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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Interesting Spectrum News

"Down Under":

Asking Questions
Not Asked in US

From my friends in London's PolicyTracker I got news of some interesting spectrum developments in Australia. As we approach the 40th anniversary of Robert Kennedy's assassination, perhaps we should ask about the lack of parallel actions in the US spectrum policy community and "say why not?"

The first document is a report and request for comments/"consultation" from the Aussie regulator, Australia Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), entitled "Five-year Spectrum Outlook 2009-2014". In the past FCC has sometimes commented on such documents to the counterpart originating agency in a collegial way - don't count on it here since FCC doesn't seem to have any specific spectrum policy of its own recently, not withstanding the references in recent FCC budgets to the mysterious "Spectrum Management Task Force" and its "new approaches to spectrum management."

The ACMA document gives a good view of where the agency sees the growing demand for spectrum and what its proposed priorities are for the next few years. It then asks for comment on them.

One general comment is that it reminds me of the ill fated attempt of the FCC's former Private Radio Bureau in the 1980s to quantify future private land mobile requirements. (The biggest outcome of this effort, oddly, turned out to be today's DTV as the broadcasters squirmed and squirmed to avoiding being victim of a spectrum grab.)

The basic problem with the PRB approach was guessing future demand for spectrum when indeed no one has a need for spectrum - people have a need for communications capacity. Communications capacity then needs spectrum, but the amount needed is a function of both available technology and demand elasticity. Just as we can't accurately forecast the GDP x years from now, we can not forecast communications demand accurately. New trends will result in communications uses we can't anticipate. Other uses, like paging, made fade away under pressure from crosselastic alternatives. New spectrum technologies arise that increase the intensity of spectrum use which rarely approaches the theoretical limits in today's applications. Finally, some technologies, such as cellular, allow higher spectrum efficiency through higher capital investment/fixed costs. The the amount of spectrum needed depends on demand elasticity issues. I am impressed with the ACMA document, but hope that commenters explore this issue. I would be glad to be of assistance if you want to discuss it.

The second document shown above is a study commissioned by ACMA on government use of spectrum. I have reported previously that the European Commission is exploring a similar issue and that neither FCC nor NTIA are too interested in asking such a question in the US context. ACMA commissioned SpectrumWise Radiocommunications Consulting in 2006 to examine the measures required to better achieve an appropriate balance between government and broader community use of the radiofrequency spectrum.

The review was intended to do the following:

  • To identify the major government spectrum holdings below 31 GHz
  • To describe both actual and potential uses of major Government spectrum holdings;
  • To identify major spectrum holdings for which existing or potential demand indicates that the overall public benefitcould be maximised by 1) Making all or part of the holding available for non-government use, 2) Identifying increased sharing opportunities; and 3) Devolving management of major Government spectrum holdings to other Government agencies;
  • To develop a strategic approach to the re-allocation of Government spectrum holdings to non-government uses;
  • To review the medium and long term effectiveness of existing regulatory arrangements;
  • To identify regulatory mechanisms and approaches that will assist ACMA to maximise the overall public benefit from major Government spectrum holdings;
  • To examine the opportunity cost of major Government spectrum holdings in order to identify opportunities for improved charging arrangements and other incentive mechanisms
The Review identified 30 individual recommendations for further consideration, some of which are not in the sole remit of ACMA. Three of the major areas identified in the Review relate to:
  • increased transparency in the use of spectrum by government bodies;
  • the need for increased sharing of government spectrum; and
  • increased use of market approaches to improve the management of government spectrum.
These are good concepts in any society. The UK already charges government users for spectrum access and contemplates increases the charges to marketplace value in the future. (Governments pay marketplace prices for land and fuel, why not spectrum too?)

In the present bifurcated system of spectrum policy in the US (FCC & NTIA) such an review is unlikely, especially considering the strong influence the large agencies using spectrum have at NTIA's Office of Spectrum Management where they effectively make 95% of the decisions and where the NTIA staff de facto functions as the IRAC Secretariat.

While local, state, and federal government agencies probably need more spectrum access, why should they be exempt from effective oversight on how well they use existing spectrum. Shouldn't one consider whether some of future capacity increases might come from increasing efficiency of existing spectrum? The US form of government is based on checks and balances and effective oversight. Government spectrum use should not be exempt. Both Europe and Australia are exploring new oversight, "why not"?

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