Demand for Spectrum Bandwidth

By TAP Guest Blogger and TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on July 16, 2013


The jockeying for spectrum bandwidth continues. Technology news stories from the last few weeks reported on the following wireless telecommunications companies pursuing mergers and acquisitions in efforts to acquire spectrum.

  • AT&T plans to acquire prepaid wireless provider Leap Wireless International in a deal valued at about $4 billion. AT&T says it will use Leap's spectrum in furthering its development of AT&T's 4G LTE network. (Reuters, July 12, 2013)
  • T-Mobile said that it has signed an agreement to buy 10MHz of Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) wireless spectrum from U.S. Cellular for US$308 million in cash. The spectrum is meant to improve and expand T-Mobile's existing 4G LTE network coverage in the Mississippi Valley region. The agreement still has to be approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. (Network World, June 28, 2013)
  • The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently approved the $21.6 billion acquisition of Sprint by Japanese telecommunications group Softbank, saying it promises to bring consumers faster and more advanced wireless broadband Internet service. This decision also helps clear the way for Sprint to take full control of Clearwire, a struggling but spectrum-rich wireless broadband provider. (PCWorld, July 6, 2013)

Demand for spectrum keeps growing with the steady innovative development of broadband wireless applications. As carriers scramble to accumulate valuable spectrum, wireless thought leaders, scholars, and regulatory experts have been working to understand what long-term technology trends and constraints will drive spectrum policy.

Last fall, the Silicon Flatirons Center convened a conference to explore the multitude of spectrum policy issues. “Looking Back To Look Forward: The Next Ten Years of Spectrum Policy” asked what lessons can be learned about spectrum planning from the recent decade of FCC and White House strategic plans; debated ways to reform U.S. spectrum management; and, looked at the long-term technology trends that will drive spectrum policy.

What follows is the executive summary and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s keynote sections from the conference report. The report was written by Michelle Hersh.

On November 14, the Silicon Flatirons Center, CTIA - The Wireless Association and Public Knowledge co-sponsored the conference “Looking Back to Look Forward: The Next Ten Years of Spectrum Policy.” This event was held in cooperation with the Federal Communications Bar Association and IEEE-USA.

This conference was held at a pivotal moment for spectrum policy, as the year 2012 marks some important anniversaries: a century since the sinking of the Titanic and the resulting 1912 Radio Act; a decade since the FCC’s Spectrum Policy Task Force Report (SPTFR); and the midpoint of an Administration that has welcomed the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, published a Presidential Memorandum calling for 500 MHz of spectrum to be allocated for wireless broadband use, and commissioned a President’s Council of Advisor’s Science and Technology (PCAST) report on ways to realize the full potential of government-held spectrum.

The conference focused on learning lessons from the past 100 years of spectrum policy, and canvassing forward-looking policy advice. Particular attention was paid to the upcoming incentive auctions, and what impact they would have on future spectrum policy. Recurring themes included (i) calls for policy to be driven by technology and to create solutions rather than regulations; (ii) assertions that flexible rules and regulations should replace strict regimes in order to allow for more innovation within the marketplace; and (iii) a need to establish economic incentives for federal and commercial users in order to encourage a serious evaluation their spectrum use and needs.

The conference opened with a keynote by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, followed by three panels: “The Promise and Problems of Strategic Plans,” “Reforming US Spectrum Management,” and “The View Ahead: Technology Opportunities.” It closed with a discussion between FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell and Bryan Tramont.

Opening Keynote: Commissioner Rosenworcel

To begin the discussion, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel highlighted four ideas that she argued would shape the next decade of spectrum policy: (i) the incentive auctions; (ii) the role of federal spectrum users; (iii) strengthening infrastructure; and (iv) public safety.

First, Rosenworcel noted that the United States would once again be pioneering spectrum policy with the implementation of the upcoming incentive auctions. She discussed four dimensions of the incentive auctions: (i) simplicity, (ii) fairness, (iii) balance, and (iv) public safety. She maintained that simplicity will yield more cooperation, and thus more spectrum and opportunity. Fairness, especially to the broadcasters, will allow parties to participate most effectively. In order to achieve success at every stage of the auctions, it is necessary for the FCC to balance the needs and concerns of the reverse auction, the repacking, and the forward auction. Lastly, the revenue of the auction will be shared with the nation’s public safety community since part of the proceeds is congressionally mandated to serve public safety needs.

Next, Rosenworcel addressed federal spectrum and potential incentives to increase spectrum efficiency. She argued that the hunt for an additional 500 MHz for commercial spectrum use requires cooperation by federal spectrum users, more flexible spectrum use, and secondary market transactions. Rosenworcel contended that growing spectrum demands would require new and old solutions for gaining additional spectrum. She argued that both reallocation of services and large scale sharing would be necessary. She also suggested there are many strategies to release additional spectrum, such as monetary incentives for federal bodies to encourage efficient spectrum use. She argued that economic incentives should financially reward agencies that use spectrum efficiently, such as by allowing agencies to reclaim a portion of the revenue from the subsequent re-auctions of their unused airwaves. Rosenworcel maintained that these market-based incentives would alleviate financial constraints within federal organizations and open up additional spectrum.

Third, Rosenworcel addressed the importance of tower and facility siting to wireless services. Both the President and Congress have spoken to the need for simple and expedited deployment and investment. A recent Executive Order tasked a working group with reviewing federal lands and roads in order to speed the deployment process.6 Congress has also addressed the acceleration of deployment and access.7 She argued that the Commission should tie the disparate efforts together and draft model rules for facilitating siting that could be used by state and local governments. She contended that a more predictable regulatory environment would encourage investment in communities, a range of new deployments, and a surge in the economy.

Finally, Rosenworcel turned her attention to public safety. Today, one third of households rely on wireless phones that lack the reliability of wireline telephone and cable networks during emergencies. She suggested that in order to avoid future network outages during emergencies, there must be collaboration between federal and local governments to establish reliable networks and to continue efficient deployments. She also contended that consumers themselves must prepare for emergencies with longer back up batteries, solar chargers, and other measures.

Rosenworcel concluded by observing that spectrum policy must be flexible and dynamic in order for the United States to maintain its role as a leader in the wireless sector.

The preceding is re-published on TAP with permission by the Silicon Flatirons Center. The “Conference Report: Looking Back to Look Forward: The Next Ten Years of Spectrum Policy” was written by Michelle Hersh, 2014 J.D. Candidate at the University of Colorado Law School.

The Silicon Flatirons Center and co-sponsors of this conference –CTIA -The Wireless Association, Public Knowledge, the Federal Communications Bar Association, and IEEE-USA—have made a wealth of material available from the conference: