79. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Marks) to President Johnson1


  • Report of White House Working Group on Communications Satellite Service for Less-Developed Countries
[Page 149]

The Communications Satellite Act of 1962 was based on the premise that the United States would take the initiative in creating a global communications satellite system.

The Act contemplates that the communications satellite system will be worldwide in coverage, directed towards providing communications service “to economically less-developed countries and areas as well as those more highly developed.” It provides that the President shall see that such objectives are attained in a manner consistent with the national interest and foreign policy of the United States. In the policy statement which preceded the passage of the Act itself, President Kennedy stated that the system should include “service where individual portions of the coverage are not profitable.”

The Act provides that this mandate be carried out within a unique framework of U.S. commercial enterprise in conjunction with comparable private or governmental organizations throughout the world. Within this framework the global satellite system is being established by an international consortium, now joined by 48 nations and managed by the U.S. Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT) which controls a 55.37 percent interest in the consortium. Consortium membership is open to all countries belonging to the International Telecommunications Union. Although it has a majority ownership, COMSAT is restricted in establishing certain policies for the system without the concurrence of additional nations. The establishment of earth stations and thus the provision of access to the global system is the responsibility of the nations desiring access.

These provisions have important implications for the President’s responsibility to create a global satellite system, particularly in less-developed countries. As business ventures, the COMSAT Corporation and members of the consortium are not likely to subsidize earth stations and related activities in these countries unless profitable operations are forecast.

By the end of 1966, the consortium, managed by COMSAT, will have launched communications satellites in a pattern that will cover three-quarters of the globe. These satellites will provide an essentially worldwide network of telephone, telex, radio or TV links. However, while the satellites will be available, complete global participation will not be possible until earth stations are established in both developed and less-developed areas. The present prospect is that only a handful of less-developed countries will have earth stations within the next few years.

A Working Group of representative agencies, identified in the appendix2 to this report, has considered the following question:

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Will U.S. national interests be served by encouraging and assisting less-developed countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia to establish earth stations for communications satellite service?

As a result of its study, the Working Group has unanimously concluded that:

the national interest would be served by actively encouraging the establishment of earth stations in selected less-developed countries as soon as possible.

Detailed background information supporting these recommendations can be found in the attached addendum.3 The Working Group accordingly recommends the following actions:

You direct the Department of State to intensify its activities leading to the accelerated construction of earth stations and related facilities in less-developed countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, to link them to the worldwide communications satellite network now being established by the consortium managed by COMSAT.
Direct the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Agency for International Development, to determine whether U.S. technical and financial aid should be provided to selected less-developed countries which are unable to finance earth stations and related facilities out of their own resources, through commercial sources or through multi-lateral lending organizations. Any projects in this program should be funded out of existing FY 1966 funds or out of regular FY 1967 appropriations. A report of such findings should be submitted to you, through the office of your Special Assistant for Telecommunications/Director of Telecommunications Management by July 1, 1966.
Assign responsibility for coordinating this program to the Special Assistant to the President for Telecommunications/Director of Telecommunications Management.
Instruct the Executive Agent and Manager of the National Communications System and U.S. Government agencies operating facilities outside the NCS to utilize the global communications satellite system in handling traffic wherever possible and where national security requirements will not be compromised in furtherance of the objectives of the Communications Satellite Act of 1962, consistent with sound cost-efficiency and other management considerations.
Issue a National Security Action Memorandum covering these recommendations. A draft is attached for your approval.4
Authorize a Working Group to commence a study of the possibilities of using the satellite communications system to advance information [Page 151] exchange and education in less-developed parts of the world. This project would be consistent with your recommendation on international education in the State of the Union message. Members of this Working Group should include NASA, Health, Education and Welfare, State Department, USIA, AID and the Executive Office of the President.5

Leonard H. Marks
Chairman, White House Working Group
on Communications Satellite Service
for Less-Developed Countries
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Charles E. Johnson Files, COMSAT—Educational Purposes, Domestic and Foreign, NSAM No. 342, #1, Box 12. Confidential.
  2. Not printed, but see footnote 3, Document 78 for a list of member agencies.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not found.
  5. The approve/disapprove line is not checked. The report was sent to the President on February 1. (Memorandum from Marks to the Working Group; Johnson Library, National Security File, Charles E. Johnson Files, COMSAT—Educational Purposes, Domestic and Foreign, NSAM No. 342, #1, Box 12)