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entitled 'Maritime Security: Partnering Could Reduce Federal Costs and 
Facilitate Implementation of Automatic Vessel Identification System'
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Report to Congressional Requesters: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 


July 2004: 


Partnering Could Reduce Federal Costs and Facilitate Implementation of 
Automatic Vessel Identification System


GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-04-868, a report to the Committee on Commerce, 
Science, and Transportation, U.S. Senate: 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

As part of international efforts to ensure maritime safety and 
security—and to carry out its mandates under the Maritime 
Transportation Security Act of 2002—the U.S. Coast Guard is developing 
an automatic identification system (AIS) that should enable it to 
monitor ships traveling to and through U.S. waters. For AIS to operate 
nationwide, ships need equipment to transmit and receive AIS signals, 
and the Coast Guard needs shore stations and designated radio 
frequencies to keep track of the ships’ identities and movements. Yet 
unresolved frequency issues between the Coast Guard and a private c
ompany, MariTEL, have come before the Federal Communications Commission 

GAO reviewed federal agencies’ progress in developing AIS nationwide 
and identified certain challenges and opportunities in completing the 

What GAO Found: 

Because the Coast Guard is in the early stages of progress toward 
nationwide AIS development, the total cost and completion time are 
uncertain. The Coast Guard has taken advantage of opportunities to 
bring AIS into service quickly in 10 areas where vessel-monitoring 
technology already exists, and it is simultaneously defining and 
planning for full nationwide coverage. The Coast Guard has only 
preliminary cost estimates for a nationwide system, because geographic 
and other factors will affect installation at different locations. The 
Coast Guard estimates that planning and testing will be completed, and 
a request for proposals from potential contractors issued, between 
December 2004 and February 2005.

The Coast Guard faces both challenges and potential opportunities in 
its development of a nationwide AIS. Nationwide development depends in 
part on how FCC resolves a continuing dispute between federal agencies 
and MariTEL over issues including who should have access to the 
internationally designated AIS frequencies and for what uses. To help 
protect its licensed rights to certain frequencies, MariTEL generally 
seeks either sole control over the international standard AIS 
frequencies or shared control with ships and the federal government. 
The federal government seeks a resolution that will reserve the 
internationally designated frequencies for AIS use by government and 
nongovernment entities. FCC expects to respond in summer 2004. This 
response—and whether it leads to any additional actions on the part of 
the interested parties—could affect the overall cost and pace of 
nationwide AIS development. Depending on FCC’s response, one factor 
that offers an opportunity to reduce federal costs is that some local 
port entities are willing to assume the expense and responsibility for 
AIS construction if they can use AIS data, along with the Coast Guard, 
for their own purposes.

AIS Sends Detailed Vessel Information via Radio Signals (arrows) from 
Ship to Ship and Ship to Shore: 

[See PDF for figure]

[End of figure]

What GAO Recommends: 

To help reduce federal costs and speed development of AIS nationwide, 
GAO recommends that, depending on the FCC’s response, the Coast Guard 
seek and take advantage of opportunities to partner with local private 
and public organizations willing to develop AIS facilities on shore at 
their own expense.

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Margaret Wrightson at 
(415) 904-2000 or

[End of section]



Results in Brief: 


The Coast Guard Has Taken Advantage of Opportunities for Quick AIS 
Installation, but Much Work Remains: 

Challenge and Opportunity Could Affect Nationwide AIS Development: 


Recommendation for Executive Action: 

Agency Comments: 

Appendix I: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments: 

GAO Contacts: 

Staff Acknowledgments: 


Figure 1: Staffed VTS Control Room, Houston, Texas: 

Figure 2: The 10 U.S. VTS Areas and Number of Ports within Each: 

Figure 3: Information That Can Be Transmitted from Ship to Ship and 
Ship to Shore by Automatic Identification System Technology: 


AIS: automatic identification system: 

FCC: Federal Communications Commission: 

IMO: International Maritime Organization: 

MOA: memorandum of agreement: 

MTSA: Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002: 

NTIA: National Telecommunications and Information Administration: 

UHF: ultrahigh frequency: 

VHF: very high frequency: 

VTC: vessel traffic center: 

VTS: vessel traffic service: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

Washington, DC 20548: 

July 23, 2004: 

The Honorable John McCain: 
The Honorable Ernest Hollings: 
Ranking Minority Member, 
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation: 
United States Senate: 

