Chapter 4 Partial Revision of the 2008 Radio Regulations, as incorporated
in the International Telecommunication Union Final Acts of the World Radiocommunication
Conference of 2012 (WRC-12)
On 11 September 2012, the Partial Revision of the 2008 Radio
Regulations, as incorporated in the International Telecommunication Union Final
Acts of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-12) done at Geneva on
17 February 2012 (the ‘Radio Regulations revision of 2012’) was tabled in
The Radio Regulations are part of the international regulatory framework
of the International Telecommunications Union (the ITU).
The ITU is a United Nations specialised agency with 192 members. The
ITU maintains and extends international cooperation between member states for
the improvement and rational use of telecommunications of all kinds.
The ITU provides an international framework for the operations of the
communications industries and an international forum for Australia to pursue Australian
and regional perspectives on radio communications, broadcasting and
Within the ITU, Australia promotes the development of international
standards that support the development of efficient, inter-operable
telecommunications networks through the standardisation of communications
systems and the harmonisation of regulatory arrangements.
The work of the ITU is technically complicated and not widely
understood. However, its work does materially improve telecommunication services
for the general public.
The ITU funds its activities through contributions from member states.
Unlike other United Nations agencies, member states decide their own level of
Radiofrequencies constitute part of the spectrum of electromagnetic
energy, the best known part of which is the spectrum of visible light.
Radiofrequencies are considered to be those electromagnetic frequencies with
the longest wavelength and the least energy. The radiofrequency
spectrum is the span of electromagnetic frequencies used in communications
systems to convey information.
The radiofrequency spectrum is considered by the ITU to be a limited
natural resource because the transmission of information through
radiocommunications requires that the particular frequency used to transmit the
information be free of other transmissions that may interfere with the
This limited resource needs to be shared amongst a growing number of services
such as fixed, mobile, broadcasting, amateur, space research, emergency
telecommunications, meteorology, global positioning systems, environmental
monitoring, and communication services.
The Radio Regulations manage access to the radiofrequency spectrum
through international agreement on access to the radiofrequency spectrum and
The ITU organises World Radiocommunication Conferences every four years
which are empowered to amend the Radio Regulations. The Conference that is the
subject of this Chapter resulted in a partial amendment of the Radio
The Radio Regulations revision of 2012
The Radio Regulations are binding on the member states of the ITU.
The Radio Regulations revision of 2012 will come into effect on
1 January 2013 for all member states who have notified the ITU of their
consent by that date. For those states that have not notified the ITU of their
consent, the Radio Regulations revision of 2012 will be deemed to apply from 1
January 2013 until such time as a document of consent is received by the ITU
from that member state.
In effect, then, while a member state may notify the ITU of reservations
and declarations in relation to the amendments, there is no way for a member
state to avoid being bound by the Radio Regulations revision of 2012 once those
revisions were agreed in February 2012.
The amendments to the Radio Regulations agreed to in February 2012 include:
- the revision of
frequencies and channelling arrangements for maritime mobile services, allowing
new digital maritime communications technologies to be used;
- the allocation of
spectrum to support the safe operation of unmanned aircraft systems;
- new spectrum
allocations to radiolocation services, including: oceanographic radar for
measurement of coastal sea surface conditions to support environmental,
oceanographic, meteorological, climatological, maritime and disaster mitigation
operations; and new defence radar systems that require increased bandwidth for
improved resolution and range accuracy;
- the enhancement of Earth
observation systems that provide critical data relating to weather and climate
forecasts, disaster prediction, and natural resources through a new spectrum
allocation for passive lightning detection, and an extension of the spectrum allocated
to existing non-geostationary meteorological satellite to allow increased data
transmission in the next generation of satellites;
- new spectrum
allocations to space research to support Earth-to-space communications for
lunar exploration missions;
- an allocation of
spectrum globally for radio determination satellites (that is, global
positioning system satellites) to accommodate the new Galileo satellite
navigation system and improve existing global positioning systems;
- a new allocation of
spectrum to amateur users to allow for emergency
communications and to provide an opportunity for research and development of
new communication modes;and
improvement to the international coordination of satellite networks through:
the international notification process for new satellite deployments, and to
provide additional security of tenure for notified satellite networks;
spectrum required for the coordination of satellites in two major satellite
the interference and coordination dispute resolution process; and
the use of an alternative reference radiation pattern for Earth station
antennas, which may result in the more efficient use of geostationary orbits.
Australia’s declarations and reservation
The ITU Constitution permits member states to make reservations at the
time revisions to the Radio Regulations are agreed, and to maintain such
reservations when notifying the ITU of its consent to be bound.
Reservations exclude or modify the legal effect of certain provisions of
the treaty in their application to a member state.
