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The Next L.A. / Reinventing Our Future : PREPAREDNESS : IDEA FILE: Satellite Communication Network

February 13, 1994

How it works

A communications network would be based on a satellite placed in orbit and used by residents with cellular telephones. It would replace the current system of ground-based phone lines.

Benefits

The satellite would eliminate reliance on land-line networks, which are vulnerable to earthquake and other disasters.

Short-term or Long-term Impact

Some experts believe such satellites will be lofted by the end of this decade. But problems of cost, opposition by telephone companies and government regulation could delay them.

Supporters

Satellites already have the channel capacity to handle millions of telephone customers, backers say. Those with cellular phones would simply install small ground-station dishes at their homes and dial away. Because such a system would not rely on wires or fiber optics, it would be "unbreakable" during a quake or other disaster.

Opponents

The current telephone system is cheap and reliable, and it performed well during the Northridge quake, critics note. A satellite system would be very expensive and probably encounter strong political opposition from existing telephone companies. Even if the phone company ran the satellite system, it would have to find ways to recoup its huge investment in the ground-based network. Ratepayers would probably wind up footing the costs, which could lead to further political resistance to satellites. In addition, there are only so many orbit slots in space, and it is unclear how many would be needed for a nationwide, much less a worldwide, satellite network.

The Costs

Launching and maintaining a single satellite in space costs tens of millions of dollars, and many such satellites could be required for a nationwide hookup.

Reality Check

Possible on a limited scale.

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