Heard about the “Race to 5G”? Wonder who are the U.S.’ leading rivals, and when and where the “race” is happening? This teleforum will provide answers and cover how outcomes from the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) affect the United States’ spectrum goals and priorities, including Wi-Fi, innovative satellite services, science research, and weather forecasting. Join us for this timely and important discussion with Ambassador Grace Koh, who led the U.S. Delegation to the recently concluded World Radiocommunication Conference, to examine how WRC outcomes position the U.S. in the Race to 5G. Tom Sullivan and Doug Kinkoph will also participate in this discussion, moderated by Patricia Paoletta (Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP).
Doug Kinkoph, Associate Administrator, Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications, performing the non-exclusive functions and duties of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Department of Commerce
Amb. Grace Koh, U.S. Representative and Head of Delegation to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference 2019
Thomas Sullivan, Chief, International Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
Moderator: Patricia Paoletta, Partner, Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP
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Operator: Welcome to The Federalist Society's Practice Group Podcast. The following podcast, hosted by The Federalist Society’s Telecommunications & Electric Media Practice Group, was recorded on Tuesday, January 7, 2020, during a live teleforum conference call held exclusively for Federalist Society members.
Micah Wallen: Welcome to The Federalist Society's teleforum conference call. This afternoon's topic is titled “The Race to 5G and World Radio Conference.” My name is Micah Wallen, and I am the Assistant Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society.
As always, please note that all expressions of opinion are those of the experts on today's call.
Today, we are fortunate to have with us our moderator, Patricia Paoletta, who is a Partner at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis. After our panel gives their opening remarks, we will then go to audience Q&A. Thank you all for sharing with us today. Patricia, the floor is yours.
Patricia Paoletta: Thank you very much. For the listeners’ background, I had the honor of serving as a delegate to the recently concluded World Radio Communications Conference. This is a treaty level conference, meaning the world comes together every four years to negotiate changes to the treaty, which is the international radio regs. So we are very fortunate to have on this panel senior folks from the three agencies that originally made up the core delegation of the United States delegation.
And we’ll start with introducing Grace Koh, who was the head of the U.S. delegation to the World Radio Conference, which I will probably call either the conference or the WRC, and give a little background on her in a moment. We have Doug Kinkoph who is the Associate Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Agency. That’s within our administration. That’s within Commerce Department. He’s got a very long title which is on the webpage, but basically — it’s written by a lawyer, I’m assuming — but it boils down to Doug currently being the acting head of NTIA. But his official title is Associate Administrator there. And we have Tom Sullivan who is the Chief of the FCC’s International Bureau.
And giving a little background on them, their full bios are available, of course, on the website when you click on them, but Grace has worn a couple of hats over the last couple of years. Prior to serving and moving over to the State Department and serving as our head of our U.S. delegation, she was practicing law at DLA Piper. Before that, she was an advisor, a Special Assistant to President Trump on technology, telecom, and cybersecurity in the National Economic Council. Part of that, she was Deputy Chief Counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
Doug also has a very illustrious background in that he -- I think he’s the only one of us who’s actually served in an operational role in the industry. He also at NTIA has worked on a number of the broadband programs with the funds to support broadband deployment. So he would certainly have a great idea of the importance of getting broadband out there, and the role that the World Radio Conference had in terms of facilitating more deployment, both in the U.S. as well as globally since it is a global conference.
And then Tom is a long-time veteran of the FCC, but he’s been serving as the Chief of the International Bureau since Ajit Pai became the Chairman back in 2017; prior to that was Chief of Staff of the Bureau for a long time. I learned from reading his bio that he has a master’s in Public Policy from Michigan, so I think other than Grace, we have a fully midwestern panel. So it’s going to be a very friendly panel, so I look forward to that.
In any event, yes, the panel’s on “The Race to 5G and the World Radio Conference.” I think it was Grace’s current colleague, but one who was detailed from Doug’s agency, NTIA, who first to my ears referred to this as the 5G WRC because of the priority so many countries, including the U.S., were giving to 5G and getting more spectrum for 5G.
And as I noted earlier, these conferences, the world comes together to negotiate spectrum allocations and a number of the agenda items, but the big one that took a lot of energy from all the countries was to provide more spectrum identifications for what the International Telecommunications Union, which is a body of the United Nations, and that’s the international body that hosts and organizes the World Radio Conference, what they call international mobile telecom, IMT. We generally think of that as cellular broadband, but the definitions are all different, but IMT 2020, and we’re now in the year 2020, that flavor of IMT is considered 5G. So there was a lot of focus on 5G.
