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Geopolitical Challenges

Officials Say U.S. Is Prepared Headed into WRC in Dubai

Despite changes in leadership in the months leading up to World Radiocommunication Conference in Dubai, the U.S. is in a good position before the start of the conference next month, government officials said during a U.S. ITU Association conference. Steve Lang, who replaced Anna Gomez as head of the U.S. delegation to the conference (see 2309120069), also spoke Thursday (see 2310260054). WRC-23 starts Nov. 20.

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I don’t know that we’re less prepared” than at past WRCs, said Kelly O’Keefe, ITU team lead at the State Department. “Sometimes it takes us a while to get to our final decisions just because we have so many stakeholders and so many views,” she said. “All the people that we have on the delegation are quite prepared” though organizing the large group is “a feat in itself.”

The Inter-American Telecommunications Commission (CITEL) at its recent prep meeting (see 2309050085) aligned with the U.S. position on 30 of 36 items, said Charles Cooper, associate administrator in the NTIA Office of Spectrum Management. On future items for WRC-27, CITEL supported the U.S. position 59% of the time, he said. “We’re pretty much wrapped up between State, FCC and NTIA on most of the agenda items,” he said.

Ethan Lucarelli, chief of the FCC Office of International Affairs, said some items will likely be debated until the Dec. 15 end of the conference.

A number of geopolitical issues have come to the surface since the WRC in 2019, from the COVD-19 pandemic, to the war in Ukraine and now the tensions in the Middle East, noted EchoStar Senior Vice President-Regulatory Affairs Jennifer Manner. “It is a different time than I have ever seen,” she said.

The WRC doesn’t take place “in a vacuum,” O’Keefe said. “We always have to deal with some of these issues that come up -- it’s a political conference,” she said. The U.S. wants a WRC that’s “technical, not political, and aligned with our U.S. foreign policy,” she said.

Since the Ukraine invasion “we’ve had a year of experience in dealing with Russia issues at the ITU successfully,” O’Keefe said. “We’ve created a strong, like-minded coalition” to “push back on the Russia leadership on some of their policy proposals as well as helping to make sure we have support for Ukraine during these conferences,” she said.

The safety of the U.S. delegation to the conference is the top priority, especially given current tensions in the Mideast, O’Keefe said. The State Department is encouraging delegation members to monitor travel alerts and will “share information with the delegation on the ground as appropriate,” she said.

There’s always “a political overhang,” at ITU conferences, Cooper noted. “There’s always geopolitics,” he said: “It’s a challenging time.”

Geopolitical issues will be “even more acutely felt” than at past WRCs, Lucarelli said. “Whether that’s going to affect the substantive outcome of discussions, or just take up time in the room, either way that’s something we need to be aware of going in,” he said.

While the overall themes of a WRC often aren’t clear until it starts, O’Keefe said a likely one will be that “it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find more spectrum for a lot of advanced 5G, 6G services,” she said: “The pressure is on.” She also expects more focus than in the past on the rising use of non-geostationary orbit systems.

There’s always … a question of balancing progress with protection” of incumbents, Lucarelli said: “That’s in every one of these issues that we’re dealing with at every point. … Absolutely, this is a discussion about promoting innovation in connectivity in a challenging environment.”


Limiting the number of items to be teed up for WRC-27 will be a U.S. focus, officials agreed. By last count, more than 30 future agenda items were scheduled to be considered, Cooper said. That’s an “oh, my goodness number,” and it would be better if there were closer to 20, he said. “Thirty-plus just is simply way too much,” he said.

Prioritizing future agenda items is a concern, Lucarelli said. "There will be some culling -- there will have to be,” he said. Future items with support from multiple ITU regions are more likely to make the cut, he said.

WRC is a long conference “and it’ll evolve over the four weeks,” O’Keefe said. “Making sure we have a solid future agenda is one of our priorities,” she said.

The top priorities for the U.S. are “expanding connectivity and driving innovation,” unlocking “the space economy and the next generation of space sciences,” protecting U.S. defense capabilities and “preserving” aviation and maritime safety, Lang said.

Increasing opportunities for advanced wireless technology “to enable new and improved services for consumers and businesses,” is a top goal, Lang said. The U.S. is promoting an agreement supporting unlicensed use of the 6 GHz band, “an area where the United States has great technological strength,” he said. The U.S. supports no change to the band, which will let countries decide how the spectrum should be allocated, he said.

The U.S. is also stressing the importance of global harmonization in the C band for international mobile telecommunications and the identification of 3.3-3.4 and 3.6-3.8 GHz bands for IMT, Lang said. Agenda Item 10, which considers spectrum for IMT, “won’t be easy,” he said: “We have all seen regions … struggle to reach agreement on bands for future study,” he said. The U.S. has already proposed the 12.7-13.25 GHz band “as one possibility in CITEL and we have had extensive discussions on possible additional bands,” he said.