Originally created 05/15/98

Proposal would facilitate using mobile satellite phones overseas



WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators took the first step Thursday to make it easier for Americans with mobile satellite phones to take them into other countries and vice versa.

The Federal Communications Commission proposed streamlined procedures that would let a U.S. company obtain FCC approval for its equipment without also having to get similar approvals from countries where the phones would be used.

FCC officials said 40 countries -- including all members of the European Community, Japan, Korea, Canada and Kenya -- have agreed to participate. The notion is that these countries would honor U.S. equipment authorizations, while the United States would honor theirs.

Implementation of the agreement "would permit global mobile satellite devices to be carried freely across borders," said FCC Commissioner Susan Ness. "This is an extremely important concept."

Companies including Globalstar Telecommunications Ltd., Iridium Inc., and Teledesic Corp. are building global satellite networks that offer phone and data services, among other things. Customers would use specially designed mobile phones to receive the services.

In general, U.S. companies need permission from other countries to provide service. They also need other countries' affirmation that their phones and other equipment comply with those countries' technical standards to avoid interference with other telecommunications services operating there, among other things.

FCC officials said the proposal would prevent authorities in participating countries from confiscating satellite phone from U.S. owners using them overseas. And, it would prevent people from having to pay hefty duties on their phones when they bring them into those countries.

Final rules could be adopted later this year, FCC officials said.

The FCC also proposed rules making its easier for U.S. and European manufacturers to ship telecommunications products to each other's countries.

Under that proposal, expected to be in place within two years, U.S. manufacturers would get their products tested and then approved in the United States for compliance with the EU's technical standards. And EU manufacturers would get their products tested and then approved in the EU for compliance with America's technical rules.

"In a competitive marketplace, as we all know, manufacturers are literally in a race to get their products to market and into the hands of consumers," said FCC Chairman Bill Kennard. "The last thing that we want to do is have a regulatory process that is in effect a ball and chain around the foot of any of the combatants in this race."