But I’m going to let our illustrious panelists jump in there. So I’ll start with Grace, what you saw at the World Radio Conference, did it impact the U.S.’s ability to run the race, to win the race to 5G?
Amb. Grace Koh: Thanks, Tricia. First of all, thanks to The Federalist Society and also to Tricia for putting this together. I think Tricia mentioned earlier that this is a relatively arcane conference. It’s an arcane field of law, like military law, so I’m very glad to be able to talk a little bit about this with all of you. It’s very exciting. It combines geopolitics with technology and all sorts of other intrigue, but it is fairly little known, so it is a good way to give you an introduction to this topic.
So the race to 5G -- it’s an interesting term for what we’re currently involved in as the world goes from 4G to 5G, but 5G is largely seen as a general platform technology that will be very game-changing for, I think, all other technologies that run on top of it. All countries are interested in deploying quickly and being the ground -- the base camp for where all of these new technologies, these new ecosystems evolve.
What we have here is a conference that focused on millimeter-wave spectrum, which is spectrum above, I think, 22 GHz. And that’s really very high. This is a bandwidth that’s very high, and they also lend themselves to being allocated in large swaths, gigahertz-sized swaths that would allow for really large pipes that allow for very high bandwidths like one gigabit per second. 5G will need millimeter-wave spectrum, mid-band spectrum, and low-band spectrum. But in this case, we were talking about millimeter-wave spectrum.
And we allocated -- the WRC agreed, the conference agreed to allocate spectrum for millimeter-wave spectrum to 5G in a way that is very, very congenial to what the United States’ band plan is, which basically means that the United States already has, to some degree, a head start on actual millimeter-wave deployments. We are one of very few countries who have begun deploying in the 28 GHz band. Going forward, there will be equipment manufactured for the particular bands that we have, as the United States, already targeted for 5G deployment. That puts us in a very good position. So I’m quite confident in saying that the United States feels very good about its prospects for quote, unquote, “winning” the 5G race.
Patricia Paoletta: Well, thank you, Grace. That’s very helpful. And Tom, your agency, the FCC is actually the body in the U.S. that awards licenses to U.S. providers of broadband, mobile broadband, whether it’s been 3G, 4G, and now 5G. But how did the World Radio Conference impact the FCC’s plans in that regard? Is Grace accurate in your view that what came out was congenial to the FCC’s plans for 5G, at least in the millimeter-wave spectrum?
Thomas Sullivan: Thank you, Tricia. And thanks to The Federalist Society. One thing I’ve learned, Tricia, is Grace is still an Ambassador, I believe, so of course she is right.
If you’ll allow me, I can elaborate a little bit more because as you and I hope all of our listeners know, the FCC has been very active in promoting and helping our nation seize the opportunities of 5G and the new digital age. It’s a very exciting time, and under Chairman Pai’s leadership, the FCC has been making more spectrum available to power this new digital economy and enable the next generation of technologies and services that Grace was just alluding to. In addition, many of the WRC agenda items also deal with something else that we’ve been working hard on, which is closing the digital divide or trying to close that digital divide, connecting the unconnected, and promoting new breakthroughs across the communications sector.
So how did the WRC fit into these actions and our domestic policies? I’ll start with the 5G aspect. One of our broad goals with 5G was to make sure that we created a flexible regulatory framework that allowed for the continued growth and rollout of this new and exciting service. And not just for 5G mobile, but we’re also looking to make sure that we allowed for the flexibility for other services such as satellite, broadcast, and Wi-Fi.
The second big goal that the FCC had, overarching again, is to enable regional and global spectrum harmonization opportunities for all of these services. We want to create these international economies of scale which will allow roaming. Our devices can work wherever we go, interoperability. And importantly for consumers and manufacturers, we want to lower prices of these devices as they get deployed.
And the third big goal was to enable and ensure that we had reasonable protections for the users of the spectrum because as we’re advancing to these new upper millimeter wavebands, we had incumbent users there, some federal users, some non-federal users. And it was very important that we made sure that we provided protection, appropriate protection so that they can continue to operate and have enough certainty to invest as well as the new incumbents, that they can invest in the new technologies and expand coverage and deployment.
As a result of the WRC, and with respect to the specific question in terms of the race to 5G, I think it was an extremely successful conference, WRC ’19, as Grace noted. I’ve dubbed it the connectivity conference, and when it comes to 5G, certainly is the high-band conference in terms of connectivity. WRC ’19 identified several high-spectrum bands built for regional and global allocations, and the important thing there is that it gives administrations the flexibility to use these bands for 5G.