To abide by international navigation safety agreements and federal law, 
promote safe navigation, and help secure America's ports and waterways 
from terrorism, the U.S. Coast Guard is developing an automatic 
identification system (AIS) for monitoring vessels as they approach and 
travel in U.S. waters. This system, which uses radio signals sent from 
ship to ship and from ship to shore on designated frequencies, is 
required by the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 
2002[Footnote 1] and by the International Maritime Organization 
(IMO).[Footnote 2] For AIS to operate as the Coast Guard and 
international bodies intend, vessels need to install equipment that can 
send and receive AIS signals, stations on shore need to be built and 
staffed to monitor signals from vessels, and designated radio 
frequencies must be available for signal transmission. While the Coast 
Guard's stated goal is to extend AIS coverage throughout U.S. waters, 
AIS coverage in the United States is currently limited primarily to 10 
areas where, to aid safety and navigation, ship traffic is already 
monitored by vessel traffic service (VTS) systems. These areas, where 
vessels are monitored by radar and other means from a central location, 
do not include many of the nation's major ports--for example Boston, 
Baltimore, or Charleston--and encompass only a fraction of the nation's 
12,375 miles of coastline and 25,000 miles of river or inland 
shoreline. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)--
the federal agency responsible for regulating interstate and 
international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and 
cable--in 1998 auctioned the licenses to certain maritime radio 
frequencies, including the two frequencies designated by the 
International Telecommunication Union[Footnote 3] for worldwide AIS 
communications, to a private company, MariTEL, Inc., for a 10-year 
term. Since then, the Coast Guard and MariTEL have negotiated over use 
of those frequencies and other issues.

In September 2003, we identified a number of challenges to the Coast 
Guard's development of AIS.[Footnote 4] Given the system's importance 
to homeland security, this report discusses (1) the progress being made 
by the Coast Guard and other federal agencies in developing an 
automatic identification system that covers U.S. navigable waters and 
(2) challenges and opportunities that these agencies may encounter in 
completing their work.

To accomplish these objectives, we examined documents from federal and 
local government agencies and private companies, interviewed a wide 
range of officials, and visited locations where AIS is being 
implemented. We met with Coast Guard officials, including those 
responsible for administering the procurement of AIS equipment, 
defining the requirements for a nationwide system, and setting 
technical standards. We also met with or interviewed other federal 
officials, including FCC staff responsible for licensing the radio 
frequencies for AIS transmissions and St. Lawrence Seaway Development 
Corporation staff who help operate an integrated AIS in North America. 
We visited 3 of the 10 locations where the Coast Guard is currently 
installing AIS equipment.[Footnote 5] We also attended a Coast Guard 
public meeting and an industry conference on AIS issues. We performed 
our work from October 2003 through June 2004 in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards.

Results in Brief: 

Because the Coast Guard is early in its progress toward developing a 
nationwide AIS, the system's total cost and full development schedule 
are uncertain. The Coast Guard is taking a two-track approach to 
creating a nationwide system: first, installing AIS equipment in the 10 
areas where vessel-monitoring systems already exist and, second, taking 
steps to expand the system to additional locations. As of June 2004, 
the Coast Guard was using a portion of the funds appropriated to it for 
acquisition, construction, and improvements toward completing the 
installation of AIS equipment in VTS areas and toward planning and 
testing of shore equipment to be installed outside VTS areas. The Coast 
Guard intends to use a portion of the appropriated funds to pay for its 
initial installations beyond the current 10 VTS areas as well. The 
President's budget request for fiscal year 2005 included $4 million for 
AIS. As of May 2004, the Coast Guard's cost estimates for a nationwide 
system were preliminary, because geographic and other factors will 
affect installation of equipment at different locations. Nevertheless, 
the difference between current funding and the estimated total cost 
leaves a substantial amount still to be financed. The Coast Guard also 
estimates that planning and equipment testing will be completed between 
December 2004 and February 2005. The Coast Guard's planning process, 
which includes review of public comments about the scope and structure 
of the system, will determine, among other decisions, which navigable 
waterways need AIS coverage, what equipment must be installed for those 
waterways, and what financing options should be pursued.

The Coast Guard faces both challenges and opportunities in moving ahead 
with developing AIS nationwide. Development will depend in part on the 
specifics of an FCC response, expected in summer 2004, to address 
various unresolved AIS issues between several federal agencies and the 
private company MariTEL, including who should have access to the 
international designated AIS frequencies and for what maritime 
communications. After the Coast Guard and MariTEL failed to reach 
agreement on these issues in May 2003, MariTEL sought ways to help 
protect its licensed rights to certain frequencies. In general, the 
company seeks either sole control over the internationally designated 
AIS frequencies or shared control with the Coast Guard. The federal 
government is advocating an alternative proposal, under which FCC would 
allocate the internationally designated AIS frequencies exclusively to 
AIS for both government and nongovernment use. FCC's actions to address 
this situation--and whether it leads other parties to initiate any 
challenges or appeals of FCC's actions--could affect the overall cost 
and pace of nationwide AIS development. Depending on how FCC addresses 
the issues at hand and on whether FCC's actions are challenged or 
appealed, one important factor that could offer an opportunity to 
reduce the federal government's costs is whether certain local port 
entities that would benefit from access to AIS ship data would be 
willing to assume some or all of the expense and responsibility for AIS 
equipment installation. Port entities in Los Angeles-Long Beach, 
California; Tampa, Florida; and Portland, Oregon, have already 
demonstrated or expressed such willingness.

To help reduce federal costs and speed the development of AIS 
nationwide, we recommend that, depending on the outcome of the expected 
FCC response, the Commandant of the Coast Guard seek and take advantage 
of opportunities to partner with port entities willing to develop AIS 
systems at their own expense.


