Key Takeaways from First WRC-19 Insights Roundtable

Wiley Rein convened key policymakers and industry leaders in the first of a series of WRC-19 Insights Roundtable discussions.  Ambassador David Gross, co-Chair of Wiley Rein’s Telecom, Media, and Technology (TMT) Practice Group and Anna M. Gomez, TMT Partner, co-hosted the Roundtable.

Ambassador Gross stressed the importance of the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), as access to spectrum is the foundation for emerging—and evolving—technologies.  Many affected stakeholders, however, are not familiar with the processes and strategies for participating in WRC preparations.  Therefore, the WRC-19 Insights first event focused on lessons learned from previous WRC conferences and strategies for getting your voice heard at this important global conference. 

Approximately 3,300 participants representing 162 ITU Member States attended WRC-15, and the upcoming WRC promises to be highly-attended as well.  WRC-19 will convene for four weeks, beginning October 28, 2019, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to consider various spectrum allocation and sharing proposals intended to provide more efficient use of spectrum and orbital resources.

If you were unable to attend the first roundtable discussion, don’t worry.  You can listen to a recording of the conversation here, and a summary of the discussion is available below.     

Robert Strayer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy at the U.S. Department of State, delivered opening remarks.  Here are some of his observations:

  • ITU PP-18: The U.S. has an aggressive agenda planned for the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference scheduled at the end of October 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This includes promoting the election of Doreen Bogdan-Martin, an American, to chair the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Sector, and reelection of Joann Wilson, also American, to the ITU’s Radio Regulation Board.

Noting that the U.S. is the among the top contributors to the ITU, the Administration plans to keep the focus on high-priority issues, like infrastructure interconnection, spectrum issues, and improved ITU oversight.  

  • WRC-19 & Spectrum: WRC-19 will be the first conference to focus on spectrum needed to support 5G technologies. To enable emerging sectors empowered by data—including railroads, autonomous vehicles, and manufacturing, among others—there must be adequate amounts low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum available. The U.S. is interested in ensuring sufficient spectrum for satellite, aeronautical, maritime, and other services as well.

  • CPM19-2: The U.S. is preparing for the second Conference Preparatory Meeting in February 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. The Administration hopes to appoint an Ambassador to WRC-19 ahead of this event.

  • U.S. Leadership: The United States plays a critical role at the ITU. More than half of all adopted proposals at the WTDC were introduced by either the U.S. or CITEL, and the U.S. should look to maintain its leadership role as it prepares for WRC-19.

The first panel, Overview and Lessons Learned, which was moderated by Wiley Rein’s Richard Beaird, former Senior Deputy Coordinator, International Communications and Information Policy, at the Department of State, featured Decker Anstrom, Ambassador and head of the U.S. delegations to WRC-12 and WRC-15; Steven Molina, Deputy Associate Administrator, Spectrum Planning and Policy, of NTIA’s Office of Spectrum Management; and Tom Sullivan, Chief of the FCC’s International Bureau.  They emphasized the following:

  • WRC Implications: WRCs greatly influence the development of communications services, which in turn affect development of the U.S. economy. For example, WRCs have helped to shape the evolution of technologies like 3G/IMT, 4G/IMT Advanced, and now 5G/IMT 2020, as well as medium- and low-earth orbit satellite systems.

  • WRC-19 Preparations: The U.S. is nearly 2 ½ years into its 4-year planning cycle, which began during WRC-15. Technical studies to explore potential opportunities for spectrum sharing are well underway, and the results of these studies will inform U.S. proposals. The U.S. is collaborating with neighboring countries Canada and Mexico, as well as maintaining a dialogue with regional groups APT, ASMG, ATU, CEPT, CITEL, and RCC.

  • High-Priority Agenda Items: The top U.S. priority is Agenda Item 1.13—proposals for IMT use in spectrum bands above 24 GHz. This initiative in many ways parallels the FCC’s activities in the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding.

The U.S. is also focused on identifying additional spectrum in the 5 GHz range for WiFi services, increasing power limits for Earth Exploration Satellite Service, and creating opportunities for short-duration satellites.

  • 5 Lessons Learned from Prior WRCs: (1) Set a date by which the U.S. will have a final position on each agenda item, and stick with it; (2) think strategically when identifying allies—an energetic coalition is key; (3) build on previous collaboration with ICAO on UAS and other aircraft-related issues; (4) organize a separate, parallel process to develop future items for WRC-23; and (5) develop a strong delegation with an expert spokesperson for each agenda item.

The second panel, How to Advocate Positions and Exert Influence, which was moderated by Wiley Rein’s Brandon Hinton, featured Donna Bethea-Murphy, Senior Vice President, Global Regulatory of Inmarsat; Paul Mitchell, General Manager of Microsoft Corporation; and Tom Power, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of CTIA and Chair of the FCC WRC Advisory Committee.   Here are some of their key insights:

  • Understanding WRCs: For those new to the area, the best way to learn about WRCs is to talk with people who have attended prior conferences.

  • Consensus Building: Unlike when negotiating domestically on spectrum matters, where the federal agencies had clear guidance from Congress and the White House on spectrum policy positions (e.g., Spectrum Act and Presidential Memorandum on Expanding America’s Leadership in Wireless Innovation), it is more difficult today to achieve consensus on several agenda items. There are numerous stakeholders from government, industry, and academia with interests in differing services, including satellite, terrestrial, aeronautical, maritime, and space research. Reaching consensus can therefore be challenging, though not impossible.

  • Collaboration: Collaboration at both the country and regional levels is imperative to the success of any proposal. This is done by identifying those with similar interests and delivering evidence-based, persuasive arguments. In addition to ITU Member States and regional players, the U.S. should also look to develop alliances with other U.N. organizations like ICAO and IMO, whose support can be influential.

  • Increasing U.S. Influence: The U.S. can improve its standing in the ITU by carefully articulating its position—keeping U.S. allies and the target audience in mind. Delegates must be knowledgeable on the issues and available to persuasively debate and consider these matters with delegates from other ITU Member States in formal and informal settings alike at meetings ahead of WRC-19 and, of course, at the conference itself.

Wiley Rein will host its second WRC-19 Insights Roundtable soon.  Further details, once released, will be available here. 


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