Notably, all of the high-spectrum bands the U.S. pursued at WRC ’19 for 5G were obtained, including the bands we’re currently auctioning right now at the FCC. And our current auction, which is the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands, which as of yesterday’s closing bids, I believe totaled about $6.2 billion. So a very timely and appropriate time for this conference to happen and resounding success that we were able to achieve these global harmonizations that allowed that to happen.
The high-spectrum bands that were at stake at this conference are going to be the workhorse bands for ultrafast, low latency, high capacity applications of the future. So it was a very important priority for the U.S., and we’re very happy that overall, I think the conference provided 17.25 GHz of spectrum that was identified for mobile use at the conference. And that compares with about 1.9 GHz of bandwidth which was available before the WRC ’19 conference, so we’ve really globally pushed and allocated significant blocks of spectrum so that the U.S. can win the race and lead the race for 5G for a long time.
Patricia Paoletta: Well, thank you, Tom. Yeah, that is an impressive achievement in terms of just the sheer number of gigahertz that the U.S. was able to get globally harmonized. You had mentioned protecting federal incumbents, and of course, Doug, many if not all of our listeners might know that in the U.S., we have a bifurcated spectrum management framework where the FCC regulates and licenses private sector use of spectrum and also local government, public safety use. But NTIA actually manages federal use of spectrum, yet NTIA sits in the Commerce Department, so you kind of wear two hats. And certainly NTIA’s been active in the policy discussions and achievements for 5G. But maybe you could elaborate on what was NTIA’s role at the World Radio Conference relative to promoting 5G?
Doug Kinkoph: I would say that, as Tom alluded to, that we are in sync on helping to ensure that the U.S. is the leader in 5G now and going forward. Where the FCC is focused on rolling out spectrum to the commercial marketplace, NTIA is focused on how we can support that through making federal spectrum available for commercial use while also protecting federal missions. The largest user of spectrum in the U.S. is the Department of Defense, so usually all of our spectrum discussions involve what the impact is on the Department of Defense. But it could also be Department of Transportation, Energy, it could be virtually any agency.
So our role at the WRC — we had folks on the core delegation — was to ensure that the message of the federal agencies was protected, the missions. So basically, we work with the FCC to help in the delegation to get harmonization of the spectrum, but what we do is convey our concerns and our message to the delegation as to what the federal agencies can live with or can’t live with. And if we decide to go forward on something, what is the potential harm or impact, I should say, to a federal agency? So we are there to basically represent all of the Executive Branch federal agencies at the WRC.
Patricia Paoletta: Very interesting. And a quick follow up -- and Grace, one of you can address this because I believe this was the largest U.S. delegation that we’ve fielded before. But Doug specifically, how many folks were there from the federal spectrum user side, if you have a rough count?
Doug Kinkoph: Federal spectrum users, we had nine there from NTIA. NASA was there. I think DOD came later after I had left. Grace, I don't know if you have a count or a ballpark.
Amb. Grace Koh: I was just thinking, just recalling, this actually wasn’t the largest delegation that we’ve ever had. I think last WRC’s delegation was about 180 people, and this WRC’s delegation was probably closer to 130. Part of that was probably just the fact that this conference was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, as opposed to Geneva where it’s typically held. And I’d say at this particular conference, we had about half and half, so half private sector, half government, if you consider that there are a lot of government contractors that came that I don’t necessarily count as private sector.
And just to add a little bit to what Doug was saying about federal spectrum use and NTIA’s interest, in a lot of situations, you’ll find that quite a bit of the satellite use actually does speak not just to the commercial users. The satellite questions that are teed up at the WRC are not just aimed at increasing commercial operations but also increasing the ability of the government to do quite a few things. So there’s a lot of crossover there. And I think we’ll see more of that with 5G as the government itself, not just the U.S. government, but governments globally become more invested in the use of 5G as a platform for their services and abilities.
Patricia Paoletta: You’ve all mentioned directly or indirectly, obviously, 5G has a lot of promise, the next generation. Why would it take four weeks, and of course four weeks after a culmination of four years, for countries to negotiate and agree on conditions for 5G in the millimeter-wave bands? And any one of you can jump in.
Amb. Grace Koh: Tricia, I think there are a bunch of people who actually believe that if you gave us one week, we would just figure it out in one week.
Patricia Paoletta: My husband is among them, by the way.
Amb. Grace Koh: I can just imagine. The real pressure does come at the end of the conference to actually finalize those deals, but I will point out that — and please, Tom and Doug, jump in — I’m just going to start the answer on this one, but certainly the four years of studies are extraordinarily helpful in informing which positions each country should take. So these are questions about whether or not, to some degree, all spectrum is -- the usage has to be shared or managed because there are incumbent services either already in the band or adjacent to the band that we’re currently looking at, so you do want to make sure that there’s a clear understanding of the levels of interference or activity that may impact other existing services.
And then four weeks probably, give or take, is useful to have because there are such a large number of topics that come up. In this particular instance, I think there were some 38 actual questions that needed to be answered. And I can tell you that even though I joke about maybe the work doesn’t really need the full four weeks, I can’t remember a single instance where I think there wasn’t a study group or a drafting group or a discussion group that didn’t go on into the evenings to continue and try to finalize those discussions quickly.
Thomas Sullivan: Hi. This is Tom from the FCC, and I’ll provide an additional perspective, which is that we’re blessed and fortunate that we can send sufficient delegation of federal experts as well as our private sector experts. Many countries that attend the WRC and are instrumental in helping achieve consensus may only have a handful of individuals, some one or two people as examples. And for them, it becomes a little bit more important to be able to sit in drafting group discussions to understand what would work best for their country and get perspective.
So while I’m a big believer that we -- and after being there for the 30 days, would have loved to have seen a shorter conference. There are probably some needs of some of the smaller countries and developing nations to use this as an opportunity to build their positions and be informed and to also work with their regional groups which we haven’t talked about yet, but which is another very important element of the WRC as to how we come together in our regional ITU groups to get to these positions to really help advance things, using the football terminology, to the 20 yard line, and then we have to figure out how we’re going to negotiate to get into the end zone. So I’ll turn it back to you, Tricia, but I wanted to interject that perspective as well.
Patricia Paoletta: Yeah, and then for our listeners, to prepare for these conferences as well as just to do studies on spectrum use and harmonization throughout the year, throughout the study cycle, the four year study cycle, the United Nations International Telecommunication Union divides the world up into three basic regions. If you think of the world as a big orange, divide it into three, cut the segments, or pull the segments apart until you have three big chunks, and Region 1is, as appropriate for Greenwich Mean Time where time begins, Region 1 is Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. And as the world spins, you go west. Region 2 is the Americas. Region 3 is Asia.
And as Tom alluded to, you prepare for these World Radio Conferences, as is appropriate because spectrum doesn’t stop at a border, you prepare for these spectrums within your region. So the U.S. prepared for getting its positions on these 38 different agenda items that Grace mentioned. The WRC agenda has spelled out 38-odd issues when you count them all up with the various different agenda items titles. So the U.S. prepared within its region, and the regional body is part of the Organization of American States, the Commission on Inter-American Telecommunications, so that acronym is CITEL. And over the four year cycle, the U.S. worked with its neighbors in CITEL to develop positions.
Let me go back to Doug. Obviously, 5G, as Grace mentioned and Tom mentioned, was an important issue for a number of countries, particularly in our -- well, all over the world but including in our region. However, I think it’s fair to say that within our region, CITEL, and you mentioned this yourself, Doug, that with the Department of Defense being the biggest user in the United States of spectrum. Some of those issues probably were more important relative to federal government use and maybe some of our other neighbors in the region. So Doug, for you, how did you perceive CITEL’s interest in federal spectrum use? Was it usually the U.S. defending federal spectrum use, or is that a broadly felt issue with our neighbors in the region?
Doug Kinkoph: Thanks, Tricia. I will admit up front, before my time, I was not engaged in the CITEL portion of this, but the feedback from the team here at NTIA that worked closely with CITEL — and Tom and Grace, you guys did — that there was good collaboration in the CITEL organization. In fact, I think we came out with pretty much a very much harmonious position, agreed to positions out of CITEL to the WRC. Military spectrum and equipment sales are very well coordinated is my understanding with CITEL, and you would expect that, given the makeup of that organization. But I would defer to Grace and Tom to give you a little more insight on the actual internal dealings of the group.
Amb. Grace Koh: I think the military ties are very important, obviously. I think perhaps it’s safe to say that maybe our military ties are spread throughout the globe, so they’re not particular necessarily to CITEL, but there are certain battles that we do need to make sure that we win at CITEL in order to protect, I think, the military interest.
And sometimes, those battles are particularly important. For example, if we need to protect, I think, certain types of spectrum that -- if we need to protect certain types of spectrum that are used only in the United States for particular military exercises, for example, we may need to be out of sync with our American neighbors, or we may need to persuade them that it’s in all of our best interest in order to be able to keep this particular band protected. So there are fights or debates that go on at CITEL that keep the United States out of sync with its neighbors. But I think generally speaking, we have a good relationship, and we do tend to be more in sync with CITEL than not.
Tom, I don't know if you have more to add on that, but I think another point where we are probably in sync with CITEL generally is that when you have the Unites States, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, in agreement, we’re in fairly good shape, usually. It’s probably a more harmonious region than not.
