Iridium Asks for Waiver to Provide Maritime Distress Satellite Service
Friday, October 04, 2019 | Comments

The FCC is seeking comment on a request by Iridium Communications for waiver of several Part 80 rules to permit vessels to select Iridium for the provision of Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) mobile satellite service.

The GMDSS is an International Maritime Organization (IMO) worldwide coordinated maritime distress system designed to provide the rapid transfer of distress messages from vessels in distress to units best suited for giving or coordinating assistance. Until recently, Inmarsat was the sole mobile satellite service recognized by the IMO to provide GMDSS mobile satellite service, and FCC rules specifically require certain vessels to carry an Inmarsat ship earth station.

The IMO has now recognized Iridium as a second provider of maritime distress and safety communications within the GMDSS, and amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea allowing Iridium equipment to be carried in satisfaction of the GMDSS requirements will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Iridium expects to make GMDSS terminals available to vessel operators in early 2020.

Iridium seeks waivers of Part 80 rules that require or reference the use of equipment that communicates with Inmarsat satellites, specify the frequency bands in which Inmarsat satellites operate, and limit GMDSS mobile satellite operations to areas covered by Inmarsat. Specifically, it seeks a limited waiver to permit vessels to select Iridium for the provision of GMDSS mobile satellite service, pending resolution of a petition for rulemaking proposing to amend Part 80 to replace the references to Inmarsat with provisions permitting vessels to obtain GMDSS mobile satellite service from any IMO-recognized provider.

Iridium asserts that grant of the requested waivers would serve the public interest “by bringing additional competition to the GMDSS and maritime marketplace and by providing ships with access to new safety of life services — including in areas where no satellite-based GMDSS exists today.”

Comments are due Oct. 24, and reply comments are due Nov. 4. The full notice is here.

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