Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. / David Zalubowski, AP
The Commerce Department's decision this week to allow DigitalGlobe, the nation's largest commercial provider of satellite imagery, to sell its highest-resolution imagery to any customer around the world is a win for both the company and its most significant congressional advocate - Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.
The highest-resolution images in DigitalGlobe's current constellation, the company said, were not previously available to the public. The company's newest satellite, WorldView-3, will be launched in August and will be able to provide commercially available images six months later.
The stakes for DigitalGlobe were high. Without Commerce's approval, the company would have remained shut out of a big part of the lucrative world market for satellite imagery, something foreign companies were able to do.
Congressional records show that DigitalGlobe spent $360,000 to lobby Congress and the federal government in the first three months of 2014, while none of the major competitors the company listed in its latest annual filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission reported any spending on lobbying.
Udall wrote President Obama a month ago urging him to accept DigitalGlobe's application to release its most advanced technology, arguing that the restriction hindered the company in the world market.
"There are no restrictions on the image resolution that airborne imaging companies or foreign providers can offer," Udall wrote. "Yet with foreign commercial providers soon able to provide imagery at or better than the currently allowed commercial U.S. resolution limit of 0.5 meters, current restrictions on U.S. satellite-based commercial imagery providers put the United States at a competitive disadvantage."
Udall's argument expresses a new reality in the satellite intelligence industry. Satellite intelligence, also called geospatial information, is now as much of a commercial product as a national security asset. Mobile companies such as Google and Nokia use geospatial information for their online map services, while oil and mining companies use it to search for new territories.
The Commerce decision has two effects, Udall said: "to allow industry to build and deploy systems capable of best meeting our national security needs and retaining U.S. leadership in a competitive international industry."
While DigitalGlobe may have competitors abroad, it is mostly unchallenged in the U.S. DigitalGlobe bought out GeoEye, the other largest domestic commercial provider of satellite technology, in July 2013.
Read the original story: Commerce decision boosts commercial satellite imagery