Does Today's FCC Have Sufficient Decision Making Throughput to Handle the 21st Century Spectrum Policy Workload?
32 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2015 Last revised: 18 Sep 2015
Date Written: March 4, 2015
Today’s FCC is not as well structured to handle the reality of its spectrum policy workload as the early Commission was and may not be even keeping up with workload. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that “triage” is a key issue in spectrum policy. That is the nontransparent decision to even address an issue is a major determinant of its outcome. This could be both deterring capital formation for new spectrum technology R&D as well as creating real risks for incumbent licensees since emerging interference issues that need rulemaking or nonroutine action are not getting resolved in a timely way.
In 1934, the new FCC took a page from the structure of the ICC, one of its predecessors, and divided the then 7 commissioners into 3 “divisions” that could operate independently in the police areas of telephone, telegraph, and radio. There was no Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”) so rule deliberations were far simpler than today. The maximum frequency in routine use was 2 MHz and the modulation choices were just AM and radiotelegraphy. In the early days, a few of the commissioners had technical experience in spectrum issues.
Today we have the APA and nearly 70 years of court decisions than make rulemaking much more complicated. We have 5 commissioners that only make decisions en banc with virtually no §5(c) delegation to staff on emerging issues. Allocations go to 275 GHz, but service rules have been stuck at a 95 GHz limit since 2003. The selection process for commissioners appears to be focused on nonspectrum and nontechnical issues.
The result of all these factors is long drawn out deliberations on both new technology issues and on resolution of merging interference issues. While the US’ economic competitor nations often use “state capitalism” as a key issue in spectrum policy by subsidizing chosen new technologies and then cooperating to remove national and international spectrum policy limits for them, US entities in spectrum R&D often face both a lack of funding and an indifferent FCC (as well as NTIA - if access to G or G/NG spectrum is at issue).
The paper looks at a variety of spectrum policy issues FCC had dealt with since 2000 and examine the delays involved and their impacts. The issues consider include new technology issues such as the TV White Space, the FWCC 43 GHz petition and the Battelle 105 GHz petition as well as emerging interference issues such as police radar detector/VSAT interference, cellular booster-related interference, and FM broadcast/700 MHz LTE interference. The time lines of such deliberations will be reviewed as well as the likely impact of these timelines on the business plans of FCC regulatees.
Finally possible options to improve FCC throughput that are both feasible within existing legislation and consider approaches successfully used in foreign spectrum regulators will be discussed.
Keywords: spectrum policy
JEL Classification: O31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation