Reclaiming Federal Spectrum: Proposals and Recommendations

by Brent Skorup
15 Colum. Sci. & Tech. L. Rev. 90 (Published December 27, 2012)


With the popularity of smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi, and other wireless devices that require as an input transmissions over radio spectrum, the rising
demand for bandwidth is rapidly using up the available supply of spectrum. Spectrum demand increases significantly every year with no end in sight, yet the
“greenfields” of available and unallocated spectrum are gone. Redeployed spectrum must come from incumbent users. Today, the largest holder of spectrum
appropriate for mobile broadband is the federal government, which uses spectrum for a variety of military and nonmilitary uses. Federal users generally use
spectrum only lightly and the inefficiencies have triggered bipartisan calls for selling the spectrum used by federal agencies to the private sector, particularly to
mobile broadband carriers. To date, reclaiming federal spectrum is a painfully slow process and billions of dollars of social welfare are lost with every year of
delay. This Article examines proposals for reclaiming spectrum and puts forth some best practices to ensure more efficient use of spectrum. Policymakers should
consider creating a commission with authority to require the sale of spectrum so that agency-controlled spectrum is quickly and easily redeployed to its highest-valued uses. In the long run, Congress should also require agencies to pay for the spectrum they possess, just as agencies pay market prices for other inputs.

About the Author

Brent Skorup is a research fellow in the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. His research topics include
radio spectrum rights, antitrust, new media regulation, and telecommunications. His work has appeared in several law reviews, The Hill, US News & World
Report, and elsewhere. He also contributes to the Technology Liberation Front, a leading technology policy blog. Brent has a BA in economics from Wheaton
College and a JD from the George Mason University School of Law. He was formally the Director of Operations and Research at the Information Economy
Project at George Mason University School of Law, a research center that applies law and economics to telecommunications policy in Arlington, Virginia.

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