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Bridging the Digital Divide, Satellite Industry Growth, and Startup Success

SATELLITE conference, Global internet connectivity, digital transformation, startups, Satellite awards, Doreen Bogdan-Martin

Notes from Day Three of the 2024 SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition

Although there have been improvements in internet availability and cost in less developed countries (LDCs), only a quarter of the population across all LDCs has begun using the internet. Another half of the population theoretically has access to the internet but is not making use of it, as shared in the most recent global internet connectivity data. During day three of the SATELLITE Conference Luncheon session, keynote speaker Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), expanded further on this topic and ITU’s mission to bridge the digital divide for the nearly three billion people around the globe who still are not connected.  

Watch Day 2 Luncheon Keynote & Via Satellite Awards Presentation 

Global Internet Connectivity and Digital Transformation 

The ITU, established in 1865, is the oldest organization in the United Nations (UN). Over 60 years ago, the ITU began allocating radio frequency spectrum for space activities shortly after the launch of Sputnik one in 1957. Since then, the satellite industry has undergone significant transformations, with space becoming more accessible than ever before. These monumental shifts have reshaped the industry landscape, leading to a dynamic environment characterized by innovation, increased competition, and a variety of services and applications. 

Bogdan-Martin, drawing from her extensive experience of over 30 years in both the U.S. government Commerce Department and the international satellite communications sector, underscored the remarkable changes she has witnessed in the industry: “Hundreds of private companies are developing space projects. Operators from 91 countries have put satellites in orbit in just over the past two decades, propelling from niche applications to critical global infrastructure, especially for broadband activity.” 

Additionally, she highlighted how satellites are contributing to UN initiatives, like the “Early Warnings for All initiative” to protect everyone with an early warning system using communications and information dissemination. “Early Warnings for All” is an innovative initiative aimed at guaranteeing global protection from hazardous weather, water, or climate events through the implementation of life-saving early warning systems by 2027. Bogdan-Martin shared how the escalating impact of climate change makes this mission more urgent as the frequency and severity of extreme weather grows. “I’m very proud that the ITU leads an important pillar in that initiative, which is focused on communications and dissemination of information. And this involves making sure that alerts and warnings reach everyone, especially those communities that are at risk,” she said.  

Satellite Industry Growth and Sustainability Challenges 

The satellite industry stands at the forefront of innovation, playing a pivotal role in global communication networks, weather monitoring, and Earth observation. As the industry continues to expand, however, ensuring its long-term sustainability becomes paramount. During her speech, Bogdan-Martin discussed the growing demand for satellite-based services, emphasizing that effective management of spectrum and orbital resources is essential. She shared how the ITU emerges as a central figure in this effort by coordinating radio frequency spectrum and geostationary orbits through international treaties.  

“The entire space ecosystem is underpinned by ITU standards and regulations. We’re responsible for coordinating radio frequency spectrum, on Earth and in space. And we help coordinate positions in geostationary orbits. This, of course, is done through an international treaty that ultimately secures your investments by seeking to prevent harmful interference between radio systems,” Bogdan-Martin explained. By providing a stable regulatory framework and fostering collaboration among stakeholders, the ITU facilitates the sustainable growth of the satellite industry while addressing the complexities and challenges within the evolving space economy.  

Despite the remarkable progress made in satellite technology and infrastructure, the industry faces ongoing challenges in bridging the digital divide and achieving universal connectivity.  

“As this industry advances at the speed of life, digital inclusion inching forward at snail’s pace, even with thousands of satellites orbiting overhead, 2.6 billion people connected, and the digital divide remains one of the biggest challenges of our time,” shared Bogdan-Martin. While satellite broadband serves as a lifeline for remote and underserved communities, ensuring equitable access to these services remains a priority. Bogdan-Martin discussed how initiatives like the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition, mobilize resources and foster collaboration to extend connectivity to the hardest-to-reach populations. 

By leveraging satellite technology and engaging with stakeholders across sectors, the satellite industry can play a pivotal role in advancing global connectivity efforts. 

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