AIS technology, which has been under development worldwide since the 
early 1990s to improve navigation safety, helps prevent collisions by 
enabling ships to electronically "see" and track the movements of 
similarly equipped ships and to receive pertinent navigational 
information from shore. Like other wireless technologies, AIS uses a 
portion of the radio frequency spectrum to carry information. In the 
United States, specific frequencies within the radio spectrum are 
allocated primarily by two agencies: FCC--an independent agency that 
regulates spectrum use for nonfederal users, including commercial, 
private, and state and local government users--and the National 
Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency 
within the Department of Commerce that regulates spectrum for federal 
government users. These agencies (1) decide how various frequencies are 
used and (2) assign the frequencies to specific users. FCC makes these 
assignments by issuing licenses to nongovernmental parties; NTIA does 
so by assigning specific frequencies to federal agencies that have 
radio communication needs.

AIS is designed to improve upon information available through vessel-
monitoring systems already in use. Existing VTS systems apply radar, 
closed-circuit television, radios, and other devices to monitor and 
manage vessel traffic from a central onshore location, much as an air 
traffic control tower does (see fig. 1). An AIS unit consists of a 
global navigation satellite system; computer hardware and software; 
three radio receivers; and one radio transmitter-receiver, or 
transceiver. The unit gathers vessel information--including the 
vessel's name, identification number, dimensions, position, course and 
speed,[Footnote 6] destination, and cargo--from shipboard instruments 
or from manual input and transmits it to receiving AIS stations 
installed on other ships or on shore. Radio frequencies, or channels, 
carry the information. AIS also requires considerable infrastructure on 
shore--including antennas and base stations equipped with electric 
power, transceivers, computers, and displays--to monitor vessel 
activity and transmit information or instructions back to vessels. In 
the United States, such infrastructure now exists only in areas where 
VTS systems operate.

Figure 1: Staffed VTS Control Room, Houston, Texas: 

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

MTSA and Coast Guard regulations require that certain vessels on U.S. 
navigable waterways[Footnote 7] install AIS equipment between January 
1, 2003, and December 31, 2004.[Footnote 8] Coast Guard regulations 
implementing the law provide that vessels include (1) commercial 
vessels 65 feet long or more on international voyages, including all 
tankers regardless of tonnage; (2) passenger vessels of 150 tons or 
more; and (3) commercial vessels on strictly domestic U.S. voyages in 
the 10 VTS areas, which encompass approximately 10 percent of the U.S. 
ports recognized by the Department of Transportation's Maritime 
Administration (see fig. 2). Currently excluded from Coast Guard 
regulations are fishing vessels and passenger vessels certified to 
carry 150 or fewer passengers. Regardless of itinerary, any private 
vessels not in commercial service, such as a pleasure craft, less than 
300 gross tons are not required by Coast Guard regulations to carry AIS 

Figure 2: The 10 U.S. VTS Areas and Number of Ports within Each: 

[See PDF for image]

Note: Number of U.S. Maritime Administration-recognized ports within 
each VTS area in parentheses.

[End of figure]

Conflict over the frequencies used for transmitting AIS signals in the 
United States has been developing for several years. In 1998, to 
promote flexibility in the use of maritime radio frequencies and to 
encourage development of competitive new services, FCC created and 
auctioned licenses to the remaining unassigned U.S. radio frequencies 
in the very high frequency (VHF) band reserved for maritime public 
correspondence communications.[Footnote 9] For approximately $7 
million, MariTEL won the bid for these licenses. The announcements for 
the auction stated that potential bidders should be aware of 
international agreements and other issues that might affect the ability 
to use the licenses on the two specific internationally designated AIS 
frequencies, known as channels 87B and 88B. Issues that could affect 
the licenses were not explicitly laid out in the announcements, but 
potential bidders were directed to a prior FCC document and specific 
federal regulations for assistance in evaluating the degree to which 
such issues may affect spectrum availability. Different interpretations 
of issues such as these may have contributed to the conflict that 
continues to exist between MariTEL and the Coast Guard.

This conflict extends to the use of both frequencies. FCC regulations 
required the winning bidder to negotiate with the Coast Guard for the 
use of frequencies for AIS but did not specify any particular 
frequency. In March 2001, in response to FCC's auction requirements, 
MariTEL and the Coast Guard signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) that 
allowed the use of channel 87B for AIS in U.S. waters. MariTEL 
terminated the MOA in May 2003, however, after disagreements arose over 
interpretations of the MOA's provisions, including technical properties 
of the frequencies that the Coast Guard could use for AIS. After 
termination of the MOA, MariTEL asserted that the Coast Guard had no 
authority to use channel 87B for AIS, but the Coast Guard maintains 
that an FCC announcement still gives it that authority.[Footnote 10] 
With respect to channel 88B, MariTEL asserts, in general, that it 
obtained through the FCC auction the exclusive rights to channel 88B in 
certain areas within approximately 75 miles of the U.S.-Canadian 
border, and it has petitioned FCC for a declaratory ruling to that 
effect. The Coast Guard, NTIA, and the Department of Transportation 
disagree and assert, in general, that channel 88B has already been 
allocated on a primary basis to the federal government.

