Gregory Rosston Proposes Opportunities to Increase Wireless Spectrum

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on June 21, 2013


Last week, the White House released a report on the status of broadband development in the United States. Four Years of Broadband Growth shared these findings:

  • Since 2009, the percentage of American homes reached by high-speed broadband networks have more than quadrupled (from less than 20% to more than 80%) and average broadband speeds have doubled.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of American households with a home connection to broadband has surged from 4.4% to 67%.
  • Annual investment in U.S. wireless networks grew more than 40% between 2009 and 2012, from $21 billion to $30 billion.
  • There are over 500 million Internet-connected devices now in American homes and businesses.


The release of the Broadband Growth report coincided with President Obama’s announcement of new Administration initiatives to bolster wireless broadband and technological innovation. The Presidential Memorandum directs Federal agencies to enhance the efficiency of their use of spectrum and make more capacity available to satisfy the ever-increasing demand of consumer and business broadband users. Additionally, the Memorandum directs agencies to increase their collaboration and data-sharing with the private sector, including greater sharing of spectrum between Government and commercial users.

Stanford scholar Gregory Rosston, an expert on competition in local telecommunications, auctions, and spectrum policy, released a paper earlier this year that examines the supply of wireless spectrum capacity and proposes opportunities for increasing capacity in the future. “Increasing Wireless Value: Technology, Spectrum, and Incentives” states: “Given that there is little prospect for finding currently unused spectrum, the government should institute policies that promote the economically efficient use of spectrum currently in use, which in turn could make spectrum available for alternative uses.”

Dr. Rosston outlines three ways to increase wireless capacity:

  • Increasing the amount of spectrum used (or increasing the value of the use of spectrum);
  • Increasing the use of capital involving a particular technology (e.g., more cell sites) with the spectrum; and
  • Increasing the technological capability of the capital employed (e.g., more technologically advanced cell sites) for wireless transmissions.


“Increasing Wireless Value” proposes that the best way for the government to promote spectrum efficiency is to ensure that users have flexibility and that they realize the opportunity cost of their use of spectrum. These opportunities can be made available by removing government restrictions on spectrum use, transferring transmission rights from the government to the private sector, and ensuring that open access spectrum is appropriate, both in quantity and in terms of the frequencies it occupies. Mr. Rosston concludes that with policies such as these in place, industry leaders in spectrum would make appropriate investments in wireless capital and the innovation of new technology.

Gregory Rosston is Deputy Director and a Research Fellow at Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) and Visiting Lecturer in Economics at Stanford University. His research has focused on industrial organization, antitrust and regulation. Dr. Rosston served as Deputy Chief Economist of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). At the FCC, he helped to implement the Telecommunications Act. In this work, he helped to design and write the rules the Commission adopted as a framework to encourage efficient competition in telecommunications markets. He also helped with the design and implementation of the FCC's spectrum auctions.