Policy Documents

Reclaiming Federal Spectrum: Proposals and Recommendations

Brent Skorup –
May 28, 2013

The consumer demand in recent years for mobile broadband services—such as streaming Netflix, voice-over Internet Protocol, and Facebook use—is unprecedented and strains the current capacity of wireless carriers. Building out cell towers and networks increases capacity, but increasing the supply of radio spectrum is much more cost-efficient. These realities have caused telecommunications policymakers in the past decade to seriously reexamine spectrum management. A growing consensus among experts is that federally held spectrum is lightly used and would be better redeployed for commercial uses that accommodate consumer demands and expand the US economy. President Obama and his Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appointees have prioritized, at some political risk, making substantial amounts of spectrum, including spectrum currently used by federal agencies and the military, available for wireless broadband use. This paper discusses the history of spectrum management and the commercial and federal uses of the radio frequencies. Several policy proposals for reclaiming federal spectrum are presented, along with recommendations for rationalizing spectrum management.