U.S. Delegation Urges Flexibility, Innovation in Preparatory Meeting for ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference

April 17, 2015
View of Second Session of Conference Preparatory Meeting for WRC-15 [ITU Photo/D.Woldu]

As a global leader in the telecommunications and aerospace industries, the United States has shown how adaptability and creativity can breed innovation and economic growth.  So it’s no surprise that, at a recent global meeting of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the watchword of the U.S. Delegation was “flexibility.” The message: We can foster the development of new broadband wireless applications and remotely piloted aircraft, while also giving long-standing services such as broadcasting the ongoing protection they need to continue operating successfully.

The result was a successful outcome for the United States at the ITU’s Conference Preparatory Meeting (CPM), held March 23 – April 2 in Geneva, Switzerland. The CPM drew national delegations from more than 100 countries in an effort to complete the technical foundation for this November’s World Radiocommunication Conference or “WRC.” Congratulations are due to the ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, and its Director, Francois Rancy, for organizing such a successful preparatory process.

Each WRC, held every 3-4 years, revises the ITU’s global, treaty-level Radio Regulations, which allocate and govern how radio frequencies and satellite orbital slots are used.  Without the Radio Regulations to sort out competing radio-frequency usage, the airwaves would degenerate into a global cacophony of mutual interference. Successful WRCs give radio spectrum-based industries the freedom and regulatory certainty they need to continue flourishing, expanding and innovating. This is hugely important for driving economic growth here in the United States and throughout the world.  The high-tech mobile applications and devices that define these early years of the 21st century were enabled by the painstaking negotiations of previous WRCs, going back to the 1990s and 2000s.

One of the biggest tasks for this year’s WRC (“WRC-15”) is to identify additional spectrum bands suitable for mobile broadband services. The challenge is that all of the most suitable bands are already being used for things like broadcasting and satellite services. To address this, the United States’ delegates at the CPM worked tirelessly to advance proposals that emphasize sharing of spectrum access with existing services. This will give the United States and similarly innovative economies the ability to proceed with new broadband networks and equipment, while providing flexibility to protect their own and their neighbors' existing services.  Also, countries that are moving more slowly on the broadband development path will have the flexibility to use just a portion (or even none) of the new spectrum until they are fully ready.

Similarly, the United States proposed to use satellite links for command-and-control of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the remotely piloted aircraft that are revolutionizing civil aviation.  The proposal is to identify the spectrum for those links, while empowering aviation authorities to set appropriate operational safety standards. This is the key to freeing up a nascent commercial industry --  worth an estimated $80 billion over the next decade -- for long-range UAS aircraft, which will be instrumental for shipping, disaster relief, meteorology, agriculture and public safety applications.

Another major task for the WRC is to begin addressing the need for global flight tracking technology.  Spurred by the disappearance of a Malaysian Airlines flight nearly a year ago, the ITU has directed WRC-15 to explore how to use the airwaves to track the location of airliners wherever they travel.  Once again, the United States is preserving, for now, our flexibility to explore this issue and potential solutions, while remaining committed to taking action on this important issue at WRC this fall. 

As always, NASA is at the forefront -- along with its fellow space agencies from around the world -- in working to ensure the protection and extension of spectrum access for space sciences.  WRC-15 is addressing several items related to the space research service, earth exploration satellite service and communications links for activities supporting the International Space Station.

At the CPM, the U.S. delegation exemplified the highest level of collaboration between technical and policy experts, who were drawn from our high-tech industries and our government.  This has allowed our delegates to lead through their knowledge and creativity, interacting with their colleagues from around the globe.  We will visit every region of the world in the months ahead, seeking to understand the priorities of other nations and gathering support for our proposals to the conference.  As we represent the most vital and dynamic industries in the world, we intend to carry forward our message of flexibility to WRC-15 in November, offering our skills and collaboration to help accelerate the telecommunications and aerospace innovations that have come to mean so much for economic growth in this century.

About the Authors: Julie Zoller serves as Senior Deputy Coordinator and Director of the Office of Multilateral Affairs within the Communications and Information Policy Directorate, part of the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. She serves as U.S. Representative to the CPM. Decker Anstrom will serve, with ambassadorial rank, as the U.S. Representative to the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15).  Mr. Anstrom, who has a distinguished career in public service and the telecommunications industry, previously served as Ambassador and U.S. Representative to WRC-12. 

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