June 9, 2014 - 1:33 pm
By Michael O'Rielly | Commissioner

It is never too early to engage in preparations for the World Radiocommunication Conference, or “WRC,” a meeting hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) every three to four years.  This conference facilitates the international coordination of spectrum usage and satellite orbit allocations, and the next one is scheduled for November 2015 (“WRC-15”) in Geneva, Switzerland.  Although it does not typically generate much fanfare, the conference is critical because the decisions made there can directly affect the future development of all mobile services—key drivers of innovation, economic growth and job creation.

WRC-15 is especially important because it will address many significant issues.  Topping the agenda will be identifying more spectrum bands to meet the ever-growing demand for wireless services.  WRC participants will consider modifying the allocations to allow for wireless broadband operations in the broadcast spectrum, 3.5 GHz, and 5 GHz bands.  The United States has already taken action to open these frequencies to commercial wireless service in this country, but consumers will benefit if we are successful at WRC-15 in reaching international agreement.  Spectrum harmonization helps prevent harmful interference and promotes the seamless use of wireless devices across borders—a growing concern in our increasingly mobile world.  It also enables communications equipment manufacturers to take advantage of the economies of scale as they create devices that can be used and sold internationally, at lower prices.

The outcome of WRC-15 is equally important to the satellite industry because of its global nature.  The conference will contend with a number of pressing issues facing these operators, including preserving internationally-harmonized spectrum for satellite services, allocating additional bandwidth, and modernizing satellite regulatory procedures to reflect commercial practices.  Discussions will also begin about the use of next generation technologies.  For example, setting the terms and conditions for the use of satellite spectrum to operate unmanned aircraft.  And, the spectrum and regulatory procedures needed to deploy tomorrow’s nanosatellite and picosatellite systems. 

The U.S. State Department and an appointed U.S. Ambassador will lead our WRC delegation to Geneva.  Given the importance of WRC-15, the lead-Ambassador should be identified as soon as practicable (even if not officially appointed until later).  Doing so will allow that person to begin the complex task of working with all stakeholders to develop concrete positions.  Once the U.S. has firmly established its priorities, we should work to gain support from other countries.  Naming an Ambassador early on is vital for this coordination process.

The FCC must play an active role at the WRC and its preliminary conferences.  In preparation, the Commissioners need greater involvement with the International Bureau, which tirelessly oversees the Commission’s efforts to prepare for WRC and all international conferences, and the FCC’s WRC Advisory Committee (WAC), which compiles industry recommendations and determines private sector priorities.  To the extent that differences of opinion exist on any particular issue, my fellow Commissioners and I may be in the best position to find common ground or a necessary resolution.  Accordingly, we should be brought into these deliberations early and often.      

In the end, success at WRC-15 can only happen if the U.S.—both government and affected industry—is unified, active, and extremely well prepared.  I stand ready to ensure this happens.