Historical background of the RRB
Radiocommunication was discovered in 1895, and the first Table of Frequency Allocations was created in 1912 by the International Radiotelegraph Union, an organization founded in 1903 when the infant radio technology allowed for the use of the kilohertz range only. This first Table of Frequency Allocations may be considered as the beginning of the Radio Regulations, even though it was only facultative.
Technology evolved, and in 1938 the Table was extended up to 200 MHz. This took place after the merger in 1932 of the International Radiotelegraph Union with the International Telegraph Union (created in 1865), forming what constituted the International Telecommunication Union, which is still thriving today.
ITU survived the Second World War in a dormant state and, following the Atlantic City Plenipotentiary Conference in 1947, started a new life. This was a time when the Allied Countries wanted to impose a new international order based on “lasting international peace, justice, and mutual trust”. The United Nations Organization was created to solve cooperatively major economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems, and the Atlantic City Conference incorporated ITU into the UN structure.
The importance of radiocommunications for humankind was already clear in 1947, and the conference was well aware of how important it was to have international order in the usage of the radio-frequency spectrum. This was the reason for creating the International Frequency Registration Board (IFRB) to manage the radio- frequency spectrum internationally and to solve related problems in a neutral manner. It also prompted the conference to place IFRB at the highest level in the structure of the Union. The Atlantic City Conference stressed that members of IFRB must be considered as “custodians of an international public trust” and not as representatives of their respective Member States or regions. At that time there were eleven members of IFRB, and they were expected to act independently and represent only themselves. To support their independence, they were paid from the ITU budget.
So as to maintain objectivity, IFRB members were expected not to request or receive instructions. Member States were asked to respect the exclusively international character of the duties of the members of the Board, and to refrain from attempting to influence them in the performance of their IFRB duties. Even the Secretary-General, the highest elected official in ITU, had no power over IFRB members. IFRB decisions were final and could be changed only by the majority of all Member States gathered at a Plenipotentiary Conference or at a world radio conference.
The Atlantic City Conference established that IFRB members must be “thoroughly qualified by technical training in the field of radio and possessing practical experience in the assignment and utilization of frequencies”, and must be elected by the Plenipotentiary Conference from candidates proposed by Member States. It is interesting to note that such qualifications and experience were required exclusively with regard to IFRB membership.
The Board was originally envisioned by its proponents “as something of a cross between the Federal Communications Commission and the International Court of Justice”. In reality, the IFRB never achieved a status comparable to that of those bodies. One of the reasons why IFRB did not achieve that status was because Member States did not allow it to perform all the functions of an arbitrator for radio-frequency spectrum usage by all the nations of the world. In other words, Member States were unwilling to yield any of their national sovereignty to a supranational regulator. Interestingly, they have done so elsewhere, in particular in the World Trade Organization.
Even with its limited powers, IFRB proved to be indispensable, confirming the wisdom of the decisions of the Atlantic City Conference. The Board served the ITU membership well and impartially, helping to ensure that the Radio Regulations were interpreted coherently and strictly observed.
After 18 years of existence of the IFRB with eleven members, the Montreux Plenipotentiary Conference in 1965 reduced its size to five. The Montreux Conference might even have abolished the Board completely, had the developing countries not supported IFRB, seeing the Board as a neutral body that could assist them and protect their interests vis-à-vis the developed countries.
The RRB today
The part-time Board members retain the status originally established for IFRB members in Atlantic City, and there have been no changes in the election procedure or qualification requirements.
The only change was that Board members were freed from running the specialized secretariat — this function was taken over by the Director of BR. Board members are no longer based at ITU headquarters in Geneva, and work without remuneration. They reside in their home countries and come to Geneva only for short meetings a few times a year. Their travel, subsistence and insurance expenses are paid by ITU.
This change created, however, a somewhat curious situation because it means that the financial burden of maintaining RRB members has effectively been transferred to the Member States whose candidates are elected.This situation gives rise to two different cases:
· If the Board member is an employee of an administration or a company, the employer has to agree that sufficient time and resources will be devoted to RRB matters. Even if the Board member works on RRB matters in his or her own time, the employer must still agree to allow time off to attend RRB meetings in Geneva.
· If the Board member is a retired expert (a situation that has occurred from the very beginning of the part-time Board), the administration of the Member State concerned is supposed to provide the conditions enabling the Board member to work for RRB. This has not always been done, and some Board members have been left without any assistance, which has perhaps had a detrimental impact on their work. Such instances prompted the Marrakesh Plenipotentiary Conference in 2002, in its Resolution 119, to call upon Member States to provide necessary assistance and support, or upon ITU in the case of developing countries where such support is not available.
Composition of the RRB
The RRB currently consists of 12 members elected from the candidates proposed by Member States at the Plenipotentiary Conference. To achieve geographical balance, Board members are elected from five Administrative Regions. All ITU Member States can vote for the candidates from each region. In other words, voting is not restricted to the Member States in the region concerned.
The Administrative Regions and corresponding numbers of Board members are:
· Region A (Americas): 2 members;
· Region B (Western Europe): 2 members;
· Region C (Eastern Europe and Northern Asia): 2 members;
· Region D (Africa): 3 members;
· Region E (Asia and Australasia): 3 members.
A Board member may serve for two terms only.The twelve members of the Radio Regulations Board (RRB) are elected at the Plenipotentiary Conference. They perform their duties independently and on a part-time basis, normally meeting up to four times a year, in Geneva.
The Board :
- approves Rules of Procedure, used by the Radiocommunication Bureau in applying the provisions of the Radio Regulations and registering frequency assignments made by the Member States;
- addresses matters referred by the Bureau which cannot be resolved through application of the Radio Regulations and Rules of Procedure;
- considers reports of unresolved interference investigations carried out by the Bureau at the request of one or more administrations and formulates Recommendations;
- provides advice to Radiocommunication Conferences and the Radiocommunication Assemblies;
- considers appeals against decisions made by the Radiocommunication Bureau regarding frequency assignments;
- performs any additional duties prescribed by a competent conference or by the Council.
The Director of the Bureau is the Executive Secretary of the Radio Regulations Board.