Spectrum Concentration and Performance of the U.S. Wireless Industry

43 Pages Posted: 4 May 2018 Last revised: 2 Nov 2018

See all articles by Glenn Woroch

Glenn Woroch

University of California, Berkeley; Compass Lexecon; Georgetown Center for Business & Public Policy

Date Written: October 21, 2018


This paper estimates the empirical relationship between concentration in mobile carriers’ holdings of radio spectrum and the performance of the U.S. wireless industry. Reduced-form regressions using a 2012-2013 cross-section of approximately 700 Cellular Market Areas reveal a robust inverted-U relationship between spectrum HHIs and subscriber penetration rates—a measure of consumer welfare. The marginal effect of spectrum concentration is positive throughout the range of sampled markets−contrary to the conventional concentration-performance hypothesis. This pattern persists when spectrum concentration is separately measured for bands below 1 GHz and for rural areas. It is also shown not to be biased by potential endogeneity of spectrum HHIs. This paper is distinguished by relating subscriber penetration rates to the quality and coverage of operator networks that supports efficiency explanations for operator size, and hence the benefits of structural concentration. These findings cast doubt on federal policies, dating as far back as the 1927 Radio Act, that attempt to equalize ownership of spectrum, but instead prescribe measures that promote investment in wireless infrastructure and other non-spectrum incentives.

Keywords: spectrum concentration; industry performance; mobile wireless services

JEL Classification: L11, L13, L86, L96

Suggested Citation

Woroch, Glenn, Spectrum Concentration and Performance of the U.S. Wireless Industry (October 21, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3165051 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3165051

Glenn Woroch (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

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