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Words From Charlie - Foreword to the 2014 Aspen Institute Roundtable on Spectrum Policy (AIRS) Report

Current spectrum policies allocate and assign much of the usable spectrum for specific uses, such as broadcast, cellular telephony or aeronautics. Increasingly the FCC has moved to market-oriented approaches to allocations, allowing licensees more flexible use of the spectrum where it can. With the progress of these alternative approaches, many believe that the U.S. should make the more drastic move to a regime that has all spectrum, other than some carved out for specific public benefit, to be considered general use spectrum eligible for the highest and best use available.

The 2014 Aspen Institute Roundtable on Spectrum Policy (AIRS), “Moving Towards General Purpose Spectrum,” met on October 22-24, 2014 to consider the value of such a goal, its limitations and the uses that warrant exclusion.

The 26 leading communications policy experts who met at the Aspen Wye River Conference Centers in Queenstown, Maryland examined the feasibility of a general spectrum national plan based around four general questions:

  • Is such a regime a realistic and worthwhile goal, and what would it potentially look like?
  • What are the limits of general purpose spectrum?
  • What regulatory and technical elements are needed to enable general purpose spectrum?
  • What are some approaches for overcoming inevitable political and institutional impediments?

As the following report details, the discussions were spirited, informed and often contentious. Throughout the report the Roundtable rapporteur, Dorothy Robyn, tackles the task of describing what general purpose spectrum actually is; discusses the practical, political and institutional limits and ways to overcome them; and details the necessary technical advances and regulatory actions to make general purpose spectrum a reality. The report concludes with a number of proposals for facilitating the creation of a general purpose spectrum regime, and for overcoming the barriers and opponents that will undeniably stand in its way. While these proposals generally reflect the sense of the meeting, no votes were taken. Accordingly, participation in the dialogue should not be construed as agreement with any particular statement in the report by the participant or his or her employer.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the entities represented in this conference who have also contributed to the Communications and Society Program. They are AT&T, Cisco Systems, Comcast Corporation, Google, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, New Street Research, Qualcomm, Time Warner Cable, T-Mobile USA, Inc. and Verizon Wireless.

I also want to acknowledge and thank Dorothy Robyn, our rapporteur, for her extensive and informative account of the conference discussions; and our participants for their contributions to these complicated topics. Finally, I want to thank Ian Smalley, Senior Project Manager, for producing the conference and this report, along with the Communications and Society Program Assistant Director Patricia Kelly, who oversaw its editing and publication.

Charles M. Firestone
Executive Director
Communications and Society Program
The Aspen Institute
Washington, D.C.
June 2015

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