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Q&A: Robert Weller at WRC-15

RF spectrum allocation is on the line

Held every three or four years, the World Radiocommunications Conference is an almost-month long conference to review and possibly revise Radio Regulations, which is the international treaty governing the use of radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits. WRC-15 began on Nov. 2 and is scheduled to run through Nov. 27 in Geneva.

Robert Weller, vice president of spectrum policy for the National Association of Broadcasters, is currently in Geneva participating in the conference. Radio World was able to talk with him about what the conference is like and what is possibly on the table.

Radio World: What’s your role at WRC-15 in Geneva?
Robert Weller: I am there as part of the North American Broadcasters Association delegation, which represents 31 broadcasting organizations. Our role is to make sure that broadcast spectrum is protected. There are over 630 broadcasting organizations that are organized into groups like NABA and are being represented at WRC under the umbrella of the World Broadcasting Union. We are considered NGOs — non-governmental organizations — and are not part of any official delegation.

RW: Who else is participating from the United States?
Weller: The official U.S. delegation has over 140 members, none of which represent broadcast interests.

RW: What are some of the issues that might affect radio broadcasters in the U.S. on the agenda?
Weller: The most important issue for broadcasters generally is Agenda Item 1.1, which seeks to allocate spectrum for mobile broadband on a primary basis in the UHF television band and also in the C Band satellite downlink band. This spectrum is commonly used for wireless microphones and IFBs, and the C Band spectrum is commonly used for network program distribution, both for radio and TV.

This issue needs to be carefully studied to make sure there are coordination procedures in place to limit interference. It’s interesting that the official U.S. position on a primary mobile allocation at UHF is somewhat different from the position the FCC adopted last year. The FCC voted to reallocate some UHF spectrum based on the outcome of the incentive auction, while the U.S. delegation is supporting a plan to add a primary mobile allocation right away and across the entire UHF TV band.

RW: What is the conference like?
Weller: The WRC is a marathon of meetings, negotiations and deal-making. The conference is almost one month-long. The staff-level people who actually have to write up the proposals work late into the night for days or weeks on end. It’s a lot of work, but it is important; it can be rewarding and I’m looking forward to it.

RW: Anything else that radio engineers or managers should know?
Weller: The outcome of the WRC is a treaty-level commitment by the U.S. government. If large amounts of spectrum currently used by broadcasters are allocated to wireless, the door will be wide open for massive interference problems that will be uncontrollable. Make no mistake, the wonky technical decisions made at the WRC have far-reaching consequences for the future of communications and spectrum usage.