Opinion

A Commitment to America’s 5G Future

One of the most iconic images of America’s technological prowess and unwavering commitment to innovation is that of Neil Armstrong planting an American flag on the moon – a televised moment that Intelsat satellites transmitted to more than 180 million Americans and billions of people around the world back in 1969.

During the space race, hard choices had to be made, tremendous risk was assumed and countless hours of human effort were dedicated to achieving the monumental feat of putting U.S. astronauts on the moon — and then getting them back home safely.

Today, the United States is in the midst of another challenging technological race – one that Intelsat again finds itself squarely in the middle of: the race to 5G.

Intelsat appreciates the significant commitment required to reach such worthwhile goals. As the foundational architects of satellite technology, we’ve spent the past 60 years pioneering countless industry-first innovations and bringing critical information and connectivity to hundreds of millions of people all around the world.

Our storied journey hasn’t been without its share of challenges. Over the past 12 months alone, Intelsat has weathered the loss of a multimillion-dollar satellite, personal and commercial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and, most recently, a Chapter 11 financial restructuring.

Throughout it all, our employees – the majority of whom are U.S. citizens living, working and contributing to their local communities in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, California and seven other states – never wavered in their commitment to our customers and to advancing our mission of connecting people, businesses and governments around the world.

In fact, one of the main reasons we recently made the difficult decision to restructure our balance sheet was to fulfill our commitment to helping the Federal Communications Commission accelerate clearing part of the U.S. C-band spectrum and help support the build-out of U.S. 5G wireless infrastructure. We’re fully committed to doing our part to ensure America’s technological and economic edge for decades to come.

Intelsat experts have spent the past two years proactively working alongside the FCC, customers, regulators, industry stakeholders, vendors and other satellite operators to establish a quick and straightforward path to realizing America’s leadership in 5G. We did not agree with everything in the FCC’s final spectrum-clearing order, but we understand that compromise is the only pathway to progress.

This week, Intelsat and other satellite operators will file official work plans with the FCC. We are ready to begin this critical work on behalf of the American people.

The FCC and Chairman Ajit Pai should be applauded for bringing so many diverse stakeholders to the table on such a complex issue, listening to everyone’s input, and driving a transparent compromise forward.  It’s unfortunate that some in Congress are choosing this moment in time to question the commission’s deliberate, multi-year process, as well as the motivations of companies like Intelsat that have participated in this process in good faith.

These political delay tactics are more than an annoyance, they fundamentally threaten our country’s future.

Last month, both the FCC and the Department of Homeland Security issued a rare joint letter to the governors of every state, urging them to take steps to ensure Americans remain connected during the COVID-19 crisis by declaring that communications companies are essential infrastructure. The joint letter noted the critical role that communications companies, including satellite operators, play in providing Americans with access to key components of daily life, including telemedicine, teleworking and distance learning.

COVID-19 has also shined a bright light on what happens when critical investments in our telecommunications infrastructure are delayed. Americans in rural and remote communities around our country have found it difficult, if not impossible, to work and learn remotely over the past few months – a disparity that is unacceptable.

For years, Intelsat satellites have served as an essential and complementary element of terrestrial networks, helping to extend connectivity to rural, remote and hard-to-reach areas. And, today, companies like Intelsat are pioneering profitable new free-market pathways for mobile operators to leverage our network and bring high-performing, reliable 4G and 5G broadband coverage to some of the most rural parts of our country.

The longer we delay and the more obstacles that are created, the wider we leave the door for our foreign adversaries to dominate the 5G era. The future of America’s telecommunications infrastructure – and our global technological and economic advantage – hinges on Intelsat and other satellite operators collaborating with the FCC to quickly deliver on a highly technical spectrum-transition process.

Intelsat stands ready to execute on the FCC’s plan in service of the American people. We were there with Neil Armstrong in 1969, and we stand by America today, continuing our commitment to serve the greater good and help the United States win the next big race – the race to 5G.

Stephen Spengler is a 34-year telecommunications and satellite industry veteran with experience in the media, broadband, government and internet sectors, as well as CEO of Intelsat, operator of the world’s largest integrated satellite and terrestrial network.

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