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Rosenworcel: Think Wisely About Spectrum’s Future

Industry can create a steady spectrum pipeline by rethinking allocation processes and looking at new technologies

Jessica Rosenworcel is the latest FCC commissioner to push the industry to think wisely about the nation’s spectrum resources.

“The airwaves around us that are responsible for our modern wireless economy are finite,” said Rosenworcel during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing meeting July 29 to examine wireless broadband and the future of spectrum policy.

“The iron laws of physics being what they are, we are simply not making more. So the challenge is to use the spectrum we have more efficiently.”

Pointing to actions that can be taken — from improving network technology to improving network topology — Rosenworcel suggested, “We need to rethink how we allocate our airwaves, and in particular the airwaves used by the federal government.”

To complete mission-critical tasks like managing air traffic and monitoring water supplies, the federal government has substantial spectrum assignments, she said. In the past, federal authorities have been asked to free up sections of airways for private sector use when demand exceeds supply. But this is an unreliable and inconsistent process, Rosenworcel said.

“It’s not the steady spectrum pipeline the modern mobile economy needs,” she said, according to a published FCC copy of her remarks. “The future of spectrum policy requires incentives. If we want a robust and reliable spectrum pipeline, we need to make sure that federal authorities see gain, and not just loss, when their airwaves are reallocated for new mobile broadband use.”

Rosenworcel also said the industry must develop a series of incentives to serve as the catalyst for freeing more spectrum for commercial markets — suggestions include expanding incentive auctions, updating the Spectrum Relocation Fund, reviewing laws that create perverse incentives and developing a uniform type of spectrum valuation.

She also dipped into the technical side and suggested the industry look at millimeter wave spectrum. “[That can help us] overcome propagation challenges and deliver wireless service at faster speeds than ever before,” she said, pointing to the technology that could power 5G wireless services.

Rosenworcel also pointed to the importance of preserving unlicensed spectrum. “If we combine more incentives to facilitate the repurposing of federal government spectrum for new commercial use — with more exploration of the possibilities of millimeter wave spectrum and more opportunities for Wi-Fi — we can build a spectrum pipeline that is robust, reliable and a potent force in our economic future,” she said.

Other commissioners have noted the importance of using spectrum resources wisely, including Chairman Tom Wheeler, who supported a Report and Order earlier this year — the Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3.5 GHz band — that was designed to better utilize spectrum and create management techniques that would increase the nation’s broadband capacity.