Plenipotentiary Conference 1998 -- Minneapolis USA

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Briefing Notes 13 of 28 October
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Consensus reached on Radio Regulations Board collapses in Plenary

The Plenary considered the package agreement that had been achieved in Committee 5 yesterday. Immediately following its introduction, several delegations opposed the linkage between the increase in the number of members of the Radio Regulations Board and the inclusion of that number in the Constitution to make the composition of the Board more stable (any change in the Constitution requires a 2/3 majority of all Member States accredited and entitled to vote). When the Chairperson attempted to get a sense from the Room as to what the majority view was so as to find the way to move forward, an avalanche of points of order followed. It was argued that the linkage had not been discussed and that the increase to 12 was already a compromise from the original demand of an increase to 15. On the other hand, it was argued that the "package" which established the link had been the object of wide consultation and that the only way to obtain agreement to increase the number above 10 was to link it with the inclusion of the provision in the Constitution. The views became very polarized and each side raised legal arguments in an attempt to close the debate but the two sides stuck to their guns until the time was up. The Chairperson then adjourned the meeting until Friday afternoon and urged delegates to find a compromise solution before then.

Strategic Policy and Plans

Committee 5 examined the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of three resolutions adopted at the Kyoto Plenipotentiary Conference (on assistance and support to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Liberia, Somalia and Rwanda for rebuilding their telecommunication networks and on training of refugees). In that context it adopted two draft resolutions to carry on the assistance and support given to these countries in their effort to rebuild their network. Both texts call on all Member States of the ITU to provide all possible assistance either bilaterally or through the special action programme of the ITU. In a statement to the Committee, the representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina expressed his country’s gratitude for extending the special assistance programme for the next four years and thanked the ITU for its role in helping Bosnia and Herzegovina. Quoting a letter from the Council of Ministers addressed to the ITU Secretary-General, he said "The ITU has fully demonstrated its capability in dealing with sensitive issues in Bosnia by inviting the different parties to its headquarters and assisting them in the preparation of telecommunication law. This law constitutes a major element in the development of the telecommunication sector in particular and our country in general".

The two other issues dealt with by the Committee were the election procedures to be applied in the future and the financial due diligence applicable to satellite filings.

Election procedures

Following earlier discussions on proposals by Russia, European countries and Argentina (Briefing Notes N° 8), Committee 5 examined a draft resolution which was adopted after a few amendments but a lot of discussions. Some of the issues at stake were:

1) to set procedures that would emphasize the equitable geographical and gender distribution of posts

2) the need not to prejudge the action to be taken by Council on whether or not it was desirable to have standing procedures as opposed to the current system of ad hoc procedures. Under the current system, election procedures are to be developed and adopted at each Plenipotentiary Conference which is both a time-consuming exercise and hampers, to a certain extent, the development of national positions because all candidates are not necessarily known ahead of time

3) to consider the possibility of not renewing all posts but only a fraction at any given Plenipotentiary Conference

On the first point, a proposal from Russia that one of the basic principles in the selection of staff at all level (elected and appointed) was the equitable geographic distribution of posts was adopted. In that context, the US stated that it was both the equitable geographical and gender distribution of post which were to be basic principles. On the second point, the word "permanent" was put into square brackets (i.e. was not approved and will be re-considered in Plenary) and the wording would be changed so as to leave the latitude to Council to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each approach (standing versus ad hoc procedures) and decide whether or not to propose standing procedures. On the third point, and when considering whether standing procedures offer more certainty and predictability, the ITU Council would also weigh the pros and cons of staggered elections.

Financial due diligence

Overfiling is often referred to as "paper-satellites" because capacity (orbital position with associated frequencies) is reserved without actual use. Paper satellites have largely come about because of the desire to 'hoard' satellite slots for future use for potential future applications and, in some cases, for slots to be used for commercial arrangements or for later distribution in the domestic or international market under re-sale, leasing or other arrangements to the highest bidder. When assessing the orbit capacity and coordination issues, one of the major problems is the existence of systems under coordination which do not represent real communication requirements.

It is now a well acknowledged fact that some administrations tend to initiate the coordination procedure for more orbital positions and/or more spectrum than needed, expecting that some of these positions will not survive by the end of the coordination process.

However, the increasing number of these 'paper' systems, along with fast-growing demand for satellite slots, is leading to difficulties in satellite co-ordination which in turn is resulting in lengthy co-ordination processes and added costs.

In an attempt to discourage the reservation of capacity without actual use (paper satellites), the World Radiocommunication Conference of 1997 considered an approach whereby each administration would be required to provide specific evidence demonstrating its serious intent to establish a satellite system to which the regulatory procedures are being applied. Two different types of this approach – coined "due diligence" –were put forward: administrative and financial.

The administrative due diligence concept requires regular disclosure of implementation data for satellite systems, such as the name of the spacecraft manufacturer, the name of the satellite operator, the contractual date of delivery and the number of satellites procured, the name of the launch vehicle provider, the name of the customer and the contractual launch date. This aims at minimizing the number of paper satellites by requiring information which becomes available when systems have reached an advance stage of development and are soon to be deployed.

The financial due diligence, require additional measures such as a filing fee for satellite networks, an annual registration fee or a refundable deposit system for new satellite networks which would reimburse operators when their system enters into service.

