Issue in Focus
May 24 2019
Everyone is aware of how the modern world’s technology has transformed our daily lives in countless ways over the past decades. But most of the time, we don’t think about what is needed to operate that technology: the radio frequency spectrum.
Cell phones, television, radio systems, and a myriad of other technologies function based on this part of the electromagnetic spectrum. And as technology continues to evolve, the radio frequency spectrum is becoming increasingly in demand and increasingly congested.
Unfortunately, spectrum is a fixed resource and cannot be manufactured. So, if we are going to be able to take advantage of future innovation opportunities – and be able to continue operating our current technologies – we need to make sure that spectrum is being managed efficiently.
In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages spectrum for commercial and noncommercial uses; and the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) oversees the federal government’s use of spectrum.
But currently, we don’t know all of the federal government’s spectrum allocations, and we don’t have an estimate of the value of those allocations.
So, while the federal government – and particularly our military – use spectrum for vital purposes, it may be inefficiently using its allocations or have access to more than it needs.
For example, in 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) found that the federal government has allocated 60% of the “beachfront frequencies” between 225 and 3700MHz – effectively precluding most of these bands from commercial use.
And furthermore, because federal agencies pay such a minimal fee to NTIA for their allocations – absent of a market-based allocation – they have little incentive to share spectrum or make it available for commercial use.
That’s why I introduced the Government Spectrum Valuation Act – a bill designed to make sure that the federal spectrum is being managed efficiently and fairly.
The Government Spectrum Valuation Act would require over the next three years, and every three years thereafter, that the NTIA coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the FCC to estimate the “opportunity cost”, or fair market value, of electromagnetic spectrum that is allocated to each federal agency. And it would additionally require that each federal agency report the value in their financial statement and in the President’s budget each year.
If we are to meet our nation’s growing spectrum needs, and allow for continued innovation in fields like energy, healthcare, manufacturing and transportation, we need to make sure that the private sector has access to its fair share of the spectrum. The Government Spectrum Valuation Act is a good place to start.