Partial Revision of the 2012 Radio Regulations as incorporated in the International Telecommunication Union Final Acts of the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-15) (Geneva, 27 November 2015)
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the specialised agency of the United Nations for information and communication technologies. The ITU has 193 Member States, and is concerned with international cooperation in the use of telecommunications and the radiofrequency spectrum.
The Radio Regulations govern how the radiofrequency spectrum is used internationally, including the allocation of spectrum to radiocommunications services. The Regulations are periodically reviewed by a World Radiocommunication Conference, held about every four years. The most recent conference (World Radiocommunication Conference or WRC 15) was held in Geneva in November 2015.
The proposed treaty action contains the revisions to the Radio Regulations that were agreed at WRC 15.
Overview and national interest summary
The NIA advises that the purpose of the Radio Regulations is to ensure the rational, efficient and equitable use of the radiofrequency spectrum. The Radio Regulations contain allocations and conditions of use for the radiofrequency spectrum, and satellite orbits. ITU Members are required to ensure that the spectrum is used internationally in a manner that will prevent harmful interference to other services.
The NIA advises that consenting to this treaty action will align Australian with the rest of the world in its regulation of the radiofrequency spectrum. Although the Revisions allow for continued international compatibility, Australia retains its right to control transmissions within its territory.
The advantages of consenting to the Revisions was explained in more detail to the Committee by the Department of Communications and the Arts:
Implementing the proposed treaty action would align Australia with the rest of the world. It would ensure that Australia's regulation and use of the radiofrequency spectrum is harmonised both globally and regionally. Consenting to be bound by the provisions will be to Australia's benefit, as it will allow for continued compatibility between communications devices and technologies used in Australia and those around the world.
International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)
The revisions identify additional spectrum to meet the growing demand for mobile broadband services. Identification enables use of the band by mobile telephony or broadband services, and provides protection from other services. It does not oblige a country to use that band for IMT. Spectrum is identified both globally and on a regional basis (Australia is in Region 3).
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) advised that the likelihood that mobile telecommunications will require more spectrum in the future was ‘one of the bigger contingencies we have to manage for’. The major mobile network operators–including the NBN–participate in the WRC process, and are a contributing factor in Australia’s broadband strategy.
The revisions improve aeronautical communications capability in a number of ways. There is a new global spectrum allocation that enables aircraft to transmit real-time position information to satellites anywhere in the world. The NIA advises that this is part of the ITU’s response to the disappearance of MH370.
There is also a new allocation for short-range wireless communications systems on board aircraft. This allows heavy and expensive wiring on board aircraft to be replaced by wireless systems.
A new Resolution was adopted to allow for the use of existing satellite communications infrastructure by drones. This will allow unmanned aircraft to share airspace with conventional air traffic; although the NIA advises this is subject to technical and regulatory arrangements by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Spectrum was identified for use by short-range automotive radar in vehicles. This would also be used by other ground based vehicles – such as aircraft wing tip radar, to assist pilots to taxi aircraft around busy airports. The NIA states that this will provide global harmonisation for vehicle manufacturers to build automotive radar for collision-avoidance and driver-warning systems.
The revisions modify the frequencies and channelling arrangements of the Automatic Identification System (AIS). The AIS facilitates identification of ships by providing information to other ships and coast stations on cargo, position, course and speed. New provisions were included to support new applications for data exchange. The NIA advises that the revisions will improve global maritime navigation, and provisions for maritime distress and safety.
The Committee notes ACMA’s advice that the WRC outcomes support emergency management and the speed of Australia’s response to emergencies and natural disasters in our region. ACMA explained further:
There was an agenda item specifically regarding a broadband for public protection and disaster relief. That was a major topic of discussion throughout the world radio conference cycle. The outcomes have supported harmonised arrangements for public protection and disaster relief and we are happy with those outcomes in that they provide Australia with the flexibility and the guidance necessary to support those continued activities.
The revisions make a global spectrum allocation for tracking, telemetry and command of Earth exploration-satellite service spacecraft. The NIA advises that existing systems are experiencing harmful interference in the current band, as it is becoming increasingly congested. There has been an additional extension of the allocation to enable future space-based satellite radars to transmit higher resolution surface imagery. The NIA advises that this will support increased global capabilities in areas including disaster mitigation and relief planning, humanitarian aid, land use, environmental and climate change monitoring, and coastal surveillance.
