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CHAPTER I - Spectrum Institutions

Rapid growth in demand for spectrum continues. New developments, including the approach of 5G, make spectrum policy issues more complex and time-sensitive. Quickening new spectrum to availability is a challenge for the governmental institutions that manage the nation’s radio spectrum.

5G applications include the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, augmented and virtual reality, high definition mobile video, and smart everything—factories, cities, infrastructure, buildings, homes and farms. According to Robert Pepper, Head of Global Connectivity and Technology Policy at Facebook, Inc., 5G applications will be heterogeneous, and heterogeneous devices and applications require heterogeneous spectrum.

These applications have heterogeneous requirements with respect to latency, speed, throughput, distance, power, mobility and spectrum frequency. For example, for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, some will be low data rate telemetry, some continuous, some very short distance and some long range. Different spectrum bands will be used to support these applications—some shared, some dedicated. This changes the way we think about allocating spectrum.

Key technologies required to support these applications include 5G networks, sensors, the cloud, artificial intelligence and data analytics. Although 5G may be short for the 5th generation mobile wireless networks, in fact the architecture and equipment will be very different from previous transitions, such as 2G to 3G, or 3G to 4G. There are likely to be 10 to 15 billion IP-enabled M2M devices, billions of which will not be SIM-based, and these non-SIM-based devices may not be served by traditional wireless carriers. And the stakes are high—getting spectrum policy right is important to economic growth, innovation and U.S. competitiveness in the global economy.

As a result, spectrum policy issues are becoming even more complex. New issues arise more frequently, with a desire for swifter resolution. As Charla Rath, Vice President of Wireless Policy Development at Verizon Communications, noted, many of the spectrum policy issues are connected to scalability. This is further complicated by the pending arrival of 5G and IoT and the increased challenge of having two different organizations—the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)—with overlapping jurisdiction, essentially dealing with the same problems.

In 2017, the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Spectrum Policy (AIRS) met for two days at the Aspen Wye River Conference Center in Queenstown, Maryland. A diverse group of twenty-six researchers, technologists, regulators and spectrum policy experts from the U.S. government, the United Kingdom’s telecom regulator, industry, academia and nonprofit groups reviewed the history of the U.S. institutions that manage spectrum, and discussed how these institutions might be adapted to address new technological, marketplace and social realities. The group’s intensive discussions resulted in a set of new policy recommendations for improving the ability of institutions of spectrum management to address the challenges of 5G, the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles.

Charles M. Firestone, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, moderated the sessions. This report, by rapporteur Ruth Milkman, provides an interpretive synthesis of the key themes, points of discussion and recommendations. Though not every participant agrees with or endorses every statement, this report represents the general sense of the group’s deliberations.

Spectrum Institutions
Peter Tenhula of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration provided a concise history of the legal framework for U.S. spectrum institutions, beginning with the Constitution and proceeding through the Radio Act of 1927. Tenhula described the basis for shared jurisdiction between NTIA and the FCC, as well as other arrangements previously considered. Tenhula noted that the themes of interference, interconnection and competition that appear in the Communications Act also are found in earlier statutes.

With that historical context, the group considered whether it would be possible to devise a different structure for institutions of spectrum management that would allow them to better serve spectrum-related needs. These needs include an abundance of bandwidth, which may be supported by spectrum as well as deployments of infrastructure such as additional fiber. This abundance of bandwidth should support current services as well as the heterogeneous, next-generation devices and applications, such as drones. Spectrum-related needs also include expanded coverage, as well as mechanisms to make mobile broadband available to people with low incomes.

In the context of seeking to address these needs, participants commented on a set of considerations. For example, though participants generally agreed that spectrum management institutions should strive for abundance, rather than scarcity, Preston Marshall of Google Access stated that spectrum is managed by people who get power from scarcity. To solve bandwidth problems, the approach needs to be holistic—it cannot put spectrum in one pipe and fiber in another. As participant and University of Colorado scholar Pierre de Vries said, reformulating St. Augustine, the prayer of entities that hold spectrum rights is “Lord, let spectrum be flexible, but not yet.”

Other considerations include the levels of management that are involved in making spectrum available and usable. These include local, state, federal and international authorities. Many in the group expressed a desire that decision-making processes at all institutions be transparent and inclusive.

Participants also generally agreed that the speed of technology and business development has outpaced the speed of regulation, and that there should be a sense of urgency about the need for faster processes. In terms of bands poised for reallocation, however, the low-hanging fruit is gone, and current regulating bodies are not well set-up to identify economic trade-offs. Finally, the cost of any regulatory transition is a consideration as one envisages changes and shifting in institutional authority.

Within this overall context, three working groups worked to explore different approaches to governmental management of spectrum, regulation of related issues like privacy, and issues of enforcement.

WORKING GROUP 1: Drones and other Security- Related Issues. Drones are an example of a burgeoning technology and business that involves several federal, state and local agencies in the commercial and security sectors. What is the best governmental structure and set of operational protocols to achieve desired results (including preventing the use of drones for terrorist activities, flight interference, RF interference, breach of privacy, and local aesthetics)?

WORKING GROUP 2: IoT, 5G and Business Apps. In each of these areas, businesses will be innovating with new products and services using spectrum as a key resource. What are the governmental barriers to effective and efficient roll-outs and provision of services? What other non-economic issues are involved that implicate different government agencies, including state and local? How should these efforts be coordinated so that government functions most effectively and fairly?

WORKING GROUP 3: Pro-Social Activities. Government spectrum management and regulation are part of broader laws aiming to serve the public interest. This often includes pro-social goals such as universal service/ digital inclusion, fairness, environmental considerations, historic preservation, and protection of civil rights and civil liberties. How do these goals factor into the appropriate structure for spectrum management, including inter-agency relations? How do the economics of IoT and 5G affect broadband provisioning to people in urban, suburban and rural areas?

The working group recommendations included ideas for changes within the existing institutional framework, as well as for systemic changes to institutions of spectrum management.

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