It is also accepted international practice for member states to be able
to make declarations at the time of signing or ratifying a treaty. A declaration
differs from a reservation in that it does not purport to exclude or modify the
legal effect of the treaty, but merely sets forth the State’s interpretation of
Given that revisions to the Radio Regulations are binding regardless of whether
a member state consents or not, the use of declarations and reservations is
relatively common. A number of member states made reservations and
declarations to the Radio Regulations revision of 2012.
Australia made two such statements. The first permits Australia to take
actions in its national interest if another state violates the regulations to
Australia’s detriment. In addition, the reservation keeps open the option for
Australia to lodge further declarations or reservations at the time it ratifies
the Radio Regulations revision of 2012. The reservation states:
In signing the Final Acts of the World Radio-communication
Conference (Geneva, 2012), the delegation of Australia reserves for its
Government the right to take any measures it might deem necessary to safeguard
its interests if another Member State of the International Telecommunication
Union in any way fails to respect the conditions specified in the Final Acts or
if the reservations made by any Member State should be prejudicial to the
operation of radio-communication services in Australia or its full sovereign
The delegation of Australia further declares that it reserves
for its Government the right to make declarations or reservations when
depositing its instrument of ratification for amendments to the Radio
Regulations adopted at this World Radio-communication Conference (Geneva,
The second reservation, to which there are a number of signatories,
counters claims by some equatorial countries, such as Columbia, to the
ownership of geostationary satellite orbit slots. This statement has been made
at all WRC meetings since 1995. The second reservation
The delegations of the above-mentioned States, referring to
the declaration made by the Republic of Colombia (No. 34), inasmuch as these
and any similar statements refer to the Bogotá Declaration of 3 December 1976
by equatorial countries and to the claims of those countries to exercise
sovereign rights over segments of the geostationary-satellite orbit, or to any
related claims, consider that the claims in question cannot be recognized by
The above-mentioned delegations also wish to state that the
reference in Article 44 of the Constitution to the “geographical situation of
particular countries” does not imply recognition of a claim to any preferential
rights to the geostationary-satellite orbit.
Reasons for Australia to take the proposed treaty action
As noted earlier, amendments to the Radio Regulations bind member states
of the ITU regardless of whether a member state consents to be so bound or not,
so, arguments relating to the advantages of ratification for Australia are
limited to the impact a failure to notify Australia’s acceptance of the
amendments will have on Australia’s reputation in the ITU context.
According to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital
The proposed treaty action would align Australia with the
rest of the world in its regulation of the radiofrequency spectrum and would
allow for continued international compatibility. Australia would retain its
sovereign right to control transmissions within and into its territory and to
protect Australian users from interference from foreign systems. Consenting to
be bound by the revisions would make possible the introduction of new
communication technologies, improved end user efficiencies, enhanced public
safety and greater access to wireless networking and broadband data services.
It would also continue Australia’s good standing in the ITU and enable
Australia to maintain its position that the geographical situation of
particular countries does not enable them to claim any preferential rights to
the geostationary-satellite orbit.
The Department points out that Australia’s failure to notify its
acceptance of the Radio Regulations revision of 2012:
…may have a negative effect on Australia’s standing within
the ITU and on Australia’s negotiating position at future reviews of the Radio
In contrast, notifying acceptance would:
…maintain Australia’s good standing in the ITU and place
Australia’s administration of the radio frequency spectrum in line with the
rest of the world.
The Department further argues that Australia has been a long term
supporter of the ITU and its regulatory framework. Australia has been a member
of the ITU and its predecessor organisations since federation.
Australia’s obligations under the Radio Regulations are implemented
through the Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan, which is prepared by the
Australian Communications and Media Authority in accordance with Sections 30
and 34 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992. The existing Plan will be
updated by the Authority to take account of the Radio Regulations revision of
According to the Department of Broadband, Communication and the Digital
Economy, there are no identifiable direct costs to Commonwealth, State or
Territory Governments arising from the proposed treaty action.
The binding nature of the Radio Regulations revision of 2012 means that
a recommendation whether or not to take binding treaty action in relation to this
treaty can have no impact on whether the amendments are implemented or not.
However, there are good reasons for the Committee to make a supportive
The Department of Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy has
argued persuasively that a failure to ratify the Radio Regulations revision of
2012 will have a harmful impact on Australia’s position within the ITU.
In the Committee’s assessment, the revisions are sound and represent a
stable regulatory environment for Australians to capitalise on technological
improvements in communications.
In addition, the Committee notes the consultations with relevant parties
undertaken by the Department prior to the Government’s decision to support the Radio
Regulations revision of 2012 indicated broad support for the amendments.
Consequently, the Committee recommends that Australia notify the ITU of
its support for the agreement.
The Committee supports the Partial Revision of the 2008
Radio Regulations, as incorporated in the International Telecommunication
Union Final Acts of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-12) done
at Geneva on 17 February 2012 and recommends that binding treaty action be