The NIA advises that the revisions will improve the international coordination of satellite networks. Transparency of the satellite network will be improved by enhancing the ITU’s ability to locate unused satellite frequency assignments and to publish the satellite deployments and networks that have been brought into use.
The NIA advises that the revisions will also create efficiencies in two areas. Firstly, streamlining the process for submitting advance publication information, allowing the information to be automatically generated. Secondly, the revisions will reduce the ‘coordination arc’; that is, the area of neighbouring satellites that must be consulted before any new satellite deployment.
The Committee heard that the area of satellite co-ordination is one of the radiocommunications subjects of particular interest to the Department of Defence. In some areas–including satellite co-ordination and unmanned aerial systems–the Department of Defence led the Australian preparatory process to develop the Australian position at the WRC.
Given the substantial involvement of the Department of Defence in negotiating the outcomes contained in the Revisions, the Committee considers that it would have been useful to have representatives from the Department of Defence at the public hearing to answer questions relating to these matters.
The revisions create a new global secondary allocation for amateur radiocommunications. The NIA advises that this will enhance capability for disaster relief and emergency communications, and provide opportunity for research and development of new communication modes.
Reservations and declarations
Australia made three “statements” at WRC-15 that fall within the category of reservations (which exclude or modify the legal effect of part of the treaty) or declarations (which do not have legal effect, but set out the state’s interpretation of the treaty).
Statement Number 59
Statement Number 59 is a safeguard reservation. Australia, on its own, reserves the right to take any measures it deems necessary to safeguard its interests if another member fails to respect the conditions. The reservation also allows Australia to make further reservations when it notifies its consent; although the NIA advises that no further reservations are intended.
Mr Christopher Hose, Executive Manager, Spectrum Planning and Engineering Branch, ACMA, advised that he was not aware of a situation occurring where Australia had taken any measures reserved under this statement. Mr Hose speculated that Australia may invoke this reservation to, for example, not adhere to the Radio Regulations, if another country was contravening the Regulations to our detriment.
Statement Number 110
Statement Number 110 is in response to Statement 37 by Colombia. In Statement 110, 18 countries–including Australia–declare that any claims of sovereign rights over geostationary-satellite orbits by equatorial countries cannot be recognised by the WRC. The NIA advises that this statement has been made at all WRC meetings since 1995.
Statement Number 119
Statement Number 119 declares that 17 countries–including Australia–support Statement Number 86 made by the Ukraine. Statement 119 declares that the stating countries remain committed to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and strongly condemns the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation.
The Committee notes that this Statement is not about radiocommunications, and seems to be outside of the scope of WRC 15. Mr Neil Meaney, Manager, International Radiocommunications Section, ACMA, acknowledged that it was an unusual statement, and was particular to the circumstances existing at the time. Mr Meaney further advised that the decision to make this statement was made by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Entry into force and implementation
The NIA advises that Australia intends to notify the ITU of its consent to be bound as soon as the domestic process is complete. Under the ITU Constitution, members agree to be bound by future revisions, subject to any notified reservations. In this case, most of the revisions will enter into force on 1 January 2017 for those countries that have notified their consent before that date.
Regardless of notification, the revisions provisionally apply to all member states. If a state fails to notify the ITU by 1 January 2020, it will be deemed to have consented to the revisions. Despite this deemed application, the NIA states that failing to make early positive consent may have a negative effect on Australia’s standing within the ITU and on Australia’s negotiating position in the future.
The NIA states that Australia’s obligations under the Radio Regulations are implemented through the Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan (ARSP), which is prepared by ACMA in accordance with section 30 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992. The existing ARSP will be updated by the ACMA to take account of the WRC-15 revision.
The Revisions contain enforcement provisions for breaches of the Radio Regulations. Any party can argue that another party is not fulfilling its obligations under the treaty. Mr Hose explained further:
There is what is called the Radio Regulations Board, which is a standing board that hears appeals from countries who have grievances with the process or the actions of other countries.
Costs of the treaty action
The NIA advises that there are no identifiable direct costs to Commonwealth, State or Territory Governments arising from the proposed treaty action.
The Committee supports the Radio Regulations revisions and recommends that binding treaty action be taken.
The Committee supports the Partial Revision of the 2012 Radio Regulations as incorporated in the International Telecommunication Union Final Acts of the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-15) (Geneva, 27 November 2015) and recommends that binding treaty action be taken.
The Hon Stuart Robert MP
21 November 2016