The Coast Guard Has Taken Advantage of Opportunities for Quick AIS 
Installation, but Much Work Remains: 

The total cost and time frame for the development of a nationwide AIS 
remain uncertain. As of June 2004, the Coast Guard's efforts to install 
AIS equipment nationwide had followed two tracks: first, installing AIS 
quickly in the 10 VTS areas and, second, launching a widespread 
planning effort for the rest of the nation's navigable waters. Having 
taken advantage of existing facilities, electronic systems, and plans 
for AIS development to enhance safety in the 10 VTS areas, the Coast 
Guard plans to complete AIS implementation in those areas by December 
2004. At the same time, the Coast Guard has begun to plan for U.S. 
waters outside the VTS areas, defining the goals, technical 
requirements, and waterways and vessels to be covered under a 
nationwide AIS. The Coast Guard expects planning for the technical 
requirements to be completed between December 2004 and February 2005. 
The Coast Guard also estimates that the nationwide system could cost 
between $62 million and $165 million.[Footnote 11] According to the 
Coast Guard, the cost estimate is preliminary, because geographic and 
other factors are expected to significantly affect the cost of 
installation at different locations, and the impacts are yet to be 

First AIS Installations Have Taken Place Primarily in 10 VTS Areas: 

The first effort in the Coast Guard's two-track AIS development has 
involved installing, testing, and operating AIS equipment in the 10 VTS 
areas. To enable monitoring of vessels carrying AIS, the Coast Guard 
accelerated onshore AIS installation under way in its navigation safety 
program. A combination of existing facilities, equipment, plans, and 
funding has allowed rapid establishment of AIS in the VTS areas. Since 
much of the AIS infrastructure for conventional safety monitoring 
(e.g., to avert collisions) is the same for security monitoring (e.g., 
to avert acts of terrorism), bringing AIS into service involved 
primarily adapting and modifying existing systems to accommodate their 
additional security purpose. AIS facilities are completely operational 
at Berwick Bay, Louisiana; Los Angeles-Long Beach, California;[Footnote 
12] Prince William Sound, Alaska; and St. Marys River, Michigan. AIS is 
being tested along the lower Mississippi River in Louisiana, and it is 
partially operational at Houston-Galveston, Texas, and New York, New 
York. The facilities at Port Arthur, Texas; Puget Sound, Washington; 
and San Francisco, California, are under construction. The Coast Guard 
expects AIS installations at the VTS areas to be completed by December 
2004.[Footnote 13] To enhance safety and efficiency at the ports of Los 
Angeles and Long Beach, the Marine Exchange of Southern California, a 
nonprofit corporation formed to provide vessel arrival and departure 
information to the local maritime industry, took the initiative to 
install and pay for AIS on its own. The total cost to the Coast Guard 
for the installation of AIS equipment at the other 9 VTS areas comes to 
approximately $20.5 million.

Bringing AIS into service in the 10 VTS areas should improve vessel-
monitoring capability at these locations. Before AIS, VTS facilities 
relied on such means as radar, closed-circuit television, ship-to-shore 
voice communications via radio, and people with binoculars. Signals and 
other information from the monitoring equipment went to a central 
vessel traffic center (VTC), where the information was collated and 
where staff tracked ships' movements. With AIS, for a vessel equipped 
with a properly operating AIS transceiver, VTC staff have access to so-
called static information, which rarely changes, such as dimensions, 
vessel name, and identification number; dynamic information, which 
changes continuously, such as course and speed; and voyage-specific 
information such as cargo type, destination, and estimated time of 
arrival (see fig. 3). This detail allows VTC staff to immediately 
identify any transmitting ship, particularly if it is on a collision 
course with another ship or if it is headed toward a hazardous or 
restricted area. In some VTS areas, AIS also extends monitoring 
coverage over a wider radius than originally covered by VTS. On the 
lower Mississippi River, for example, AIS will cover more than 240 
miles along the river--from its mouth to Baton Rouge, Louisiana--rather 
than the 8 miles around New Orleans covered by the original VTS system. 
In New York, AIS equipment will allow vessels to be monitored farther 
out to sea than possible with radar monitoring.

Figure 3: Information That Can Be Transmitted from Ship to Ship and 
Ship to Shore by Automatic Identification System Technology: 

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

From installing AIS shore facilities in the VTS areas, the Coast Guard 
has learned that the two primary drivers of installation cost are port 
geography and vessel traffic. Specifically, because AIS radio signals 
transmit in straight lines, installation can be complicated by the 
amount of water to be covered, as well as by terrain features such as 
islands, bays, and peninsulas. In addition, secondary features at a 
site have an impact, including availability of electrical power, 
previous presence or absence of communications links,[Footnote 14] 
availability of antenna towers, and costs to lease or buy land for 
antenna towers. For example, after completing site surveys of the area, 
the Coast Guard estimated that installing AIS in Puget Sound--an arm of 
the Pacific Ocean extending into Washington State that features many 
bays and islands and is surrounded by mountains--would likely cost $6.6 
million. In contrast, the AIS installation at Berwick Bay, Louisiana, 
one of the first AIS installations completed by the Coast Guard, 
generally monitors a roughly 5-mile radius around a short stretch of 
the Atchafalaya River and surrounding waterways; this installation cost 
approximately $1 million. On the basis of its experience installing AIS 
in the VTS areas, the Coast Guard estimates that installing AIS 
equipment nationwide could cost between $62 million and $165 million--
a preliminary estimate that one Coast Guard official responsible for 
reviewing such programs characterizes as "ballpark."

