AEI's Layton: Agencies Need to Show FCC Some Respect

Ros Layton

Ros Layton

American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar Ros Layton has some advice for how to get federal agencies to be a little more transparent about, and generous with, their use of spectrum that commercial interests are eyeing eagerly for 5G. Those include potentially making government users pay a spectrum fee, as various administration's have proposed for commercial users (who pay regulatory fees rather than license fees), though that proposal has never gotten past Congress. 

She said federal agencies need to be more accountable for their spectrum and more "respectful" of FCC processes and decisions. 

The Trump Administration is all about winning the race to 5G, but a number of agencies, including the Department of Transportation, Defense Department, NOAA, NASA and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (the White House's chief communications policy adviser), have also been butting heads with FCC efforts to free up spectrum for 5G, saying sharing spectrum bands or even letting other users get to close to government spectrum has the potential for harmful interference. 

Those include over the FCC's freeing up spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band,  the 24 GHz spectrum auction and the FCC's approval of Ligado's proposal to use satellite spectrum adjacent to GPS for terrestrial broadband. NTIA has petitioned the FCC to rescind that Ligado approval, for example. 

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has argued that the agencies often-strident push-back is a bit of "NIMBY"protectionism that does not square with the engineering. 

Related: Pai Points to Government Impediments to 5G

"While the contest for scarce resources is not unusual, the tone and level of conflict over recent spectrum decisions is," says Layton of the recent battles. 

Layton, once in the running for the FCC commissioner seat that went to Republican Brendan Carr, blogged about the issue. 

Those boil down to: 

1. Levying the fee. Make federal agencies pay for spectrum as they do for other resources like labor or utilities or real estate.  

2.  Transparency in valuing spectrum. Get both FCC and NTIA to come up with a valuation of spectrum for both licensed and unlicensed. How the Congressional Budget Office scores spectrum auction legislation has been an issue since it does not know how to value unlicensed and has given it a score of zero. A dashboard of spectrum use would also when federal spectrum is underused. " This promises to show the opportunity cost of leaving spectrum fallow when so many actors are willing to use it wisely and pay for the right to do so," Layton said.  

3. Report Cards. Congress could include spectrum efficiency among their agency oversight metrics and "grade accordingly." 

4. Study Haul. Drill down on the plethora of interference studies that have helped fuel the rift between the FCC and agencies. "The recent spectrum conflicts offer a valuable policy research opportunity to test the purported claims of interference and evaluate the appropriate methodologies of measurement," she said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.