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Reclaiming Federal Spectrum: Proposals and Recommendations

Reclaiming Federal Spectrum: Proposals and Recommendations

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In a new Mercatus Center study, Brent Skorup examines scholars’ proposals and outlines some best practices for reclaiming federal spectrum to ensure more efficient use. Among the recommendations of the
study is a proposal for a GSA-like agency with the authority to sell and lease spectrum to federal agencies. Skorup also recommends a temporary commission to identify excess federal spectrum for auction in
the next few years. This independent commission would “BRAC the spectrum” to help rapidly redeploy
spectrum to its most highly valued uses. In the long run, spectrum should be treated like any other good
or service, and agencies should be required to pay the approximate market price, just as they do for other
inputs they use.
In a new Mercatus Center study, Brent Skorup examines scholars’ proposals and outlines some best practices for reclaiming federal spectrum to ensure more efficient use. Among the recommendations of the
study is a proposal for a GSA-like agency with the authority to sell and lease spectrum to federal agencies. Skorup also recommends a temporary commission to identify excess federal spectrum for auction in
the next few years. This independent commission would “BRAC the spectrum” to help rapidly redeploy
spectrum to its most highly valued uses. In the long run, spectrum should be treated like any other good
or service, and agencies should be required to pay the approximate market price, just as they do for other
inputs they use.

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05/19/2014

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workingpaper
No. 13-10My 2013
ReclaiMiNg FedeRal SpectRuMprooss n Rommnons
by Brent Skorup
The opinions expressed in this Working Paper are the author’s and do not representofcial positions o the Mercatus Center or George Mason University.
 
About the Author
Brent SkorupInformation Economy ProjectGeorge Mason University School of Law bskorup@gmu.edu
Abstract
With the popularity of smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi, and other wireless devices that require as aninput transmissions over radio spectrum, the rising demand for bandwidth is rapidly using up theavailable supply of spectrum. Spectrum demand increases significantly every year with no end insight, yet the “greenfields” of available and unallocated spectrum are gone. Redeployed spectrummust come from incumbent users. Today, the largest holder of spectrum appropriate for mobile broadband is the federal government, which uses spectrum for a variety of military andnonmilitary uses. Federal users generally use spectrum only lightly and the inefficiencies havetriggered bipartisan calls for selling the spectrum used by federal agencies to the private sector, particularly to mobile broadband carriers. To date, reclaiming federal spectrum is a painfullyslow process and billions of dollars of social welfare are lost with every year of delay. This papeexamines proposals for reclaiming spectrum and puts forth some best practices to ensure moreefficient use of spectrum. Policymakers should consider creating a commission with authority torequire the sale of spectrum so that agency-controlled spectrum is quickly and easily redeployedto its highest-valued uses. In the long run, Congress should also require agencies to pay for thespectrum they possess, just as agencies pay market prices for other inputs.
 JEL
codes:
K00, K2, K23, K11, L50
Keywords:
radio spectrum, wireless, FCC, NTIA, PCAST, reallocation, mobile broadband,regulation, policy, economics, smartphones, technology
 
 3
Reclaiming Federal Spectrum: Proposals and Recommendations
Brent Skorup
I. Introduction
The consumer demand in recent years for mobile broadband services—such as streaming Netflix, voice-over Internet Protocol, and Facebook use—is unprecedented and strains thecurrent capacity of wireless carriers. Building out cell towers and networks increases capacity, but increasing the supply of radio spectrum is much more cost-efficient. These realities havecaused telecommunications policymakers in the past decade to seriously reexamine spectrummanagement. A growing consensus among experts is that federally held spectrum is lightly usedand would be better redeployed for commercial uses that accommodate consumer demands andexpand the US economy. President Obama and his Federal Communications Commission (FCC)appointees have prioritized, at some political risk, making substantial amounts of spectrum,including spectrum currently used by federal agencies and the military, available for wireless broadband use. This paper discusses the history of spectrum management and the commercialand federal uses of the radio frequencies. Several policy proposals for reclaiming federalspectrum are presented, along with recommendations for rationalizing spectrum management.
II. History of Radio Spectrum Allocation
Today the FCC and the president share spectrum management authority. The 1934Communications Act gives the FCC authority to assign spectrum for commercial users
1
andgives the president authority to regulate government spectrum.
2
Presidents delegate this authorityto the Department of Commerce, and specifically to the National Telecommunications and

1
47 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.
2
47 U.S.C. § 305.

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