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Radio Regulations Board (RRB): 'It's place, role and functioning in the ITU' (by Wladyslaw Moron, Member RRB*)

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent RRB views.

Radio Regulations Board
Geneva, 22-26 March 2010

Document RRB10-1/4-E
1 March 2010
Original: English/French

1. Introductory remarks

The Radio Regulations Board (RRB) is a body of significant importance in the ITU. To understand its role properly, one should look at how the situation evolved from the beginning, and have a picture of the present state. But the suitable information to enable this understanding is dispersed in various sources, making the search for it tedious. This document puts the relevant information together, giving a concise overview of historical background, and examining the present time duties and working methods of the RRB. This may prove valuable to many, particularly to Administrations of Member States taking part in Plenipotentiary Conferences, where various ideas concerning the RRB are discussed, and where elections of RRB Members take place.

2. Historical background

Radiocommunication was discovered in 1895 and the first Table of Frequency Allocations was created in 1912 by the International Radiotelegraph Union (IRU) which was founded as early as 1903 (the infant radio technology then allowed for the kilohertz range only). This first Table may be considered as the beginning of the Radio Regulations, notwithstanding that it was only facultative.

In line with the evolving technology the Table, in 1938, was extended up to 200 MHz. This took place after the merger in 1932 of the above mentioned IRU and International Telegraph Union (created in 1865) into what constituted the ITU, which successfully exists up to the present.

Then, in 1939 the Second World War began. The ITU survived it (in a dormant state, and following the Atlantic City Plenipotentiary Conference (PP) in 1947 it started a new life. This was the time when the Allied Countries wanted to impose a new international order based on “lasting international peace, justice, and mutual trust”. The United Nations Organization was created to solve cooperatively major economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems, and the Atlantic City Conference incorporated ITU into the UN structure.

In 1947 the importance of radiocommunications for mankind was already clear and the Conference was well aware how important it was to have international order in the usage of the radio frequency (RF) spectrum. This understanding was the basis for the creation of the International Frequency Registration Board (IFRB), the body to manage the RF spectrum internationally and to solve arising problems in a neutral manner. This also prompted the Conference to place the IFRB on the highest level in the structure of the Union. In Atlantic City it was stressed that Members of the IFRB must be considered as “custodians of an international public trust” and not as representatives of their respective Member States or Regions. The then eleven members of IFRB were expected to act independently and represent only themselves.

To assist their independence they were paid from ITU budget.

To maintain objectivity they were expected not to request or receive instructions, and Member States were asked to respect the exclusively international character of the duties of the Members of the Board, and to refrain from attempting to influence them in the performance of the IFRB duties. Even the Secretary General, the highest elected official in ITU, had no ruling over them. In fact the IFRB decisions were final and could be changed only by the majority of all Member States gathered at the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP) or World Radio Conference (WRC).

The Atlantic City PP established that IFRB Members must be “thoroughly qualified by technical training in the field of radio and possessing practical experience in the assignment and utilization of frequencies”, and must be elected by the Plenipotentiary Conference from candidates proposed by Member States. It should be noted that such qualifications and experience were required exclusively with regard to IFRB membership.

The IFRB was originally envisioned by its proponents "as something of a cross between the Federal Communication Commission and the International Court of Justice" [1, 2, 3]. In reality, the IFRB has never achieved a status comparable to that of the FCC or International Court of Justice. One of the reasons for the IFRB not achieving that status was the inability of Member States to allow it to perform all of its functions as arbitrator of the RF spectrum usage by all the nations of the world. Nevertheless, even in this situation of limited possibilities, the IFRB proved its indispensability and confirmed the correctness of Atlantic City decisions. It served the membership well and impartially, helping to interpret cohesively and to observe strictly the Radio Regulations.

After 18 years of existence of the IFRB with eleven Members, the Montreux PP, in 1965, reduced its size to five. The PP might have even abolished the IFRB completely, had it not been supported by the developing countries [1]. The developing countries considered the IFRB as a neutral body necessary to assist them and to protect their interest vis-à-vis developed ones.

3. Beginning of change

There was criticism of the IFRB with respect to delays in frequency notification and in maintaining the International Frequency Master Register and in the 1990s, a special Panel of Experts was created to explore the long-term future of the Board. The Panel considered various possibilities to improve the situation. As concerns a part-time Board, its report stated:

“f) … doubts were also expressed concerning the difficulty a part-time Board member could experience in acting in an impartial manner. While some member of the Panel felt that a government official exposed to the policies of his national administration on a more or less continuous basis would inevitably have difficulties in acting, and being seen to act, in a completely impartial manner in meetings of the Board, others felt that impartiality was a human trait, inherent in the individual and not dependent upon the duties being undertaken.”

