communications regulator, has paid in setting a solid framework for satellite operators who choose to utilize the U.K. as a licensing and International Telecommunication Union filing administration. And with the realization of Brexit there is no reason to believe that Ofcom’s role as a leader in this area will change. However, there could be many other impacts that need to be considered by the satellite industry. While these are early days, below are some items satellite operators should consider.
– Free movement of goods and people: Since the U.K. is no longer subject to the EU’s guarantees of the free movement of people and goods, we may see the introduction of visa requirements into and out of the EU and the United Kingdom as well the imposition of additional tariffs and fees. This may introduce increased administrative burdens and costs on businesses on people and goods going in and out of the United Kingdom to or from the EU.
– Participation in European Union events and participation in governance: Traditionally, U.K. operators, as part of the European Union were able to participate and, because of the high status of the Ofcom in telecommunications, have a key role in developing telecommunications policies in the European Union. Such participation will now be limited. Perhaps more importantly is that the European Union will now have the chance for another regulator, perhaps one not as enlightened, to step forward to be a leader in the development of EU telecommunications policies, including areas such as spectrum, which has been critical to the success of the satellite industry in the European Union.
– Leveraging benefits of EU telecommunications directives: Today U.K. satellite operators rely on the benefits of many EU telecommunications directives in large part to obtain and provide telecommunications services and access to essential facilities. With the Brexit it is unlikely that these benefits will be fully available to U.K. companies and EU companies who rely on United Kingdom entities for these benefits.
– Use of United Kingdom entity to obtain authorizations in other countries: The general principle in Europe has been to enable the use of a single corporate entity to obtain authorizations in all countries in the EU. With the United Kingdom leaving the EU, it is unlikely that the country will remain such an entity. This may require new corporate entities to be set up over time across the EU for U.K. operators and in the U.K. for other EU operators.
There is no question that the June 23 Brexit vote has changed the face of history and will have a direct impact on U.K. and EU satellite and related telecommunications service operators. Only time will tell the true impact, but it is critical for satellite operators who operate in the European Union to prepare early; now is the time.
Jennifer Manner is EchoStar’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Manner currently chairs the Satellite Industry Association (SIA). Her views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of EchoStar, Georgetown or SIA.