An analysis of satellite services policy-making in Britain.
The combination of technical advances and growing demand for modernised
communications infrastructures has led to the introduction of new types of husiness
communication services. The British Government continued its pioneering role in European
telecommunications with its release of six Specialised Satellite Service Operators' (SSSOs)
licences in October 1988. The results are assessed, through in-depth interviews and
extensive desk research, according to the Government's two main political ohjectives: to
encourage further competition in telecommunications and to stimulate the growth of
innovative new business services.
The policy problem for the government was to achieve these aims, while
protecting the PTO duopoly of BT and Mercury Communications Ltd. The result was a
regulatory compromise, which served to undermine the efforts of the early operators to
build innovative business network operations. At the same time, thanks to its role as
Signatory to the European satellite organisations, BT's dominance of the UK satellite
communications sector continued.
Observed from a pluralist perspective, an analysis of Britain's satellite service
policy process and implementation provides a clear illustration of the etrect of interest
groups on policy-making. The extension of liberalisation to the satellite services' sector
stemmed directly from the demands of putative service providers and large potential users.
Their persuasive arguments rested on the macro-economic and political henetits of new
The policy style which characterised the formulation and implementation of
the SSSO licensing was incrementalist This, in part, derived from the changing regulatory
environment of other European countries, but also from the responsiveness of policymakers
to continual demands for further liberalisation. The recent Conservative
governments have taken a reactive approach to new communications technology, which ic;
demonstrated by a policy process based on a short period of consultation. a hout of rapid
decision-making and cautious implementation.
As with cable TV, Government insistence on a policy of 'facilitation' was
intended to provide opportunities for new operators: the extent and pace of satellite
services' development would be dictated by the market. But this goal was undermined hya
lack of coherence in policy implementation and a process of restrictive hureaucratisation.
Above all, external factors, such as the uneven nature of satellite services' liheralisation
across Europe and the continued PTT control over access to satellite capacity constituted
major brakes on market development
The research has shown that, in choosing the original six SSSOs, the
Government did not so much 'pick winners' as select guineapigs, who tested the market for
those who would follow and paved the way for further liberalisation. Five years after the
release of the six SSSO licences, there remains little competition in satellite services.