The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-12) opened in Geneva on Jan. 23 and ran to Feb. 17. Just before the event, the ITU released a series of news items on issues that the conference would face, including several that affect the satellite sector, but what were experts describing as the important satellite items?
Julie Zoller, former Radio Regulations Board (RRB) chair and current member, wrote on “improving the international satellite regulatory framework.” Improvement is indeed needed, as she notes that member states file hundreds of satellite network registrations with the ITU each year, but only roughly one-third of those filings complete the process.
There are lots of reasons why networks drop out of the process. Zoller says that the ITU has been examining the principles behind registrations as far back as the radio conference in 1997, where Resolution 80 on due diligence for satellite networks was first adopted. WRC-12 will be looking at changes to the satellite network registration procedures, under agenda items 7 and 8.1.
Zoller examines the impact of the rules that the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau (BR) and the RRB now use, in particular to review “reliable information” that a recorded assignment was not brought into regular operation or is not being used as expected. This issue is a “hot potato” in light of recent RRB decisions and will be hotly debated at WRC-12.
Zoller anticipates that the WRC-12 may express views on this matter, but “establishing rigid criteria, such as a minimum number of days to meet the ‘regular operation’ criterion, would likely be difficult…” She also notes possible reforms in suspending the use of satellite assignments, problems of harmful interference (with a veiled reference to Iran’s jamming of satellite signals) and international monitoring of satellite operations. On that last topic, even if the BR does not have the necessary resources to monitor, Zoller suggests that WRC-12 might “expand the ability of administrations to seek support in identifying a source of harmful interference, which would include activating the international monitoring system.”
Yvon Henri, chief of the ITU Space Services Department, wrote on “efficient use of the spectrum/orbit resource,” which is similar to a series of workshops and seminars that the BR has held on these topics in the last few years. He asks whether existing procedures could be improved to ensure efficient use and identified how the ITU was “going from talk to action” by taking regulatory steps “to reduce the number of unused networks that clutter the spectrum/orbit and make entry difficult for newcomers.” These steps include asking administrations to review their satellite filings, checking public information on satellites in use and asking for specific information when a satellite does not appear to be where it is supposed to be.
In describing difficulties that the BR faces, Henri refers to many of the same issues that Zoller outlined. He writes that the different scenarios of today require a “clearer understanding of the concept.” He says that the BR considers that a satellite should be present and operating for a minimum of three months.
Since administrations have never agreed to that concept, it will be a challenge at the WRC-12 to reach consensus that includes this particular understanding. Opinions and national positions differed substantially on this issue going into the conference, as shown by Zoller’s comments. The three-month standard seems plucked out of the air and more definitive than most comparable ITU standards, although some administrations support a clear definition for legal certainty. What most want above all is a standard that is enforceable and applied equally to all satellite registrations.
Henri also outlines a series of possible improvements, ranging from updated due diligence to more information requirements. One very notable suggestion is to “combat the practice of setting overly aggressive or sensitive parameters, which block coordination.” He also suggests limiting coordination requirements and supports international monitoring. One item that I do not believe WRC-12 will take up, however, is his suggestion to introduce spectrum pricing. Many nations are dead set against this type of international fee structure.
The baseline question raised by Henri is “will WRC-12 meet these challenges?” We can review this at the SATELLITE 2012 event and reach our own conclusions.
Gerry Oberst is a partner in the Hogan Lovells Brussels office.