FCC’s O’Rielly calls for more U.S. involvement in ITU

Michael O'Rielly (FCC)
FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly says the FCC needs to make spectrum available in a manner that is attractive to as many use cases as possible. (FCC)

Speaking before the 5G Americas’ Technology Briefing on Thursday, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said the FCC and wireless industry must be more involved at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to ensure U.S. spectrum policy objectives are successful.

“I suggest that we demand a larger role and say in the ITU leadership,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “It is ironic that we are the second largest contributor of funds to the ITU, but only one Secretary General has come from the U.S. in 150 years and the last American sector head was approximately 25 years ago. People from the U.S. should be within the upper echelons of ITU leadership.”

The U.S. learned a valuable lesson from the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015, he said. O’Rielly attended that conference, where other countries prevented a global 600 MHz allocation and barred the 28 GHz band from inclusion in 5G feasibility studies—examples of unfortunate procedural flaws that, he said, should not be allowed to happen.

In fact, his experiences have reaffirmed his belief that the ITU needs a fundamental overhaul. “Clearly, greater transparency and process reform are long overdue,” he said. “But it’s more than that: the ITU is currently being used by authoritarian governments to push their myopic agendas to the detriment of other countries, including America, and technology advancement.”

Structural reforms need to be enacted to ensure that the ITU remains technology-neutral and focused on its core mission as opposed to engaging in mission creep, but he stops short of calling for the U.S. to disengage, something that has been contemplated.

“Failure to proceed along this path is likely to lead to calls for the U.S. to defund the ITU in whole or in part, which would likely fracture the organization and lead to its functional demise,” he added. “No freedom minded individual should want this outcome because, if we are at least part of the organization, we have the chance to fight for the hearts and minds of the world community. A withdrawal strategy will lead to greater spectrum chaos and a loss of the global efficiencies and benefits.”

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On the topic of midband spectrum, he noted the first round of comments that were filed this week and said many commenters seem to agree that it is possible to share with incumbents or even repack or clear the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for flexible use. But he is not in favor of a plan put forth by some entities that would favor fixed operations in the band, saying that’s counter to flexible use policies and “not appropriate.”

And he suggested the commission make sure that the FCC’s databases have been updated with complete information about incumbent operations, something that has been sorely lacking in more ways than one. Google examined the Fixed Satellite Service database showing where ground-based equipment is located and found that at least 29% of the sites didn’t exist.

O’Rielly said he’s pleased that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently announced that there will be a follow-up Spectrum Frontiers item by year’s end that will respond to issues raised in the further notice and on reconsideration and act on additional bands to extend the spectrum pipeline. To complement that action, the commission needs to identify and publish a schedule to auction the respective bands so that everyone has advance notice and time to prepare.

The U.S. should also look at opening up the 3100-3550 MHz band, as discussed in the Mobile Now bill, which passed the Senate in early August.

“In particular, we should examine closely the portion of this band closest to 3550 MHz, namely the 3.4 GHz range, as this is directly adjacent to the previously discussed 3.5 GHz band,” he said.