Editorial: Iran’s WRC-12 Agenda

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It is difficult not to see great irony in Iran’s proposal to dismantle the system by which the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) assigns orbital slots and broadcasting frequencies to satellite operators.

The Iranian delegation to the World Radiocommunication Conference-12 (WRC-12), now under way in Geneva, certainly has an argument: The current system is prone to abuse and may indeed be biased in favor of the world’s most economically and technologically developed nations. But Iran also stands accused of perpetrating one such abuse with its Zohreh-2 satellite service.

To recap, Iran claims the Zohreh-2 service complied with the ITU’s continuous service rules by broadcasting via satellites owned by Intelsat and Eutelsat, but both operators deny this. Currently the service is broadcasting using leased capacity aboard an Arabsat satellite at a location and in frequencies that will cause interference with a satellite under construction by a joint venture of Eutelsat and the government of Qatar. ITU officials are dubious of Tehran’s claims, but have been unable to resolve the matter out of reluctance to contest the word of a sovereign nation. Satellite industry officials say the controversy threatens to undermine the fragile system by which order is maintained in the increasingly crowded geostationary-orbit arc, yet the issue is not on the WRC-12 agenda.

Kavouss Arasteh, senior adviser to Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, noted examples of ITU rules being manipulated in ways that prevent the exploitation of precious orbital slots and spectrum. He also said trust is paramount in preventing chaos as more nations stake a claim to satellite communications real estate. He’s correct on both counts, of course, but Iran appears undecided on whether it wants to be part of the solution or the problem. It cannot be both.