The Panel concluded that no significant changes were needed in the Board duties vis-à-vis the Member States. However, the drawbacks of the collective directorship of the IFRB Secretariat and unclear division of competences between the five independent Board Members vis-à-vis Secretariat personnel were noted. Later, the High-Level Committee on Review of the Structure and Functioning of ITU proposed separating the international activities of the Board from the administrative internal duties within the IFRB Secretariat.
On the basis of these proposals the fundamental decision to replace the IFRB by a part-time RRB was taken by the Geneva Additional Plenipotentiary Conference (APP) in December 1992. Then, after the transitional period, the Kyoto PP in 1994 elected a nine-member, part-time RRB and delegated the executive power, shared previously among five independent individuals to a single person, by subordinating the secretariat personnel to the Director of the newly created Radiocommunication Bureau (BR). The majority of Member States believed that such reorganization would radically eliminate the backlog in the frequency notification process and decrease significantly the budget expenses at the same time.

Thus, in 1994 the part-time Radio Regulations Board was born and started its work. Four years later, in 1998, the Minneapolis PP expanded the RRB to twelve members, without any further significant modifications.

4. Present time

4.1. Introduction

It should be stressed that in the 1994 and 1998 PPs, no changes were introduced in the election procedure or qualification requirements, and part-time Board Members retained the status established for IFRB members in Atlantic City [4].

The only change was that the Members were freed from running the specialized secretariat (whose functions were taken over by the BR). They do not reside at ITU headquarters in Geneva, and work without remuneration. They stay in their countries and come to Geneva only for short meetings a few times a year with travel, subsistence and insurance expenses paid by the ITU.

This change created, however, a somewhat curious situation, because it meant that the financial burden of maintenance of the RRB Members was effectively transferred to Member States whose candidates were elected. In this situation two cases may be distinguished:

• the first one is when the Board Member is an employee of an Administration of a given Member State or of a company in the said State. His/her employer has to agree that sufficient time and resources will be devoted to RRB matters;

• the second one is when the Board Member is an experienced retired expert (this situation occurred from the very beginning of the part-time Board). In this case the Administration of a given Member State should provide the conditions for his/her work for RRB, but it has not been done every time in the past. After election some Members were left alone without any assistance with detrimental effect on their work. Such instances prompted the Marrakesh PP in 2002 to call, in Resolution 119 [5], upon Member States to provide all necessary assistance and support.

4.2. Composition of the Board

The RRB consists now of 12 members elected from the candidates proposed by Member States at the Plenipotentiary Conference. To obtain geographical balance, the Member States have been divided into 5 Administrative Regions from which members are elected. For each candidate from each Region all ITU Member States, not only those from a given Region, can cast vote. The Administrative Regions and numbers of Board members from them are the following:

● Region A (Americas) [6]: 2 members;
● Region B (Western Europe) [7]: 2 members;
● Region C (Eastern Europe and Northern Asia) [8]: 2 members;
● Region D (Africa) [9]: 3 members;
● Region E (Asia and Australasia) [10]: 3 members.

In the current term of office (2007-2010), RRB members are from the following countries:

● Region A: Canada, United States;
● Region B: France, Lithuania;
● Region C: Kyrgyz Republic, Poland (2nd term);
● Region D: Cameroon (2nd term), Morocco (2nd term), Nigeria (2nd term);
● Region E: India, Malaysia, Pakistan.

A Board Member may serve two terms only.

4.3. Duties of the Board

RRB duties and working methods are defined in various parts of ITU Constitution, Convention, Radio Regulations and in Part C of Rules of Procedure [11, 12, 13, 14], and to have a quick look on them, an overview is provided below. But before considering them, it is important to note that the IFRB and subsequently the RRB have been created to be a kind of a watchdog to monitor compliance with very complicated Radio Regulations which now count 2197 pages and set out intertwined regulatory and technical procedures establishing compatible, non-interfered working of 41 various radio services in the huge frequency range from 9 kHz to 275 GHz (with research going up to 3000 GHz and even higher).

Of course the Radio Regulations are alive and in line with technological progress they are – after suitable preparatory work – corrected, changed and enlarged at consecutive WRCs. These conferences last a few weeks only and notwithstanding the most careful consideration it may happen (and it does happen) that in the adopted RR and Resolutions oversights and insufficiently precise formulations appear, giving way to divergent interpretations. Errors, too, cannot be totally excluded.

