Thune: Time To Update Federal Spectrum Policy For 5G

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, convened a hearing titled, “The State of U.S. Spectrum Policy,” on July 23, 2020. It examined the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)’s role in spectrum management and policymaking. Witnesses including Tom Power of CTIA, Mark Gibson of CommScope, Michael Calabrese of New America and myself discuss how the increased demand and competition for licensed and unlicensed spectrum resources have impacted spectrum policies in the United States. 

Over the year he Commerce Committee has driven reforms to liberalize commercial spectrum allocation at the FCC. These practices have become a model for countries around the world. Reforms include flexible use, competitive bidding, spectrum repackaging, and dynamic sharing. Without these reforms, our trillion-dollar wireless economy and the millions of jobs it powers would not be possible.

As the Committee has improved outcomes for commercial spectrum, the same can likely be done for the government. Today federal spectrum is managed by NTIA and IRAC, the latter founded in 1922. The management of federal spectrum is essentially unchanged for 98 years, and it’s time to review it.

In the 1920s, free market, common law property rights were alive and well for radio spectrum. The purpose of the 1927 Radio Act was to end free enterprise and enshrine bureaucratic control of the airwaves. The practical effect was to make spectrum allocation a political decision and to reward favored constituents.

By the time Nobel economist Ronald oase wrote his seminal articles on the FCC and IRAC, the US had some 40 years of administrative allocation. Coase laid the theoretical foundations for the market-based spectrum management. He described how the prevailing central planning of spectrum was wasteful and costly. He debunked the premise that government is needed to limit interference when this same function can be done through pricing.

Read the article.