Thomas Sullivan: Yeah, those are excellent points, Grace. And I would say, being in the FCC for a long time, that under this administration, I’ve seen our cohesiveness within CITEL as one of the strongest that it’s been. This goes back to the 2018 Plenipotentiary Conference where we worked with CITEL. This is another ITU conference. So essentially, they’re a big constitutional convention, and it’s also where they elect their officials.
In preparation for this conference, we had over 50 inter-American proposals. Those are common proposals from the CITEL member states, and they carry significant weight when you can get these inter-American proposals. So going into the 2018 Plenipot, we had more inter-American proposals than we’ve ever had going into a plenipotentiary conference. And as a result, the U.S. achieved, I think, excellent success coming out of there on the substantive policy side.
But also because of our cohesiveness and our ability to work well within CITEL at that 2018 conference, we were able to elect two representatives from our region to the highest positions at the ITU, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, a U.S. woman, the first woman ever elected to an ITU high level position, was a significant achievement. And we also elected someone else from the region from Uruguay, Mario Maniewicz, who is the ITUR Director Head and the one who ran this conference that we were just at in Egypt. And to have two from that region where we had no one before was a significant, significant event and really showed the cohesiveness that the U.S. was able to lead and bring into CITEL. And we carried that momentum forward under Grace’s leadership and working collaboratively with our interagency partners in preparation for the WRC.
There were maybe some slow starts, as there usually are in the first cycles of the CITEL meetings, but by the end, we were able to achieve an amazing number, again, of inter-American proposals coming out of CITEL. I think virtually almost every item -- there might have been a few where we didn’t have that type of consensus. And that makes us very strong going into the World Radio Conference because you have the back of all of those member states behind you when you need them. And you carry their votes, essentially, even though it’s not a voting conference, but in terms of consensus you can speak as CITEL.
So that was a very significant event, and we worked very well with the leadership of CITEL and with the other states in the CITEL administrations to help advance U.S. leadership. So I think it was a very successful outcome, and I think it’s great to have Grace at those CITEL events and building that collaboration. That was a very important victory for us.
Patricia Paoletta: Well, thank you, Tom. And as is true for the other major regions, we have a diverse region filled with rich and powerful countries, filled with some developing countries, diverse interests. I agree with you that we seem to be more united than in some past cycles. Other countries legitimately caring about each other’s priorities and interests, and a lot of listening to and understanding, I think that does impact how we also advocated for different positions on the ground, as it were, in Egypt.
I have to say that did not seem to be shared by some other countries that I observed, anyway. It seemed to be China, in my observation, was very aggressive, pushing Huawei interests and -- typically, Huawei interests. Sometimes there were other interests at play. Russia was very oppositional relative to -- probably protecting some of their military interests. But it did seem at times to me they were oppositional to everything the U.S. or CITEL wanted just for the sake of building leverage. How about your observations? And we can start with Doug. You were on the ground for a little while. How did China and Russia come across to you, Doug?
Doug Kinkoph: In my one week there during the bilats, and then listening in on the plenary sessions, I didn’t sit in the staff level working groups where you may see that more. But definitely there were times where I think they wanted their voices heard. You may not have said Iran in there, but they were active also.
Amb. Grace Koh: Yeah, you’re right. I should have mentioned them.
Doug Kinkoph: That’s the voice ringing in my head right now. Yeah, I agree with that. Sometimes it is -- I think the Ambassador might be better to answer this, but absolutely they’ll counter the U.S. just for the sake of countering the U.S. or gaining leverage with their core group. But yeah, I did notice that. It didn’t go unnoticed, but I did not see a high level of animosity between us and them, at least in the events that I was associated with.
Patricia Paoletta: Ambassador, you want to answer that?
Amb. Grace Koh: [Laughter] Oh, it got interesting after you left, Doug.
Patricia Paoletta: Oh yeah?
Amb. Grace Koh: No, no, no, it’s -- I think you summed it up pretty well, Tricia. There was a lot of general opposition. So if you take Russia, they tended to be very protective of scientific interests, and the stance that they took was to protect to the detriment, I think, of other countries’ interests in expanding commercial services to protect, I think, what they have termed scientific services or scientific/military services in particular spectrum bands. And in other instances, I quite frankly remember quite a few delegates saying this, but it was not clear what Russia was actually trying to do other than be obstructionist.
Now, they could have been doing exactly that. They could have been seeking to be obstructionist simply to gain leverage in other negotiations, or they could legitimately have had other reasons for not wanting to agree with where consensus was generally heading. But that was a very interesting and difficult dynamic to deal with. For us, I think I would say most of the issues that took until the very end of the conference to resolve — and Tom and Doug, I don’t know if you recall differently — mostly, there were quite a -- there was always a Russian element to each one of those particular questions that we had to resolve.
