National Spectrum Strategy Falls Short Without Auction Authority | Citizens Against Government Waste

National Spectrum Strategy Falls Short Without Auction Authority

The WasteWatcher

The National Spectrum Strategy (NSS) announced by President Biden ahead of the start of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in Dubai recognizes the importance of spectrum for communications and national security, but fails to resolve the need for the restoration of spectrum auction authority. 

When the November 13, 2023, release of the NCC did not mention that the FCC’s spectrum auction authority expired on March 9, 2023.  That became the first time since the initial auctions were conducted in 1994 that the agency lost that capability.  The FCC has conducted more than 100 auctions, raising $233, billion, which enabled the U.S. to become the global leader in telecommunications technology and innovation. 

The spectrum void places the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage against countries like China that are investing resources in developing spectrum for 5G and future 6G deployments.  That problem is exacerbated at forums like the WRC, where the lack of auctions makes it difficult to claim that the U.S. will continue to lead on the development of wireless technology and global standards. 

The NSS charges several federal agencies with jurisdiction over telecommunications policy to coordinate spectrum policy initiatives.  It requires National Technology and Information Administration (NTIA) to develop a national spectrum strategy with the FCC and the Interagency Spectrum Advisory Council (ISAC); imposes a deadline of 120 days for an implementation plan from agencies within 120 days after the strategy is published; and requires all agencies to respond to NTIA with any technical or operational information needed to coordinate spectrum and policy developments.

This coordination of spectrum held by federal has long been a sticking point for advancing the allocation of spectrum.  For example the 5.9 GHz spectrum band had been held by the Department of Transportation for nearly 20 years before it was repurposed for unlicensed use, and there is currently a stalemate on the 3 GHz band that is used by the Department of Defense.  According to the NTIA, spectrum that “best supports mobile uses (225 MHz to 3700 MHz), only 17 percent is allocated for exclusive federal use, compared with 31 percent for exclusive non-federal use and 52 percent for shared use.”  NTIA must determine if agencies are using their spectrum allocations as efficiently as possible so that any spectrum that is underutilized could be repurposed for optimal performance, whether through federal, licensed, or unlicensed use cases.

The long overdue NSS should be used to move the conversation forward in getting more spectrum for both licensed and unlicensed use into the pipeline for the future needs of the communications industry.

At the WRC in Dubai, the U.S. must take a leadership role in formulating international policy goals toward harmonizing spectrum allocations.  Without a clear consensus within the government on what bands should be allocated for private or unlicensed use and a cloudy future for a spectrum pipeline without federal agency cooperation, it will be more difficult for the U.S. to remain competitive on a global scale

It is all well and good to lay out and prepare for the next set of spectrum auctions and free up more federally held spectrum.  But these efforts will only lead to empty lanes of spectrum that will lay fallow until Congress reinstates spectrum auction authority. 

Spectrum policy can feel like a horse and cart discussion, and with the release of the National Spectrum Strategy by the White House, it feels like the cart is already being loaded, but the horse is missing from the barn. 

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