The Role of International Telecommunications Union

Currently, the United Nations (UN) agency that regulates the use of geosynchronous orbits is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is a large specialized organization with a voting membership that very nearly mirrors that of its parent organization, the UN. The ITU's financing is derived from voluntary contributions of its members. As with all agencies of the UN, the principle of "one state, one vote" applies to the ITU.

In 1988, ITU acknowledged that all countries have an equal right to orbital slots. However, Article II of the Outer Space Treaty forbids any claim of sovereignty by any country in space, a circumstance which would not allow countries to establish dominion over the orbital places above their territory. To ensure at least some access to geostationary orbits to all countries, the ITU gave countries rights to an orbital slot directly over their territory at conferences in 1985 and 1988. With some consideration given to the country making the request, the ITU dispenses the orbital slot based on a "first come, first served" basis. There is no mandatory system to deal with disputes over orbital slots. In addition to orbital slots, the ITU also regulates satellite broadcast frequencies.

The ITU has only power granted by sovereign nations; it does not regulate officially. The role played by the ITU is that of an "efficiency-enhancing resource" for avoiding potential usage conflicts and resolving disputes among sovereign states [22]. Therefore, a number of policy challenges are present in this existing governing situation.

As the ITU cannot enforce its rulings, states and firms can launch satellites into orbit regardless of orbital slot or frequency issues. In 1994, China launched a satellite into orbit without the approval of the ITU. This Chinese satellite has the potential to interfere with neighboring satellites [23].

Due to the fact that each country is assigned the right to positions in space, some governments, which do not have the technological or economic ability to launch satellites, can take natural advantages of their terrestrial locations to gain economic benefits. For example, Tonga secured the rights to six orbital slots and then auctioned them off to private firms [24]. Other countries, such as Gibraltar and Papua New Guinea, have also auctioned off orbital slots or are considering such plans [25].

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