Long-Range Planning for Nationwide AIS Installation Now Under Way: 

At the same time the Coast Guard is completing installation of AIS 
equipment in the 10 VTS areas, it is also planning for nationwide AIS 
installation, in waters where most of the needed infrastructure is not 
now available. This planning consists of two primary components: 

* The Coast Guard will soon be defining the technical requirements of 
the system needed to meet both the safety and security missions of AIS, 
including how elaborate it will be. For example, will the system need 
to involve satellites to receive AIS signals beyond the range of 
stations on land,[Footnote 15] or will an installation that can receive 
signals only along the shore be adequate? The Coast Guard will also 
investigate whether AIS can share shore infrastructure, such as antenna 
towers, with systems in place or under development, such as its search-
and-rescue communications system called Rescue 21.[Footnote 16] As of 
June 2004, the Coast Guard estimated it will be able to complete this 
planning sometime between December 2004 and February 2005.

* The Coast Guard is also determining the extent of AIS coverage needed 
in its overall AIS strategy, including a reexamination of which vessels 
should carry AIS in U.S. waters outside of VTS areas. This process 
includes selecting which waterways will be covered (e.g., deciding 
whether relatively small rivers and lakes will be covered); setting 
priorities for which waterways will be covered first (e.g., deciding 
whether large ports will receive coverage before open coastline); and 
identifying which additional vessels will be required to carry and 
operate AIS equipment (e.g., whether noncommercial, pleasure craft will 
still be outside AIS requirements). The Coast Guard has held public 
meetings and requested public comment on these issues and expects to 
complete its review of these comments by July 2004.[Footnote 17]

Even after these planning efforts are completed, the Coast Guard will 
not be able to install AIS equipment outside VTS areas immediately. The 
factors that shape the cost of an AIS installation also shape the 
equipment requirements. For example, the more obstructions, such as 
mountains or tall buildings, that could block AIS signals, the more 
antennas will be required. At every location where the Coast Guard 
decides to install AIS equipment, it will have to evaluate the presence 
or absence of such design factors. Site surveys that detail local 
terrain and the volume and variety of vessel traffic will have to be 
carried out before the Coast Guard can determine a location's precise 
equipment needs.

Challenge and Opportunity Could Affect Nationwide AIS Development: 

As of June 2004, the continuing dispute between MariTEL and the Coast 
Guard over various frequency issues was in the hands of FCC, which 
expected to respond in summer 2004. At issue are competing views over 
the use of the internationally designated AIS frequencies. The 
commission's response could involve any number of actions or conditions 
regarding the internationally designated AIS frequencies, especially on 
access to frequencies needed to carry AIS information. FCC's specific 
findings could lead to varied technical, cost, and legal implications 
for AIS installation and operation, including potential delay. 
Depending on how FCC responds, and any subsequent actions by the 
interested parties, one factor that offers an opportunity to lower the 
federal government's costs is the demonstrated or expressed willingness 
of certain local port entities to shoulder the expense and 
responsibility for AIS installation if they, along with the Coast 
Guard, can use AIS data for their own purposes.

Competing Proposals to Be Decided by FCC: 

Since 2003, there have been a number of petitions, proposals, and other 
actions put before FCC on who may and should use channels 87B and 88B 
and for what purposes. In October 2003, for example, MariTEL petitioned 
FCC seeking a ruling that would prohibit transmission on channels 87B 
and 88B by entities other than those authorized by MariTEL. In this 
petition MariTEL asserts, among other things, that the termination of 
the memorandum of agreement ended the Coast Guard's right to use 
channels for which MariTEL holds licensing rights. The company further 
contends that transmissions by entities other than those authorized by 
MariTEL would interfere with its other maritime frequency licenses and 
prevent its benefiting from the investment it made at the auction. On 
behalf of the Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation, NTIA 
also petitioned FCC in October 2003, opposing MariTEL's petition and 
proposing instead that FCC allocate channels 87B and 88B exclusively to 
AIS for government and nongovernment use. The government's position was 
that navigation safety and homeland security would be compromised if 
the United States and the maritime industry did not have unrestricted 
access to the frequencies designated by the International 
Telecommunication Union for AIS use worldwide.

Then in February 2004, citing a desire to protect its licensed rights 
and to reach a quick "resolution to the AIS frequency controversy," 
MariTEL submitted a proposal to FCC, "to share its licensed rights to 
channels 87B and 88B for use by ship stations and by the USCG at no 
cost." In this proposal, MariTEL generally agreed with NTIA's proposal 
to use channels 87B and 88B only for AIS, but unlike NTIA, it sought to 
limit access to the signals to ships, MariTEL, the Coast Guard, and the 
St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. In other words, under this 
proposal, unless authorized by MariTEL, the Coast Guard and the St. 
Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation would be the only entities 
allowed to use AIS information received by a shore station. In effect, 
under this proposal, the transmission and receipt of AIS signals by 
other entities, such as marine exchanges, port authorities, or state 
and local government agencies, would require MariTEL's consent.