As for the Chinese, I found them quite fascinating. They are very eager to learn how to work this conference and to promote their particular spectrum plans and spectrum ideals, especially with the idea of ensuring that their Chinese companies will be world players on this stage, so certainly Huawei. I think they expect to have the same sort of commercial worldwide success with satellite services as well.
But they were quite aggressive and quite willing to be out there in front protecting their national interests for a number of different services. So it wasn’t just the 6 GHz future agenda item that they had been pushing on behalf of Huawei, but also I think protecting certain spectrum for future satellite services, and to the point to where I think they were quite willing to make themselves unpopular with neighboring countries in order to achieve their goals.
One thing else I’ll note is that they were quite -- we had several conversations with them, but they were quite taken with the idea that the United States tends to do a lot of outreach before the actual WRC takes place, so the core delegation and I had a lot of -- did a lot of traveling to a variety of different countries to speak to them about what our priorities were and to understand what their priorities were to figure out how we could align those. I think China -- I wouldn’t be surprised if we see China doing similar things in the future because I think they are very quick to learn from some of the practices like the ones that we’ve been doing for quite some time.
Patricia Paoletta: Very interesting. Thank you, Grace. Certainly, I was aware of their activities for Huawei and the 6 GHz band, which is a band of spectrum they’re targeting for the next generation of 5G, IMT 2020. In the U.S., the FCC has proposed license use in that band. That, of course, is still pending, but I hadn’t thought of the satellite interests that they were pushing other than, of course, in the 5 GHz Wi-Fi discussions which are long and painful because you have both China and Russia being very oppositional.
But to Tom, as the U.S. licenser of commercial satellite operators, did you perceive that from China, or from you perch as the Chief of the International Bureau, what’s China up to in terms of satellite, certainly commercial but satellite generally?
Thomas Sullivan: Well, I think they have one particular satellite interest that they’ve advanced for the WRC 2023, and that’s with a future GMDSS to the maritime safety and distress system that they would like to push for WRC 2023. Grace might elaborate a little bit on that after I conclude, but that’s one of their major priorities that we’ve already identified. Clearly, they’re also very interested in being a leader in space technology and are actively out in front with launches, capabilities, demonstrations, so something that they’re definitely going to want to advance their technologies there for communications capabilities and other federal capabilities that they want to have strategic advantages with. So we will be watching them there.
At the WRC, in terms of the satellite agenda items that I was following closely was actually more Russia that we were dealing with in terms of difficulties. But I think it speaks to Grace’s point where she noted their incalcitrance, if you will, on many agenda items, potentially using that to trade in for leverage on other issues that they had cared more deeply about. We did see on one of the big items that we were pursuing for NGSOs so that they could -- these new satellite systems like SpaceX, Telesat, OneWeb, can have the opportunity to share the spectrum with the GSOs and not interfere with them.
There was another element to that agenda item where Russia was particularly difficult, and we had to -- it came down to even the eleventh hour of the eleventh hour. I think that one concluded a little bit later than the 5G IMT one with Russia just resistance and our just standing up to them in that one meeting. So it was a very interesting element there.
And Grace, if you want to elaborate a little bit more China and the GMDSS issue, I’m happy to turn that back to you.
Amb. Grace Koh: I think you’ve essentially said it all on the GMDSS issue, but they were particularly resistant in providing and ensuring -- or agreeing to, rather, that this new GMDSS, which is Global Marine Distress Safety System, this is a service that you would think that everyone would welcome, given that it’s a safety of life service that allows mariners to receive navigation warnings to weather information and then takes actual distress calls. And this new service that would have entered into the marketplace with the approval by the WRC would actually have covered polar regions, which has not been done to date. But I think China was unwilling to allow it to go forward with its full swath of spectrum and instead wanted to reserve some of that spectrum for itself. That was very apparent.
Other places where I think they have satellite systems in some of the spectrum that was identified for 5G and while they allowed for a certain number of countries to identify that spectrum for 5G by footnote, it started to block other countries from allowing them to take advantage or to identify that spectrum, essentially prohibiting those countries from using that spectrum for 5G because of its nearby satellite systems or because it was concerned about interference to its satellite systems.
So I think that there are -- and they fought very hard on a number of other NGSO issues where I think ultimately France probably stymied them the most on that one. But you could see quite a bit of a struggle there. And there was a real interest in pushing forward a number a satellite priorities for China. It will be interesting to see how they prepare for the next WRC and how they will present their positions.
