Spectrum Reform

Spectrums are what make technologies like radio, broadcast television, WiFi, and mobile phones function. In the United States, spectrum is broken up into “licensed” and “unlicensed,” and is managed by the Federal Communications Commission. Licensed spectrum is usually used for commercial purposes and can only be used by the company that holds the license. Unlicensed spectrum, first established by the FCC in 1985, allows the public to freely use services without an FCC license, such as wifi networks.

Opening up spectrum for more unlicensed uses and increasing the efficiency of all spectrum uses will greatly benefit competition in wireless broadband, innovation in technology that relies on short-distance radio communication, and even the needs of first-responders, like firefighters and ambulances, who rely on immediate radio communication to save lives. This spectrum could come from several sources, particularly TV white spaces, the unused areas of spectrum between TV channels.

The FCC is currently in the midst of preparing for an incentive auction, in which they will purchase spectrum from television broadcasters, use some of this spectrum for a communications network for emergency services, and sell off the rest to providers of mobile broadband and related services. The Commission has expressed readiness to set aside a certain amount of spectrum for carriers with less spectrum, to promote competition, which Public Knowledge encourages. The FCC also recently outlined a plan to make more unlicensed spectrum available via TV white spaces after the auction. The details of the FCC’s approach will be developed over the summer.

PK works to ensure that the public airwaves serve the public—whether that means improving wireless broadband services or making spectrum available to first-responders and other unlicensed uses.

PK is also working to make sure that licensed spectrum, which is used to offer cellular phone and Internet service among other things, is not hoarded by just a few companies.  Since spectrum licenses are a limited resource, they should be distributed in a way that encourages competition.

To learn more check out the following:

We produced an informational video about how spectrum affects individuals:

PK produced two white papers on spectrum reform: Breaking the Logjam: Creating Sustainable Spectrum Access Through Federal Secondary Markets and Breaking the Logjam: Some Modest Proposals for Enhancing Transparency, Efficiency and Innovation in Public Spectrum Management.

We held a conference in 2010 entitled Toward a Sustainable Spectrum Policy, which can be viewed on our YouTube page.

Here are the PK experts on this issue:

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