We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Fit and proper

Unlike terrestrial radio transmissions, satellite transmissions come from a point source in the sky. One must point their antenna in the right direction to receive such signals. Different people may launch satellites in different positions and broadcast without interference. The case for licensing radio spectrum is already weak. There can be no argument for the need for a third party to license satellite radio spectrum.

In satellite television, the satellites are privately owned and launched by private space vehicles.

And yet in the UK one needs a broadcasting license from Ofcom to squirt photons encoded with television signals towards the Earth from space.

In addition, Ofcom gets to decide who is “fit and proper” to hold such a license. There is no definition of “fit and proper”. This is the rule of the whim of bureaucrats.

15 comments to Fit and proper

  • Perry Metzger

    Actually, you can also spatially distinguish terrestrial radios — provided two sources are more than on the order of a wavelength apart it is possible to spatially distinguish them, at least in theory. (In practice, multipath issues may make it a little harder in some cases.) Phased arrays, for example, can distinguish sources fairly well.

    So, at least in theory, there is no more reason to license use of any radio transmission, any more than there is a need to license the use of the color of your shirt so you can be distinguished from other people wearing the same color shirt in a room. Of course, in practice, for longer wavelengths, the receiving apparatus would become rather bulky. For short wavelengths, however, it is probably quite practical…

  • Laird

    Just out of curiosity, how does Ofcom enforce this rule? The satellite itself is outside of its jurisdiction, so unless the broadcasting company has offices (or other assets) within the UK what can Ofcom do if the broadcaster decides to operate without a license?

  • bradley13

    I’m no expert in this area, but I do believe that – for geosynchronous satellites – there is some international coordination to ensure that the satellites are separated sufficiently to avoid interference. I believe I read that satellites using the same frequency must be separated by either 1 or 2 degrees of arc.

    Given that this sharply limits the number of possible satellites, this is likely where government licensing plays a role (for better or for worse). If a UK company wants a physical satellite slot, this may well involve the UK government and international negotiations.

  • Andy S

    No, if OFCOM wanted to stop Sky, they couldn’t stop them broadcasting but they could stop them being able to charge for, advertise and bill customers in the UK

  • Anybody else annoyed by the Newspeak-style joining up of words (as in “Minipax’ or “Minitru”) in “Ofcom”? I presume it’s short for “office of communications” and that the first syllable is pronounced like “off” and not “uhv” to rhyme with “love”.

    I wouldn’t know what the hell an “Ofsted” is, and I’ve seen a post or two here mention a “Defra”. God only knows what the hell that is — and I can’t help but wonder whether obscuring the original meaning of the words is intentional.

    More and more, I find myself writing things like “Fa Irt Rade”: splitting two words up into three is no dumber than joining them up as one word, and I’d like to think it forces people to stop and think about what’s being joined up.

  • Mendicant

    So, its perfectly fine for Sky to have sabotaged ITV Digital, then?

  • Ted Schuerzinger clearly needs to take up the matter with OFNYM.

    Best regards

  • Broadcast by satellite uses signal separation by both space (ie usually angle of reception) and by frequency – also by modulation code for each frequency, but let’s not complicate matters. As pointed out by bradley13, above at March 27, 2012 03:02 PM, space separation (together with frequency separation) is fine for separating satellite transmissions, subject to angular separation of typically 1 or 2 degrees. [Note, engineers often use the term “diversity” for the concept of such separation; eg frequency diversity, time diversity, code diversity, space diversity.]

    However, there is no space separation possible between broadcast satellite and omni-directional point to point mobile communications (eg mobile phones) at the same frequency. Neither is there for other communications for which directional (usually largish) antennae are not practical. This is because the Satcom transmissions will interfere with any same-frequency omni-directional receivers of these ground-based communications systems or networks.

    Thus, Satcom takes from the radio spectrum available for such ground-based communications.

    Such ground-based communications does need some sort of allocation and management, to avoid interference between users. This is most commonly done by government (who else) or their agencies (eg OFCOM in the UK and the FCC in the USA). Where ground-based propagation is relatively short range (eg line of sight or ‘earth-hugging’), there is scope for allocation of frequencies to multiple users, provided their physical separation is adequate (typically ones, tens or the odd hundred kilometres – depending on frequency).

    Given that Satcom reduces the spectrum available for government-licensed ground-to-ground use, it is not unreasonable for government to also control what spectrum is allocated for Satcom. [In fact, because of the non-governmental nature of radio propagation, there is usually international cooperation on this, as required by the various propagation and usage characteristics at the various frequencies.]

    As all radio spectrum licensing involves work by government, some charging is appropriate.

    As radio spectrum bandwidth is a finite resource (consumed by the passing of time, whether used or not) and is of value to users, there is a case for charging for it as a sovereign resource (as with oil and gas and other mined materials).

    Best regards

  • Tedd


    Good one.


    I’m not sure there’s any newspeak aspect to these abbreviations, in that they’re not intended to change or obscure the meaning of the name in any way. They’re simply abbreviations.

    Historically, I believe they come from the military. They probably began to worm their way into government parlance in the post WWII era, when government and military operations were so closely tied.

  • Antoine Clarke

    The Ofcom, Ofsted and other Offices got their names in the 1980s and 1990s. Initially as government regulators of privatised companies (often monopolies before privatisation).

    The idea was supposed to be that they would manage the transition from government controlled prices to markets.

    But then they had to come up with reasons for continuing to exist…

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Nigel’s point is excellent: a point-source signal can be isolated from others if it’s tightly focussed (and pointed at the receiver), or if the receiving antenna is tightly focussed (and pointed at the source), but an omnidirectional point-source signal will be received by an omnidirectional receiving antenna any time the two are in line-of-sight of each other.

  • Mendicant

    “privatised companies (often monopolies before privatisation).”


    Many of them are still monopolies. In fact, many of them are, in an hilarious irony, actually state entities owned by the French and German governments.

  • Paul Wayner

    If satellite comms weren’t licensed then there wouldn’t be anything to prevent someone from putting up a satellite that transmitted energy into the GPS band, breaking most people’s GPS, or into AM bands, potentially interfering with that as well.

  • RRS

    I am somewhat taken aback by the term Sovereign Resources used by Nigel.

    What exactly are Sovereign Resources?

    I quite understand cost recoveries, but I sense some confusion with rent harvesting.

  • Paul Marks

    As I suspect the poster knows….

    Certain newspapers (the Guardian, the “Independent”, the Financial Times….) and (of course) guests on the BBC, have been saying (for a couple of years now) that Rupert Murdoch is not a “fit and proper” person.

    They drop those very words into their copy and into their broacasting.

    It is not an accident (not chance) it is because Ofcom has a “fit and proper person” test.

    Get rid of Rupert Murdoch and you get rid of Roger Ayles.

    Get rid of Mr A. and Fox News (and so on) is castrated.

    And the last major voice the left do not control is silenced.

    This is (of course) what the entire international war against News International is really about.

    The thing is that I suspect that Rupert Murdoch (even after the massive campaign for the last few years) still does not “get it”.

    He thinks it is commercial rivarly – like his youthful feud with Kerry Packer.

    Where they use to bribe officials against each other, and even smash up each other’s property and have a fist fight.

    Then go for a drink together.

    He does not understand that this is NOT about money (he can not buy his way out), and it is not a game.

    The only drink his present foes want – is his blood.

    And it is “not personal” they are doing it for “the cause”.

    The cause of collectivism – for which they would even cut out the hearts of their own children and eat them.

    Murdoch thinks of them as silly little leftists – he has not got a clue what they are really like or what they are capable of.

    He is like Gail Wynard.