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Equitable Access: Bridging the digital divide

With previous blogs in our ongoing post-WRC-23 series covering cis-lunar communications and MSS Agenda items, we now turn our attention towards equitable access. In an era where ubiquitous connectivity forms the cornerstone of modern society, equitable access to radiofrequency spectrum is crucial for ensuring that all communities - regardless of location or economic status - have the opportunity to benefit from the ongoing digital revolution.

The importance of equitable access

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has long recognised that equitable access to spectrum is essential for enabling universal connectivity and fostering innovation across diverse regions and communities. By promoting fair and non-discriminatory access to spectrum resources, the ITU aims to create a level playing field – one in which all stakeholders, including developing countries, can participate and benefit from the digital economy.

Given this overriding principle of equity in spectrum management, it is perhaps surprising that at WRC-23 we saw – for the first time – many countries speaking up and contributing to address the topic of equitable access and sovereignty. These contributions may have been triggered by Resolution 219 (PP-22), which directly encouraged Member States to actively participate in studies on the issue of equitable access to, and rational and compatible use of, the GSO and non-GSO orbit and spectrum resources.

Key outcomes

Originating from a key contribution from the African Telecommunications Union, WRC-23 also saw the adoption of Resolution 131 on the “consideration of technical and regulatory measures for fixed-satellite service (FSS) satellite networks/systems in the frequency bands 37.5-42.5 GHz (space-to-Earth), 42.5-43.5 GHz (Earth-to-space), 47.2-50.2 GHz (Earth-to-space) and 50.4-51.4 GHz (Earth-to-space) for equitable access to these frequency bands”.

The choice of these bands is not without significance.

Out of the frequency ranges at 4/6/10/11/12/13/14/17/20/30/40/50 GHz that include FSS and/or BSS on a primary basis, a substantial portion (4/6/10/11/12/13/14/17 GHz) has been used to develop planned space services with spectrum and orbital resources allotted on a per country basis. This is contained and detailed in Appendices 30, 30A and 30B.

With the 20/30 GHz frequency range currently regulated by the notorious “first come, first served” principle and being heavily filed for, the 40/50 GHz range has become the next battleground for equitable access.

Overcoming future challenges

With lower bands in high demand, as well as the growing need for higher throughput applications and technologies, it comes as no surprise that interest in the Q/V-band continues to grow. This is further reflected through WRC-27 Agenda item 1.1 (for GSO and NGSO ESIMs) and 1.3 (for NGSO gateway earth stations) where the focus also lies on the Q/V-band.

It prompts one to consider whether, despite diligent efforts, the primary obstacle to achieving genuinely equitable access to spectrum globally might not lie in the restricted availability of spectrum itself. This is where working with a skilled organization such as River Advisers, which has extensive expertise in this arena, can help you navigate the regulatory landscape and bolster advocacy for accessing new spectrum.



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