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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Spectrum Policy in the Age of Broadband: Issues for Congress

Linda K. Moore
Specialist in Telecommunications Policy

The convergence of wireless telecommunications technology with the Internet Protocol (IP) is fostering new generations of mobile technologies. This transformation has created new demands for advanced communications infrastructure and radio frequency spectrum capacity that can support high-speed, content-rich uses. Furthermore, a number of services, in addition to consumer and business communications, rely at least in part on wireless links to broadband backbones. Wireless technologies support public safety communications, sensors, smart grids, medicine and public health, intelligent transportation systems, and many other vital communications. 

Existing policies for allocating and assigning spectrum rights may not be sufficient to meet the future needs of wireless broadband. Deciding what weight to give to specific goals and setting priorities to meet those goals pose difficult tasks for federal administrators and regulators and for Congress. A challenge for Congress is to provide decisive policies in an environment where there are many choices but little consensus. 

Among the spectrum policy initiatives that have been proposed in Congress in recent years are: allocating more spectrum for unlicensed use; auctioning airwaves currently allocated for federal use; and devising new fees on spectrum use, notably those collected by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The National Broadband Plan (NBP), a report on broadband policy mandated by Congress, has provided descriptions of perceived spectrum policy issues to be addressed by a combination of regulatory changes and the development of new policies at the FCC, with recommendations from the FCC for legislative actions that Congress might take. Substantive modifications in spectrum policy would almost surely require congressional action. 

The Radio Spectrum Inventory Act introduced in the Senate (S. 649, Kerry) and the similar House-introduced Radio Spectrum Inventory Act (H.R. 3125, Waxman) would require an inventory of existing users on prime radio frequencies, a preliminary step in evaluating policy changes. The Spectrum Measurement and Policy Reform Act (S. 3610, Snowe) expands on the proposed inventory acts and also proposes a structure to carry out some of the NBP proposals regarding spectrum management, such as voluntary incentive auctions. The Spectrum Relocation and Improvement Act of 2009 (H.R. 3019, Inslee) and the Spectrum Relocation Act of 2010 (S. 3490, Warner) would amend the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-494, Title II); the Spectrum Measurement and Policy Reform Act would provide additional provisions for the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act, notably to facilitate spectrum sharing. The Broadband for First Responders Act (H.R. 5081, King), the First Responders Protection Act of 2010 (S. 3625, Lieberman), and the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act (S. 3756, Rockefeller) would allocate additional radio frequencies for public safety use. The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act would provide authority for voluntary incentive auctions to enable license-holders, such as TV stations, to auction all or part of their holdings and share proceeds with the U.S. Treasury. The Voluntary Incentive Auctions Act of 2010 (H.R. 5947, Boucher) would also provide for voluntary auctions

Date of Report: August 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: R40674
Price: $29.95

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