I think when the United States goes toward presenting its positions, I think we try to show that our positions make sense not just for the United States but make good spectrum policy generally. I think we do that so that, one, our provisions do tend to be more persuasive, and two, because this is the global conference. We do feel that the positions taken by the conference or the positions adopted by the conference should benefit the world. Certainly, we have the U.S. interest first and foremost, but it’s just jarring when you have one country coming in beating the drum for it’s own national interest as hard as I think China was.
Thomas Sullivan: And if you don’t mind, Tricia, I do want to say that I think they stood out at this conference more than any other conference in that type of posturing that they took. Everyone took notice that, getting back to Grace’s point, that they were preventing other countries from signing on to these footnotes that Grace mentioned which would give them the flexibility of using spectrum. But they were -- usually you would reserve that for countries that you’re bordered with, so you share a common border or that they’re proximate to you, an island, perhaps. But here, we were seeing them do that where there were countries that were in different regions. There were no shared borders with China, for example in Africa, and they prevented countries from doing that. So it was a very unusual step that we saw with respect to that.
Patricia Paoletta: Thank you. Now, you guys mentioned the agenda for WRC ’23 and some of China’s and other’s interests. For our listeners, and I’m going to open it to questions in a moment, but you mentioned WRC ’23. So at our existing or current conference, not only do folks negotiate and haggle and browbeat and do late night meetings on the 38 agenda items that were on this agenda, as Grace mentioned, but they also negotiate the agenda for the next four year study cycle and for decision in four years, so at WRC ’23, that was negotiated and agreed to by the end of this past WRC. By the end of November we had and agenda for WRC ’23. So I’m going to turn it back to Doug before we open it up to listener questions. But Doug, for NTIA’s perspective, what are some of the most important agenda items on the WRC ’23 agenda?
Doug Kinkoph: My team would tell me that all of them are important at this phase. Mobile broadband issues, satellite space science, aviation, maritime are all of, I’ll say, initial peak items for us. But I think it’s too early in the process to basically prioritize. I can tell you a priority item will continue to be the IMT mid-band things that will help us continue to be able to provide more mid-band 5G spectrum. And over the next year, the state, FCC, NTI and the others will work together to create that prioritization and start to work forward. And this was my first time going through a WRC but starts the process of our prioritization and CITEL and then back to the WRC. So I would say that right now, I couldn’t give you a priority list but that the key will always be right now for the next cycle, I think, will be to look for that mid-band 5G window.
Patricia Paoletta: Interesting. And for our listeners, the U.S. prepares for a conference in a parallel manner. One, the FCC posts a federal advisory committee, FACA, to advise it on what positions it should take going into a CITEL meeting where the region first starts preparing for its position. And then, of course, simultaneously, NTIA hosts an interagency body, IRAC, the Interagency Radio Advisory Council or Committee — you can correct me if you wish or if I’m inaccurate — and they formulate their positions. And then that gets reconciled at the State Department at Grace’s agency. And then the U.S. will get a position on a particular agenda item and send that in to CITEL, and those meetings will kick off later this year.
But at the same time, the studies like the IMT mid-band -- mid-band being kind of a chunk of spectrum maybe anywhere from 3 GHz to 7 GHz at this point, or even higher. The FCC had a mid-band proceeding, right Tom, a couple years back where it was 3 to 24 GHz. So the definitions of what mid-band is expands. But anyway, on the technical side, countries will prepare studies, and we’ll be doing this on IMT mid-band, that they’ll send to Geneva at the ITU study groups. So you have this parallel process. That’s my little legal note.
Doug, again, what were some of the non-commercial services that were under a lot of discussion? Obviously, before we went into the conference and before we finalized our positions at CITEL, there was trade press on disagreements between federal users in the 24 GHz band that’s the same band or close to the 24 GHz band, the same band that the FCC has already auctioned for 5G. And that was to protect earth exploration sciences and some passive services. So what were some of the controversial issues apart from the commercial sector at the World Radio Conference?
Doug Kinkoph: I will say that the most controversial one is the one you’re discussing, the 24. It was. I mean, the delegation did a great job of we came to common ground before we went there, and we went in with a unified position. And those during the first week there, the week I spent there doing the bilats with the Ambassador, this issue was raised a lot.
As Grace mentioned, Russia, I think this is one of the issues in the last week. You had Russia. The Europeans had a higher value than we did, but ultimately, I think we were able to come to a very successful resolution of this. So that was the most -- what I’ll say the one that was kind of highest on our list of how we would be able to resolve that internationally. I’m not quite sure that I heard that there were any disagreements before we left though, Tricia.
Patricia Paoletta: [Laughter] Not after Grace got in place and tamped down all that fighting.
