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BBG gets innovative to address their SATCOM needs

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the independent federal agency that oversees all U.S. civilian international media has an extremely important job – informing, engaging and connecting people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. They accomplish this by producing content that they then distribute via radio and television stations, as well as direct-to-home broadcasting, around the globe.

That is a tough job. In fact, it’s multiple tough jobs.

The BBG performs the functions of multiple different enterprises, all wrapped up in one agency. They serve as a content producer, like a movie studio or a news agency. They broadcast programming like a TV station would. They also distribute content directly to homes, much like a cable or satellite TV company. And all of this educational, news and entertainment content serves a single function – to encourage the spread of freedom and democracy around the globe.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the BBG, you’ve likely heard of some of the different channels and programs that they’re responsible for. These programs and channels include: Voice of America (VOA), the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN – Alhurra TV, Radio Sawa), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB – Radio and TV Martí).

That’s a lot of stations, and a lot of radio and television content to produce and distribute. And, there are a lot of challenges to overcome. One of the largest challenges is getting this content to the listener or viewer in a place that could very well be halfway around the globe – whether distributing content to local stations that then broadcast it to an audience, or distributing it directly to its audience in their homes.

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Masih Alinejad, an investigative journalist and a recipient of this year’s Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy Award, hosts a show on the BBG’s Voice Of America (VOA) Persian Service.

To accomplish this, the BBG uses COMSATCOM services, which functions to both carry content directly to homes and to send content to broadcasting stations around the globe. The BBG uses a massive amount of COMSATCOM for this purpose.

The BBG has historically purchased COMSATCOM as needed, and leveraged multiple contracts with a large number of disparate vendors for each part of the satellite infrastructure that carries their signals and enables their mission. This is a challenge for multiple reasons:

  • Efficiencies of scale – by holding small contracts with multiple vendors for the same – or different – services, the BBG is ultimately loosing the negotiating power and efficiencies of scale that come from awarding less, larger contracts for these products and services. This exponentially drives up the cost of the agency’s entire satellite infrastructure.
  • Management and transparency – having multiple, small contracts with disparate vendors for each part of the satellite infrastructure can become difficult to keep track of and manage. Scale that out across the BBG – which runs so many stations and has such an immense mission that spans the entire globe. This situation requires exhaustive management and overhead.

However, the BBG recognizes the challenges that it’s facing and the negative side-effects of the way it used to acquire and pay for SATCOM products and services. As a result, the agency is doing something very innovative, almost unheard of, in the federal government. The BBG is releasing an RFQ for addressing a large part of its SATCOM requirement as a managed service.

Many argue that purchasing SATCOM as a managed service is the future of the industry. In fact, it was a large part of many of the speeches and discussions at this year’s SATCON and SATELLITE Conferences. In this model, a COMSATCOM provider effectively provides everything that the agency needs to meet its requirements – whether that is with hardware, software, satellite or terrestrial networks.

In this managed service environment, the BBG would effectively eliminate their need to have disparate, small contracts for each part of their satellite infrastructure. Instead, they’d have one economical contract with a single provider that’s responsible for providing everything necessary to accomplish the task and mission at hand.

This is a revolutionary step in the federal government as many agencies are still meeting their COMSATCOM needs the way that the BBG used to – with spot solutions and disparate vendors for part of their infrastructure. However – if successful – the BBG’s new RFQ could become the standard model across the public sector as the most economical and effective way to meet an agency’s SATCOM needs.

For those agencies that may look to follow the BBG’s path towards COMSATCOM managed services, there are a few things that they should consider when crafting an RFP/RFQ and when analyzing responses. Some of these include:

  • The previous experience of the vendors – moving from multiple contracts for individual pieces and components of a satellite infrastructure towards purchasing that entire infrastructure as a service is a big step. Any vendor that is chosen needs to have experience and success operating across the entire infrastructure and have the knowledge and ability to not only deliver the service, but to do so with high reliability.
  • Backward and forward compatibility – in the case of the BBG, there isn’t currently a significant need to utilize HDTV signals and other newer technologies, since many of the places they’re currently broadcasting don’t have access to them yet. However, it’s essential to know that those capabilities are there and available in the future should the need arise during the contract period. Any vendor selected needs to have the ability to meet the agency’s current needs, and be futureproof moving forward to ensure that the agency has flexibility in the years to come.

SATCOM as a managed service is the future of the industry, and it’s exciting to see the BBG considering it as a way to simplify their SATCOM infrastructure and cut costs. The success of their program could be a model for the rest of the government to follow. Managed services could ultimately deliver many benefits and cost savings for agencies that choose the right partner to address their SATCOM needs.

*Photos courtesy of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

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