The Spectrum Opportunity

22 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2013

See all articles by Kevin Werbach

Kevin Werbach

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department

Aalok Mehta

University of Southern California

Date Written: September 13, 2013


We face today a set of policy choices that will define the landscape of the connected world and America’s place within it. The popularity of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices has caused demand for wireless connectivity to skyrocket. Technical improvements and network upgrades alone will not satisfy this accelerating demand; any sustainable solution will involve expanding access to spectrum for mobile data. Otherwise, limited wireless capacity could become a major drag on U.S. job creation, competitiveness, innovation, community development, and important advances in education, healthcare, and public safety.

Efforts to free up new capacity have run into headwinds. The problem is not a lack of resolve but the cold reality that clearing existing licensees off the spectrum, moving them and their users somewhere else, and auctioning the frequencies to new licensees is increasingly costly, contentious, and uncertain. An approach based entirely on taking frequencies from someone and transferring them to someone else will not maximize capacity over the long term.

What is needed is a change in orientation. Policy-makers should acknowledge what engineers already recognize and businesses are already implementing: The future of spectrum is about various forms of sharing. Exclusive rights are still desirable, even essential, in some contexts. However, they will exist within a larger matrix of sharing arrangements to maximize available capacity. Such a policy approach allows the most users and devices to benefit from the airwaves, rather than simply picking winners. At the same time, it will extend the long tradition of wireless communication as a mechanism for innovation and free expression.

Suggested Citation

Werbach, Kevin and Mehta, Aalok, The Spectrum Opportunity (September 13, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Kevin Werbach (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States
215-898-1222 (Phone)

Aalok Mehta

University of Southern California ( email )

2250 Alcazar Street
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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