Public Knowledge Proposes Spectrum Policy Changes
Public Knowledge Proposes Spectrum Policy Changes
Public Knowledge Proposes Spectrum Policy Changes

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    The Federal government should alter its spectrum-allocation policies and procedures so that both the government and the private sector can operate more efficiently, two papers presented today at a Public Knowledge-sponsored conference suggested.

    The papers, by PK Legal Director Harold Feld and economist Gregory Rose, were presented at the conference, Toward a Sustainable Spectrum Policy:  Rethinking Federal Spectrum.

    One paper, Breaking the Logjam: Creating Sustainable Spectrum Access Through Federal Secondary Markets, suggested the government consider real-time leasing rather than simply clearing bands entirely for auction.  The full version of the paper is located here.

    The second paper, Breaking the Logjam: Some Modest Proposals For Enhancing Transparency, Efficiency and Innovation In Public Spectrum Management, proposed ways to allocate spectrum within the current statutory structure, treating it more like budgeting and purchasing.  The full version of the paper is located here.

    The conference is being held today at the Washington Court Hotel on Capitol Hill.

    Here are absracts of both papers.

    Breaking the Logjam: Creating Sustainable Spectrum Access Through Federal Secondary Markets

    Abstract: Two changes in the regulation of spectrum access in the 1990s — Congressional authorization of spectrum auctions to distribute exclusive licenses, and the adoption of the FCC’s Part 15 “unlicensed” rules for low-power devices —  spawned the exponential growth of wireless networks and devices. Providers winning licenses at auction, protected from harmful interference and driven to recoup auction costs, built national wireless networks and aggressively marketed them to consumers and enterprise customers. The ease of entry and flexibility of unlicensed devices created its own, complimentary industry in which equipment manufacturers and service providers offer consumers a variety services wholly different from those offered by licensed providers.

    Twenty years later, these two mechanisms for providing spectrum access can no longer keep pace with demand. Users of both licensed spectrum access and unlicensed spectrum access have pressed federal policy makers to expand access into spectrum allocated primarily for federal use. But federal spectrum managers have resisted, arguing that further reallocation of federal spectrum could undermine delivery of vital services and imperil national security. In addition, a growing number of industry stakeholders have complained that neither spectrum auctions nor unlicensed spectrum adequately meets their needs. Demand for spectrum has made the cost of bidding on licenses prohibitive to new entrants and for industrial users who need access to spectrum for their own purposes, not because they wish to sell mobile or fixed wireless services. At the same time, the low power and lack of interference protection for unlicensed access makes this an insufficient alternative.

    The paper proposes that rather than clear bands for auction, the federal government can provide access to federal spectrum through dynamic “real time” leasing. This would combine the low barriers to entry and flexibility of unlicensed with the higher power and interference protection of licensed. It would also generate revenue for the federal government, an unspoken driver of spectrum auctions. The proposed federal secondary market system builds on existing technology already approved by the FCC in other areas of spectrum policy. Specifically, it takes the database and opportunistic sharing mechanism approved for TV White Spaces, combined with the ability to dynamically shift spectrum approved for use by public safety in the 700 MHz band, layered with real time auction applications used for internet advertising. This system would not replace either spectrum auctions or unlicensed spectrum, but would provide an additional way to improve spectrum access while generating federal revenue.

    Breaking the Logjam: Some Modest Proposals For Enhancing Transparency, Efficiency and Innovation In Public Spectrum Management

    Abstract: It has become impossible to say with any certainty how the various federal agencies use spectrum. This is partially a consequence of the current legal structure, which limits the role of NTIA to coordination to prevent interference and provides no role for any central coordinated planning. But it is also a consequence of the perverse incentives for federal spectrum managers in the current system. Efforts to enhance transparency and efficiency in federal spectrum management have been explicitly motivated with the intent of designating bands for “clear and auction.”  Federal spectrum managers understand that the “reward” for transparency and efficiency is to lose spectrum, which in turn makes it more difficult for them to carry out their responsibilities. As a result, they have resisted efforts to enhance transparency or modify the existing allocation process. This lack of transparency makes it impossible for the federal government to realize the benefits of wireless technology, and prevents the development of meaningful public policy.

    This paper proposes mechanisms for moving forward within the existing statutory frame work. In essence, the paper calls for treating spectrum allocation more like federal budgeting and purchasing.  The paper explains how the Administration can “zero base” all existing allocations of spectrum to federal agencies, and require federal agencies to reapply. As part of the application process, agencies would formulate five year “spectrum budgets” to project future needs. The paper recommends that NTIA and the Chief Technology Officer take on a new role in formulating a coherent federal policy that shift federal agencies from the current fragmented system to one where agencies use existing wireless technology to access spectrum on an “as needed” basis from a common pool, encouraging efficiency and providing flexibility. In the short term, NTIA and the FCC can make immediate improvements that will enhance transparency and public oversight and streamline the process by which non-federal users can apply for access to federal spectrum. The authors warn, however, that federal decisionmakers must embrace transparency as a value, not merely as a tool to clear more spectrum for auction, to achieve the desired results.
    Public Knowledge is a Washington D.C.- based public interest group working to defend consumer rights in the emerging digital culture.  More information is available at