FCC has been gathering public comment from groups representing vessel 
pilots, port authorities, ship and barge operators, and others on these 
competing proposals, and a response is expected in summer 2004. The 
implications of this response for nationwide AIS development will 
depend on just how the commission resolves the competing proposals.

Challenges Posed by FCC's Decision Will Depend on Its Specifics: 

If FCC allocates the internationally designated frequencies exclusively 
to AIS use but limits access to ships, MariTEL, the Coast Guard, and 
the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, other organizations 
will no longer be able to use the signals and would therefore have no 
incentive to pay for installing AIS infrastructure. Such loss of 
incentive would likely mean the loss of federal cost-sharing 
opportunities, potentially closing off a possible long-term cost-
reduction strategy in the development of AIS nationwide. For example, 
an official of the Merchants Exchange of Portland told us that the 
exchange would not be willing to pay for AIS facilities unless access 
to AIS data is unrestricted. In addition, according to an AIS 
consultant, enforcing a ban on parties other than MariTEL and the 
federal government to receive AIS signals at shore stations, as MariTEL 
has requested, could prove impossible, because an AIS receiver that is 
only receiving signals cannot be detected by an enforcement authority.

For its part, MariTEL maintains that it should be able to protect its 
investors and to profit from the licenses it won and that AIS can be 
operated as required by FCC's preauction rules. The company also 
maintains that even if FCC grants MariTEL's proposal for shared access 
to the internationally designated AIS frequencies, technical issues 
could still harm the company's ability to use other frequencies for 
which it holds licenses. In its February 2004 proposal, MariTEL 
contends that FCC rules now permit an AIS transmission technology that 
causes interference with maritime communications on channels adjacent 
to 87B and 88B. The company's proposal asserts that such interference 
impairs non-AIS shore-to-ship communications, with significant impact 
to MariTEL's ability to use its licensed spectrum, including its 
construction of a wide-area radio system for maritime services.

The Coast Guard argues that transmitting AIS signals on frequencies 
other than those internationally designated could compromise navigation 
safety and homeland security and complicate nationwide AIS development 
already under way using channels 87B and 88B. The Coast Guard cites 
examples such as the following: 

* A ship traveling near or in U.S. waters may have to decide between 
broadcasting and receiving signals on the international frequencies--to 
"see" foreign vessels operating under international frequency 
requirements--and United States-specific frequencies--to "see" 
domestic vessels operating under U.S. frequency requirements. The 
inability of vessels to broadcast and monitor the U.S frequencies and 
the internationally designated AIS frequencies simultaneously 
heightens the risk of collisions.

* Until a fully automated frequency management system has been 
established nationwide, the use of frequencies other than channels 87B 
and 88B would require transmitting foreign ships to manually change 
frequencies when approaching U.S. shores. According to the Coast Guard, 
such so-called manual channel switching is cumbersome and vulnerable to 
human errors and, if a ship's crew fails to change to the U.S. channel 
when necessary, could leave the ship "invisible" to ships in the same 
waters broadcasting on the U.S. frequency.

* Any U.S. channel management plans that become necessary would, the 
Coast Guard believes, impair existing operations in the border regions 
with Canada and Mexico, as well as AIS communications with 
international vessels operating within or near U.S. waters. For 
example, the St. Lawrence Seaway AIS system, jointly operated by the 
United States and Canada, is viewed by the Coast Guard as a complement 
to its nationwide AIS. The Seaway system, however, operates on channels 
87B and 88B, and any U.S.-specific frequencies would reduce the 
efficiency of this international shipping thoroughfare.

* Transmissions on channels 87B and 88B from vessels operating outside 
U.S. jurisdiction would interfere with the effective use of channels 
87B and 88B within the United States. According to the Coast Guard, 
such interference would encumber four frequencies in U.S. coastal areas 
instead of just the two internationally designated frequencies.

Finally, any additional actions by the interested parties stemming from 
specifics of FCC's response could slow or otherwise affect nationwide 
AIS development.

Depending on FCC's Response, Local Needs for AIS Data Create a Possible 
Cost-Sharing Opportunity: 

An opportunity that may help the Coast Guard speed AIS installation at 
lower cost to the federal government is potential partnerships between 
the Coast Guard and local port entities. For projects like AIS whose 
costs and benefits extend 3 or more years, the Office of Management and 
Budget instructs federal agencies, including the Coast Guard, to 
consider alternative means of achieving program objectives, such as 
different methods of providing services and different degrees of 
federal involvement.[Footnote 18] Similarly, in 1996 a congressional 
conference committee report directed the Coast Guard to review user fee 
options and public-private partnerships for its VTS program.[Footnote 
19] In carrying out these directives, the Coast Guard learned of 
potential partnership opportunities.

