79. Letter From the Director of the Office of Telecommunications Policy (Whitehead) to the President’s Assistant for International Economic Affairs (Flanigan)1 2


  • Status of International Telecommunication Issues
Secretary Brinegar has instructed ranking Department of Transportation officials and the Administrator of FAA to initiate high level discussions with U.S. airline presidents in an effort to overcome the airlines’ opposition to Aerosat—the developmental program aimed at improving oceanic air traffic control by using satellite communications. Discussions will also be held with appropriate Congressional committees whose support is necessary prior to FAA signing a memorandum covering the proposed joint program with European aeronautical authorities acting through the European Space Research Organization (ESRO). Secretary Brinegar will request White House assistance if the approaches to the airline presidents and to the Congress do not succeed in unblocking the program.
FAA Administrator Butterfield has told ESRO officials that the Nixon Administration strongly supports the Aerosat program as modified and is seeking to clear away domestic hurdles in order to be able to sign the FAA-ESRO Agreement spelling out the development of satellite communications in the Atlantic in anticipation of an operational aeronautical system required by the 1980’s.
Meanwhile, ESRO is negotiating with U.S. communications companies and will shortly choose either COMSAT or RCA-Globcom as the U.S. co-owner of the satellite system which will provide the communications service required for the FAA-ESRO oceanic air traffic control program.
“Gapsat”—Conditions laid down by the FCC have been accepted by COMSAT which will now become part of a consortium of communication entities owning and operating a 2-ocean satellite system providing the U.S. Navy with satellite military communications for a limited period of time. Capacity of the [Page 2] system not needed by the Navy will be leased to merchant ships. WUI, ITT, and RCA-Globcom are expected to join the consortium. COMSAT will have majority control (about 80%), thus ensuring that it will be the manager-operator of the system. COMSAT has contracted with Hughes to build the three satellites for the system which is scheduled to be operational within 18 months.
Maritime SatelliteU.S. representatives have broken the solid front of foreign representatives to the International Maritime Consultative Organization who were determined to create a new international organization which would own and operate a maritime satellite system. At the next IMCO experts meeting this fall, we plan to introduce several alternative ways for the shipowners to get the satellite communications they need without creating a new governmental organization. The opposition, led by the USSR, will continue to try to force us into an arrangement which would have the effect of taking satellite maritime communications out of the private sector.
Pacific Basin Submarine CableFCC is poised to authorize construction of a new Pacific Basin submarine cable (California-Hawaii-Guam-Okinawa). Our effort to get a U.S. Government decision on long-term communications facility planning in the Pacific Basin has encountered FCC’s desire to clear the docket by deciding now on a specific cable which the carriers want, especially AT&T. The case illustrates how ad hoc decisions, pushed by domestic and foreign communications entities, get in the way of long range planning efforts aimed at benefiting the rate payer.
International Communications Industry Structure—We are studying the reactions of Executive Branch departments to the draft legislative proposals covering the structure of the international communications industry which we put forward recently. Upon completion of our study, we will consult with the FCC. We are several months away from a decision on what, if any, legislative proposals we would recommend be sent to the Congress. Senator Pastore has not been pushing us since we gave him our international communications policy statement early this year.
Direct Broadcast Satellites—The Soviet draft convention to control direct satellite broadcasting will be debated next week in New York when the UN Working Group reconvenes. Canada and Sweden have submitted a watered down draft which is still unacceptable to the U.S. An up-hill battle is being fought by the U.S. in an attempt to prevent a UN imposed regime of worldwide TV censorship. The State Department reports that [Page 3] Secretary Brezhnev is expected to raise the subject with the President later this month.
International Telecommunication UnionU.S. policy positions to be taken during the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference this September are nearing completion. The U.S. Delegation comprising representatives from State, OTP, FCC, and U.S. industry will be in place by August to complete policy preparations. The Conference is not expected to make major changes in the structure or functions of the Union. However, numerous political issues will be raised, thus complicating the telecommunications work of the Conference.
Clay T. Whitehead
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Subject Files, Utilities, Box 14, EX, UT 1 Communications-Telecommunications, 1–1–73. No classification marking.
  2. Whitehead updated Flanigan on the status of international telecommunications issues, including various satellite systems, submarine cables, the structure of the international communications industry, and preparations for an upcoming International Telecommunications Union conference.