Common Heritage Satellites

By | July 1, 2012 | Broadcasting, Via Satellite

One of the more interesting resolutions to come out of the ITU’s 2012 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-12) was initially called the “Common Heritage” resolution. What will be the impact of Resolution COM5/11 (WRC-12) now provisionally numbered as Resolution 11 and titled “Use of satellite orbital positions and associated frequency spectrum to deliver international public telecommunication services in developing countries”?

This resolution has no binding force but resolves that the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau (ITU-R) should collaborate with the ITU Development Bureau (ITU-D) on satellite technologies and applications to help developing countries with new networks and services. It also resolves that the ITU-R should undertake studies on additional regulatory measures to enhance the availability of public international telecoms services delivered through satellite technologies. Finally, it invites the ITU to organize workshops, seminars and training courses on these matters.

Asking the ITU to conduct such activities is knocking on an open door — the ITU undertakes policy events like these as a matter of course. Asking for studies is a time-honored approach for keeping an issue in play. Tacked on to the resolution at WRC-12 is a new invitation to the ITU Secretary General to bring the resolution to the attention of the International Telecommunication Satellite Organization (ITSO) and the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO). This is solely a political signal that these organizations — set up after the privatization of Intelsat and Inmarsat, respectively — should be involved. Both are completely aware of the resolution and probably sought this language in the first place.

When last we saw, however, the ITSO was debating at its 16th meeting of the advisory committee in March of this year whether the organization should even continue to exist. Nevertheless, these organizations are involved, due to their efforts to define some of the orbital positions used by Intelsat in particular as common heritage slots, dedicated in large part to serving developing countries.

Be that as it may, Resolution 11 contains much interesting language on the role of communications satellites in both developed and developing countries.

The considering clauses of the resolution sets out a list of the United Nations and ITU actions that support the role of communications satellites. For this reason, if no other, the resolution is useful for its compendium of international resolutions and pronouncements. For example, an action plan that sprung from the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) includes actions to “promote the provision of global high-speed satellite services for underserved areas such as remote and sparsely populated areas.”

Among the other references, Resolution 11 also quotes the previous ITU Plenipotentiary held in 2010, which revised its own Resolution 71 to identify a strategic goal of the ITU-R to “seek ways and means to ensure rational, equitable, efficient and economical use of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite-orbit resources….”

The resolution essentially links the need for broadband and other innovative technologies to the satellite communications field. It recognizes that the introduction of competition into the international satellite sector has “increase[d] the availability of diverse and innovative international telecommunications services in both developed and developing countries….”

The main emphasis of Resolution 11, as befits its name, is on the availability of broadband satellite technologies to generate growth in developing countries. It says that “efficient use” of satellite orbits and frequencies helps to ensure global coverage and “to connect countries directly, instantly and reliably at an affordable price.”

Even if the resolution is simply aspirational, it gives fresh impetus to the ITU structure to study and support the use of satellite facilities for services worldwide. The linkage between communications satellites and broadband can be helpful, especially with the reference to affordable pricing.

If the ITU does indeed organize “workshops, seminars and training courses” on these items, the satellite industry should give strong support. The emergence of developing countries into the satellite field is absolutely certain. The importance of competition and advanced technologies in Resolution 11 is extremely helpful — the opening of new satellite operations by developing countries should not lead to the closing of their markets from existing operators that can stimulate offering of the new services with affordable pricing.

Resolution 11 invites sector members, i.e., companies, to contribute to its implementation. The satellite industry should view that as an open door as well.

Gerry Oberst is a partner in the Hogan Lovells Brussels office.

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