The initiative for the actual partnerships has come mainly from the 
local port entities following their interactions with the Coast Guard 
on navigation safety issues. As a part of the VTS program, the Coast 
Guard has been performing a series of safety assessments at U.S. ports 
to help determine if additional VTS areas are warranted. In a number of 
cases, when the Coast Guard determined that a federal VTS was not 
warranted, local entities approached the Coast Guard for assistance in 
setting up their own vessel-monitoring system. Coast Guard assistance 
has ranged from full partnerships on vessel traffic management systems, 
to memorandums of understanding regarding uses of local vessel-
monitoring systems, to advice and counsel on possible local efforts.

The offers from port entities have come at a number of locations and 
reflect a realization that vessel monitoring can provide a range of 
benefits. Entities have explored partnership with the Coast Guard at 
ports including Baltimore, Maryland; Charleston, South Carolina; Corpus 
Christi, Texas; Delaware Bay, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; 
Hampton Roads, Virginia; Los Angeles-Long Beach, California; Portland, 
Oregon; San Diego, California; and Tampa, Florida. Given the level of 
interest, these partnerships offer an alternative to exclusive federal 
involvement in nationwide AIS development. Entities at some of the 
listed locations have used, or want to use, AIS data about incoming 
vessels to improve port efficiency, for example, by helping schedule 
tugs or dock workers; to improve safety by mitigating risks uncovered 
during the Coast Guard's safety assessments; and to increase their own 
security by monitoring vessels as they approach the port. Some of these 
entities have installed AIS or similar systems and have offered to 
share their information with the Coast Guard. Such work relieves the 
Coast Guard from having to carry out its own installation of AIS shore 
stations in certain locations, thus accelerating and facilitating 
nationwide AIS implementation.

As of June 2004, some of the port entities that either used AIS or 
planned to do so included the following: 

* The Marine Exchange of Southern California, which provides vessel 
information at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, to 
support port safety and the efficient movement of commerce. As a part 
of that support, the marine exchange financed, with port pilots, and 
built the VTS system at Los Angeles-Long Beach and purchased and 
installed AIS equipment to that system. The Marine Exchange and the 
Coast Guard share information received on the AIS equipment. The Coast 
Guard estimated that the cost of installation at Los Angeles-Long Beach 
was comparable to the Coast Guard's installation at San Francisco, 
which the Coast Guard estimates at $2.2 million.

* The Tampa (Florida) Port Authority, which currently operates a vessel 
traffic advisory service. In 1997 the authority installed an earlier 
version of AIS that did not meet current international or Coast Guard 
standards but was designed to help the harbor pilots and vessel masters 
as they navigated in the Tampa Bay channels. The port authority 
recently requested a grant from the state of Florida to upgrade its AIS 
equipment to international and Coast Guard standards so as to improve 
security at the port of Tampa. The port authority has expressed 
willingness to share AIS information with the Coast Guard when its 
system becomes operational.

* Merchants Exchange of Portland, Oregon, which has expressed a desire 
to build an AIS system around Portland and the Columbia River as a 
means of supplying information on vessel movements to interested port 
entities. The goal is again to improve the efficiency of port 
operations. According to an exchange official, Merchant Exchange would 
be willing to share AIS information with the Coast Guard but would not 
build the facility until the conflict over AIS transmission frequencies 
is settled.

In all three cases, the local port entity has already paid, or is 
willing to pay, for AIS installation, but the port entities' ability to 
use AIS information depends on the coming FCC response. Although the 
local entities are building systems for their own purposes, all are 
sharing, or are planning to share, AIS information with the Coast Guard 
when the systems are complete. For example, the initiative taken by the 
Marine Exchange of Southern California alone likely saved the federal 
government $2.2 million for AIS installation. The more local port 
organizations that are willing to pay for the purchase and installation 
of AIS facilities, the more the Coast Guard can save on nationwide AIS 
installation. If the FCC response does not allow these entities to make 
unrestricted use of AIS information, they are likely to be less willing 
to invest in such facilities.


The development of AIS nationwide is an important step in the overall 
effort to increase port safety and security. The Coast Guard has made 
an expeditious start with its installations at VTS areas and its 
continued planning for additional coverage, but before the system can 
be fully implemented, the Coast Guard faces a number of challenges. It 
must make some key decisions to determine AIS's technical requirements, 
waterway coverage, and vessels to be equipped with AIS. The dispute 
with MariTEL must be resolved, and the Coast Guard must obtain 
financing for installation nationwide. Pending the outcome of FCC's 
response, financing is one area where the Coast Guard may find help in 
meeting its challenges. Although the Coast Guard did not actively 
pursue cost-sharing options under the VTS program, by actively doing so 
now, it could potentially accomplish its nationwide AIS installation 
goals more quickly and reduce installation costs to the federal 

Recommendation for Executive Action: 

To help reduce federal costs and speed development of AIS nationwide, 
we recommend that, depending on the outcome of the expected FCC 
response, the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the Commandant of 
the Coast Guard to seek and take advantage of opportunities to partner 
with organizations willing to develop AIS systems at their own expense.

