World Radiocommunication Conference 2000
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Broadcast News: a Story of Two Tales
With the ITUís World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-2000) due to begin on 8 May 2000, national delegations from around the world are gearing up for negotiations on a number of issues relating to the worldwide and regional use of a growing number of radiocommunication services. Since the decisions of each WRC constitute a legally binding treaty, several issues can generally be expected to provoke heated discussions in the conferenceís plenary meetings, accompanied by intensive lobbying in the backrooms and offices of the conference centre.
One of the issues of the Conference will be a bid to initiate immediate re-planning of the Broadcast Satellite Plan used by countries of regions 1 (Europe and Africa) and 3 (Asia and Australasia). The issue will come before the conference as Agenda item 1.19 which relates to the review of Appendices 30/30A of the Radio Regulations covering the delivery of broadcast services over satellites.
An Outdated Plan
The Broadcasting Satellite Plan for Regions 1 and 3 was adopted more than twenty years ago by the World Broadcasting Satellite Administrative Radio Conference held in Geneva (WARC-SAT-77). It currently reserves 800 MHz of spectrum in the Ku band (12-18GHz) for broadcast downlinks in Region 1 and 500 MHz for downlinks in Region 3. Because Region 2 (Americas) had a different view on the whole approach including the planning procedures, it adopted a separate Plan.
There is widespread agreement that 1977 plan was premature then and is now out of step with developments in the burgeoning satellite industry. The issue at this yearís WRC is to determine a basis for replanning in the future but it is likely that some Member States will press for the replanning to be done now rather than delay until it the next conference, scheduled tentatively for 2003.
Current allocations for Regions 1 and 3 are based on five analogue channels per country, delivered by widely spaced, high-powered geostationary satellites. But by the beginning of 1990s, the further development of satellite systems, the emergence of new countries combined with problems inherent in the plan itself were making the situation increasingly unworkable.
Critics also say that the 1977 plan lacks commercial viability because the five channels allocated to a single satellite which beams to a single country is simply too limited a basis on which to build a business. As a result of that, a raft of modifications to the plans have been made under the provisions of Article 4 of Appendix S30 of ITUís Radio Regulations. Furthermore, new digital compression technologies, which make it possible to broadcast many more programmes per channel, have resulted in new regional systems which target many countries from a single satellite.
With a growing number of modifications distorting the original plan, and pressure for more spectrum from new countries, seeking their right to five analogue channels, and from new services like Pay TV, which want to extend broadcasting capabilities across as wide an area as possible, WRC-95 adopted a resolution requesting studies to be undertaken into the feasibility of revising the BSS plan. WRC-97 adopted a revision of the BSS Plans for Regions 1 and 3 providing capacity for all new countries and, through Resolution 532, established a special Inter-conference Representative Group (IRG) to study the feasibility of increasing the minimum capacity for countries in Regions 1 and 3 to around the equivalent of 10 analogue channels.
The results of some additional technical studies by the Radiocommunication Study Groups were submitted to the IRG whose mandate also included consideration of concerns expressed that modifications of the Plans for additional requirements or subregional systems may lead to the monopolization of the use of the bands by a country or a group of countries. The report by the Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau, which presents the results of the IRG studies, provides advice to WRC-2000 on possible ways forward.
Finding the Space
While there is widespread consensus on the need for a new plan, there are differences in the solutions currently proposed by WRC delegations.
When the IRG released its report in December 1999, the differences between certain delegations were immediately apparent. Aside from the obvious lack of consensus reflected in parts of the report, the document contains an Annex which calls for WRC-2000 to carry out the re-planning during the four weeks of the conference, rather than establishing a basis for replanning by a future Conference.
Delegations which support immediate re-planning are concerned about the rapid growth in space-based systems, which they say could render the proposed new plan unworkable within the next few years through further development of regional and sub-regional systems launched by new and existing players wanting to expand into new markets.
With dozens of new satellite systems now in the pipeline, the fear is plausible but dismissed by most of the developed nations who view the re-planning push at this conference as unrealistic. They argue that not only is further work needed on the actual planning process, but that it was never foreseen for WRC-2000 and will slow down progress on legitimate and important agenda items.
The technical challenges include the level of constraints imposed for the protection of existing and future systems, the need to carry out the re-planning on the basis of fully digital channels while accommodating analogue systems and the interest in accommodating sub-regional systems in a Plan originally engineered on the basis of a national coverage of a fixed capacity per country.
Another concern about the concept of a broadcasting plan is the approach of apportioning spectrum on a country-by-country, rather than on a first come, first served basis. Proponents of this view claim that allocating spectrum to each of the ITUís 189 Member States is wasteful, since many countries have no wish to launch their own national broadcast satellite system with the result that spectrum is effectively kept in abeyance and cannot be used for any other purpose.
However, the studies show that an increase in capacity compared with the WRC-97 compromise is possible on the basis of the equivalent of 10 analogue channels per country for countries in Region 1, and 12 channels for the countries of Region 3.
In addition, the question of BSS re-planning has implications which touch on issues of national sovereignty.
For conference observers, this story of two tales could well represent one of the liveliest debates at this yearís event.n