To look after compliance with the RR worldwide is a demanding task for the Radiocommunication Bureau, and taking into account the afore-mentioned possible inaccuracies or inconsistencies in RR, and sometimes conflicting interests of Member States, the matter is quite complicated.

Here the role of RRB as an independent interpreter and mediator, whose decisions may be changed only by the WRC, comes to the forefront. These decisions allow for sufficiently quick action, without waiting for the next WRC. Such a long delay would in many cases mean not only large economic losses for those involved, but also could cause the matter to be obsolete before any decision.

In the framework of its duties, the RRB:

• considers and approves Rules of Procedure (RoPs) the need for which was identified by the BR in the practice of applying the RR, by the Administration of a Member State or by RRB itself. They standardize and make known the practices of BR, give clear interpretation to insufficiently clear formulations or may correct obvious errors in the RR. Only the WRC may confirm, change or abolish RRB decisions;

• considers disagreements between Administrations, or between recognized operators (through their Administrations), concerning contravention or non-observance of the RR (if a given Administration submits the case to RRB). The RRB may transfer the matter to the next WRC or take a decision which is final, and if the Administration disagrees, it can only raise the matter at WRC;

• considers any appeal against a BR decision or any other request submitted by Administration;

• considers cases of harmful interference but only on explicit demand of an Administration, when interested sides cannot solve the problem themselves and the BR’s intervention does not achieve results. Sometimes these cases before the RRB are very difficult in many aspects and may last for a long time;

• considers any item requested by any member of the Board or by BR Director

• prepares proposals for WRC to include appropriate RoPs into RR and presents them, through BR’s Director Report to the conference

• carries out other additional duties as prescribed by WRC or by the Council with the consent of a majority of the Member States. Such an additional duty was entrusted by WRC-97 through Resolution 80 “Due diligence in applying the principles embodied in the Constitution”. It instructed RRB to consider possible draft recommendations and provisions which would allow realising principles of equitable right to use and equitable access to frequencies and orbits. In contrast to other duties which represent in principle recurrent tasks, and were in general successfully solved, this last task is very special and difficult, and needs some additional comments (see Annex 1).

It should be strongly stressed that the effective work of the RRB would be impossible without the help and very competent expertise offered by BR staff, which prepares needed documentation, analyses and provides explanations to the problems considered, and also assures all administrative support.

4.4. Meetings of the Board

Up to the end of 2008 the Board conducted 4 meetings a year, normally of 5-day duration. Beginning in 2009, the meetings have been reduced to 3 times a year, in line with the PP-06 decision driven by budgetary constraints. In 2008, the Board discussed the problem which may arise when only 3 meetings are held, in the situation where the “recurrent” workload does not diminish and there is significant Resolution 80 workload [15]. Experience will show if 3 meetings per year will allow for the smooth working of the Board and more importantly for timely consideration of matters raised by Administrations for the RRB’s decision.

Meetings are attended by RRB Members, Director of BR (in the capacity of Executive Secretary of the Board), BR expert staff, minute writers, and in some sense by cabin interpreters. Languages for simultaneous interpretation depend on the current RRB membership; currently English, French and Russian are used.

The working methods are described in detail in Part C of the RoP [14]. Agendas and documents to be considered are available on the web before the meeting. Meetings are recorded, and the minutes of each meeting are available on the web in all six ITU languages into which they are translated from original English version. At the end of each meeting, a summary of decisions taken is prepared and approved in English and French. It is made available within a week on the web in those two languages, and then, after translation, in the four others. As it may be seen from the above, full transparency is strictly observed.

It is important to mention that disagreements between Administrations are considered only on the basis of documents presented. The representatives of interested sides do not take part in the meetings. If more information and explanations are needed the Board asks for additional documentation.

5. Concluding remarks

As it was already said the former IFRB and now the RRB have fully proved their vital role and indispensability. In the climate of cooperation and compromise prevailing in ITU, it has always been possible to solve the great majority of conflicting situations when there was no political ingredient involved. When the case is influenced by politics, the RRB practically has no means to mediate and solve it. Such cases are single and rare but they do occur, and stay long on the agenda without a complete solution. Other fora are needed for their consideration and resolution.

The quality of RRB work and decisions obviously depends on the qualifications of its members. The problems encountered, considered and decided by the RRB require from its members adequate professional knowledge, familiarity with ITU procedures, life experience, proper ethical format, and ability to work in a multicultural team immersed in an international environment. This, and the possibility to devote sufficient time for RRB matters, should be taken into account by Administrations when submitting candidates for election to RRB.

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