After having hotly debated the issue, the WRC 97 decided to adopt only administrative due diligence (Resolution 49), considering that a two-step approach was better suited to take account of the concerns expressed. The decision also catered for the reservations of several delegations which were of the view that the WRC did not have the competence to introduce financial due diligence without green light from a plenipotentiary conference. A number of delegates indicated their intention to bring the matter up to the Minneapolis Plenipotentiary Conference so as to open the way to consider the possible adoption of financial due diligence should the administrative due diligence not produce the stated objective of reducing paper satellites.

In today’s Committee 5, the matter was tabled by 31 European countries, Canada, Australia, Iran, Asia-Pacific Telecommunity, Tonga and Malaysia. Proponents of the motion to enable the possible introduction of financial due diligence stated that the purpose of the Plenipotentiary Conference was not to take a view on financial due diligence but only to empower a future World Radiocommunication Conference to decide to introduce such measures if considered necessary. However, the debate quickly addressed the substance of the issue. Developing countries argued that such financial penalties would reduce their ability to secure access to the satellite orbits. Countries of all horizons supported the view that the introduction of additional measures, even tentative, was premature given the recent introduction of administrative due diligence. They reckoned that, at this stage only a few months after the implementation of administrative due diligence measures, there was not enough experience to decide on whether the ITU should go down the path of financial due diligence. Several developed countries wanted to keep the substantive discussions on financial due diligence among radio experts at WRCs and reiterated their request to have only a policy decision by the Minneapolis conference, giving the next WRC the right to decide. Many argued on whether the decision was within the province of a WRC or of a plenipotentiary.

Another reason for wishing to move ahead speedily on the policy decision was that a very high number of filings submitted in the 1994-1996 period will not be subject to the administrative due diligence until 2003 at the earliest and, as a result, it will not be possible to assess the effectiveness of administrative due diligence and revisit the issue of possible financial due diligence until after the following Plenipotentiary Conference in 2006. After lengthy discussions, the Chairman of the Committee summed up the debate and said that a draft resolution, based on the summary conclusions, would be tabled tomorrow afternoon. The draft resolution would request WRC 00 to evaluate the effectiveness of the administrative due diligence and request the Plenipotentiary Conference of 2002 to decide on the introduction of financial due diligence if the WRC 00 would decide of the need for the financial measures.

Management of the Union

General management matters…under pressure.

Committee 7 was under pressure today to complete its work on general management matters. It moved quickly to consider and adopt, with some amendments, two resolutions: one on documents and publications of the Union and the other on strategic, financial and operational planning in the Union.

Document and publications

On the first resolution, the Committee considered the need to maintain a coherent financing and pricing policy which ensures the continuity of publications, including the development of new products and the use of modern methods of distribution. Above all, the resolution seeks to ensure the widest possible distribution of the Union’s publications. To this end, the resolution requests that documents intended to facilitate the timely development of standards be made available, to the fullest extent possible, in electronic format and accessible to any Member State or industry member. In addition, it instructs the Secretary-General of the Union to see to it that publications in paper format are made available as quickly as possible so that even those without electronic facilities can have rapid access to the Union’s publications. He would also ensure that prices for all forms of publications of the Union are reasonable enough to stimulate their wide distribution.

The resolution calls on the Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) to implement strategies aimed to encourage and facilitate the efficient use of Web-based documents and publications of the Union by developing countries, in particular the least developed ones. He is asked to implement such strategies in close collaboration with the Directors of the Radiocommunication Bureau (BR) and the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB),

Financial planning

The draft resolution from the ad hoc group on financial planning recognizes Recommendation 11 of the World Telecommunication Development Conference (Valletta, 1998), which highlights the need for the present Plenipotentiary Conference to look closely at the idea of implementing operational and financial planning on an ITU-wide basis. This means extending operational planning to the Union’s three Sectors and the General Secretariat as a tool for enhancing accountability and transparency.

The Committee shared the view that operational and financial plans would be an excellent way of

  • monitoring progress in the implementation of the programmes of the Union;
  • enhancing the capacity of the membership, through performance indicators, to evaluate progress in the achievement of programme activities;
  • ensuring transparency, particularly in the application of cost recovery;
  • promoting complementarity between the activities of ITU and those of other international and regional telecommunication organizations.

The resolution instructs the Council to:

  1. evaluate progress in linking the strategic, operational and financial functions and in implementing operational planning
  2. take the necessary action to ensure that the future strategic, financial and operational plans are prepared in line with the present resolution
  3. prepare a report, with any appropriate recommendations, for consideration by the 2002 Plenipotentiary Conference

The question of the use of languages in the Union

The question of languages was finally tabled today but no agreement was reached on whether or not Kyoto Resolution 62 which puts restrictions on certain languages should be simply dropped or updated. One delegation stated that Arabic was exceptionally accepted at the Nairobi Plenipotentiary Conference by the ITU Secretary-General on the condition that countries wishing to use that language pay additional contributions. It was also argued that the ITU could use only the languages of the parent organization, the United Nations. An ad hoc group has been set up to try to find a way forward.

Regional presence

The issue of regional presence was another important topic discussed today. Most delegations agreed that ITU's regional presence should be a true presence. If the membership wants to use a decentralized approach, as is the case in the United Nations, more specifically in the United Nations Programme for Development, then ITU should draw on that experience.

But the cost of strengthening regional presence remained at the centre of many delegates’ preoccupations. The ad hoc drafting group on regional presence tabled its draft resolution which was hailed as an important step forward. Urged by several delegates to strengthen regional presence by action and not continue to talk about it year after year, the Committee agreed that the resolution would be revised, taking into account the views expressed at the present meeting, for re-consideration at a later meeting.n

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