National Space Council officials to attend WRC-19 spectrum conference

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WASHINGTON — Every three to four years, spectrum regulators convene to set rules on the use of the world’s limited radio frequency resources at an event known as the World Radiocommunication Conference. Next year the United States’ recently formed National Space Council will attend to defend the interest of American satellite operators and influence changes in international space policy.

Michael Beavin, senior policy adviser at the National Space Council, confirmed the council “is planning to send folks” next fall to the four-week conference, referred to as WRC-19, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

“The international contest for spectrum between terrestrial and space services will be an important part of the next radio communications conference in 2019,” Beavin said July 26 during an event here hosted by the conservative Federalist Society think tank. “At this meeting, the United States will be working to identify more spectrum for terrestrial 5G users. At the same time we will be working to ensure a stable, harmonized international regulatory environment for satellite services meeting government and private sector needs.”

The satellite industry fared better than expected at the previous WRC in 2015, protecting the majority of the 800 MHz C-band from mobile operators wanting the spectrum for cellular networks. The satellite industry also flustered the U.S. Federal Communications Commission by uniting against U.S.-led efforts to examine satellite Ka-band spectrum’s potential for 5G cellular networks.

The UN’s International Telecommunication Union organizes the WRC conferences. Francois Rancy, director of the ITU’s radiocommunication bureau, said last November that C- and Ka-band look like prime targets for cellular 5G ‘harmonization,’ or coordinating the spectrum on a regional or global basis for a single purpose.

Beavin detailed the National Space Council’s mindset heading into WRC-19, saying the U.S. requires a mix of satellite and terrestrial communications, and wants to be a leader in both, not one or the other.

“To this end, we will be working to ensure adequate protection and spectrum access for satellite service and new spectrum access for terrestrial broadband services,” he said. “We will not engage in industrial policy games to pick technological national champions on Earth or in space.”

Beavin said the National Space Council also wants the ITU to streamline regulatory coordination procedures for small satellites, arguing that it can take up to seven years, at which point a small satellite could be built, launched, operated and deorbited before the ITU’s processes are complete.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly echoed the importance of satellite communications, but said he remained frustrated with the satellite industry’s deflection on Ka-band at WRC-15.

“The satellite industry had done its homework and was quite successful globally in blocking a lot of different things,” O’Rielly said during the Federalist Society event. “I worry that we are heading down the same path with WRC-19.”

O’Rielly said he has advocated for more agreement on a national level and a regional level with CITEL, the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission, regarding the U.S. stance heading into WRC-19.

O’Rielly said some nations also sought to block U.S. proposals at WRC-15 for what appeared to be no other reason than to irritate the U.S.

“They will block the United States from moving forward even if it’s not to the detriment of their own country for purposes of competitive reasons,” he said without naming specific countries. “That can’t be allowed to survive, in my opinion.”