Agency Comments: 

We provided a draft of this report to the Department of Homeland 
Security, the Coast Guard, and FCC for their review and comment. The 
Coast Guard and FCC generally agreed with the facts presented in the 
report and offered technical comments that were incorporated into the 
report where applicable. While agreeing with our recommendation, the 
Coast Guard also said that developing partnerships would face 
challenges such as ensuring that locally built systems meet all Coast 
Guard requirements, dealing with reluctant partners, or developing 
partnerships that maximize savings to the federal government. Given our 
assumption that the Coast Guard would not sacrifice AIS capability or 
standards in developing partnerships, we agree that developing 
partnerships will not necessarily be easy. We continue to believe, 
however, that doing so with willing local entities is in the public 
interest, and we continue to be encouraged in this regard by the level 
of interest in partnering with the Coast Guard that we found in the VTS 

As arranged with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents 
earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 15 days 
after its issue date. At that time, we will send copies of this report 
to the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications 
Commission. We will also make copies available to others upon request. 
In addition, this report will also be available at no charge at GAO's 
Web site at

If you or your staffs have any questions about this report, please 
contact me at (415) 904-2200 or at or Steve Calvo, 
Assistant Director, (206) 287-4800 or at Key 
contributors to this report are listed in appendix I.

Signed by, 

Margaret T. Wrightson: 
Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues: 

Appendix I: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments: 

GAO Contacts: 

Margaret Wrightson (415) 904-2200: 
Steven Calvo (206) 287-4800: 

Staff Acknowledgments: 

In addition to those named above, Jonathan Bachman, Chuck Bausell, 
Ellen W. Chu, Mathew Coco, Geoffrey Hamilton, Anne Laffoon, and Jeffrey 
Larson made key contributions to this report.


[1] Pub. L. No. 107-295, 116 Stat. 2064, 2082-2084 (2002).

[2] IMO, an agency of the United Nations to which the United States 
belongs, is the international body responsible for improving maritime 
safety, including combating acts of violence or crime at sea. In 
December 2002, IMO adopted amendments to the International Convention 
for Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, to which the United States is also a 
party, requiring certain ships to carry AIS equipment to enhance 
maritime security.

[3] The International Telecommunication Union is an international 
organization within the United Nations system in which governments and 
the private sector work together to coordinate the operation of 
telecommunication networks and services and to advance the development 
of communications technology.

[4] See U.S. General Accounting Office, Maritime Security: Progress 
Made in Implementing Maritime Transportation Security Act, but Concerns 
Remain, GAO-03-1155T (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 2003).

[5] We visited VTS facilities at New Orleans, Louisiana; New York, New 
York; and Seattle, Washington.

[6] AIS measures "speed over ground," or the speed a vessel is 
traveling relative to a fixed position.

[7] The St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and its Canadian 
partner, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, also require 
use of AIS by certain vessels in Seaway waters. This joint U.S.-
Canadian system operates on channels 87B and 88B under assignments from 
NTIA and Industry Canada. See St. Lawrence Seaway Development 
Corporation regulations at 33 C.F.R. § 401.20.

[8] See 33 C.F.R. 164.46 for which vessels need to carry AIS equipment.

[9] Maritime public correspondence services are provided by companies 
to subscribing customers for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore 
communications. Such communications do not include a company's internal 

[10] MariTEL has filed a $267 million damage claim with the Coast Guard 
for misappropriation of MariTEL's licensed frequencies.

[11] These sums represent the present values of expected acquisition 
costs. Unless otherwise noted, all cost figures cited are present 

[12] AIS in Los Angeles-Long Beach is fully functional, but it has not 
yet not been issued a license to transmit by FCC.

[13] The Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology 
Directorate, working with the Coast Guard, built upon an existing AIS 
test facility in Miami to create a security demonstration project 
covering South Florida from Key West to Fort Lauderdale. The project, 
named Hawkeye, features coastal radar, visual and infrared cameras, and 
a ship-to-shore AIS in a surveillance system aimed at stopping 
smugglers and terrorists from entering South Florida ports.

[14] Communications links might include telephone lines, television 
cabling, or fiber-optic cable.

[15] The Coast Guard has awarded a contract to test the validity of 
satellite reception of AIS signals from as far as 2,000 miles of the 
U.S. coastline.

[16] Rescue 21, now under development, is a system using enhanced VHF 
and ultrahigh frequency (UHF) radios and direction-finding equipment to 
speed rescue response to vessels in distress.

[17] The Coast Guard issued a temporary interim rule on July 1, 2003, 
outlining its MTSA implementation plans and setting forth initial AIS 
requirements, which apply primarily to commercial vessels on 
international voyages and traveling in U.S. VTS areas. It also sought 
public comment on how best to extend and implement AIS requirements on 
the remaining U.S. navigable waters for vessels not on international 
voyages. See 68 Fed. Reg. 39,353 (2003).

[18] Office of Management and Budget, Guidelines and Discount Rates for 
Benefit-Cost Analysis of Federal Programs, Circular A-94, revised 
October 29, 1992.

[19] H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 104-785 at 29 (1996).

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