Doug Kinkoph: It’s interesting because there was some of that in the press, but I would always say there’s always disagreements between agencies and that’s part of the sausage making process. And that one happened to get out in the press, but usually, you do this and it’s a healthy debate on issues, and you ultimately work out to a resolution that is best for the American public. And we did here. I don't know, Grace and Tom, as it went on if there were other issues that rose up, but I was not really privy to any from my team that were really a federal agency issue that became hotly debated while the WRC was going on.
Patricia Paoletta: Speaking of debating policy and approaches and looping back to what you and Tom are talking about -- and for the record, Madam Ambassador did not use the word incalcitrance, Tom. I think that was just your word.
But certainly Russia and China were pretty difficult. And I’ve said, as did Commissioner O’Rielly in a lot of the discussions on getting better international rules for Wi-Fi in a particular band of spectrum, 5 GHz, and he came away from that proposing a type of G7 of spectrum negotiations, one that would not include Russia and China because of how obstructionist they were, and as you talked about, Tom, blocking other countries that were far, far away in Africa from joining particular footnote. And, yeah, that was hard to watch, particularly when it was small developing countries who want better Wi-Fi rules.
But what about the notion of having a G7 for spectrum, or the flipside, what’s the benefit of the world coming together to negotiate spectrum? Wouldn’t it be so much easier just to do it in a club of likeminded government managers?
Thomas Sullivan: Well, yeah. Everyone should follow what the U.S. spectrum policy is and there’d be no debates. We wouldn’t need to negotiate for four weeks.
Doug Kinkoph: I second that, Tom.
Thomas Sullivan: That’s right. To your point, I think the frustration that Commissioner O’Rielly noted and observed firsthand is something where you’re seeing where technology can be deployed to citizens or for global advantages being blocked for no particular valid technical or regulatory reason. But this happens at the WRCs. People block things because of competitive -- they’re trying to champion a particular company in their country. They want that standard to evolve or that spectrum to develop.
The U.S. has an advantage due to our market size. We can be a first mover. We can attract manufacturers to build products. And I think Commissioner O’Rielly was speaking to the fact that we should not, as a first mover, along with the countries that tend to have progressive policies like South Korea and Japan, we shouldn’t be punished for being early adopters. Regulations, therefore, should be flexible and should allow technology to evolve into tomorrow because we know things aren’t ever going to be as they are today. So we need to have that flexibility that he’s looking for.
I don't know that there’s a particular solution in place, but I think it does speak to what we’ve had to navigate at the WRC in order to achieve the results to get what we needed in many cases and not what we necessarily deserved based on technical or regulatory merits.
Patricia Paoletta: Madam Ambassador?
Amb. Grace Koh: I tend to agree. And I always appreciate Commissioner O’Rielly’s statements. I can understand the frustration completely, specifically because you do have situations where one country can completely stymie the ability of the world to actually come together and agree on new and innovative services.
But I’m not sure that we can go elsewhere to do that, to make these decisions specifically because of the nature of spectrum. It doesn’t stop at the border, so you can’t say that between these particular likeminded countries, we’re going to agree that spectrum will do this, or that we’ll agree on these particular satellite orbits and nobody else can touch them. It’s just the nature of the resources that we share that we end up having to undergo these multilateral discussions and having to endure some of our less agreeable neighbors. And I don’t mind saying recalcitrant. I think Tom might be on to something there. [Laughter]
I do think it’s worthwhile, however, to consider doing more in the way of maybe partnering with other likeminded nations and not limiting our engagement to CITEL, for example. And we certainly don’t try to do this by design, but there is something to be said for, I think, coordinating more closely with likeminded nations because forming a large enough bloc of likeminded nations can help you, I think, sway the other countries.
And I think that was one of the things that helped take the American position on 24 GHz further, for example, because there were a large number of countries who agreed with where the United States was. Not just CITEL, but the Arab group and the African group were certainly there, and certainly a large number of the Asian countries as well. But it certainly is an effective mechanism for getting more of our policies across.
Patricia Paoletta: So I want to thank Doug and Grace and Tom for a very interesting, insightful discussion on the importance of WRC, what it meant, how it’s going to help the U.S. continue to lead in 5G and all of these other services, so thank you. And I guess I’ll turn it back over to our Federalist Society host for any closing housekeeping remarks.
Micah Wallen: And on behalf of The Federalist Society, I would like to thank all of our experts for the benefit of their valuable time and expertise today. We welcome listener feedback by email at email@example.com. Thank you all for joining us. We are adjourned.
Operator: Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed this practice group podcast. For materials related to this podcast and other Federalist Society multimedia, please visit The Federalist Society's website at www.fedsoc.org/multimedia.