Key Issues > Wireless Broadband Spectrum Management
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Wireless Broadband Spectrum Management

The growth of commercial wireless broadband services, including smart phones and tablet computers, and increases in government missions using radio frequency spectrum have increased the demand for spectrum. However, since the amount of spectrum is limited, there is concern about adequate access to meet future needs.

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Radio frequency spectrum enables an array of wireless communications services critical to the U.S. economy and government functions, such as scientific research, national defense, homeland security, and other vital public safety activities. However, nearly all usable spectrum has been allocated either by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for federal use or by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for commercial and nonfederal use.

Examples of Services by Frequency Band

Examples of Services by Frequency Band

There are a number of approaches that might help address spectrum needs, including:

  • Repurpose spectrum to high-value uses – Historical allocations can leave spectrum tied to outmoded and less valuable services. To accommodate new uses, FCC often changes its rules to move spectrum from an existing use, a process known as repurposing. In making these decisions, FCC considers uses that best serve the public interest, including factors such as economic and social value.
  • Increase spectrum sharing – At any given time or place, spectrum lies fallow or is only intermittently used. Some federal advisors, agency officials, and experts have advocated greater incentives and opportunities for sharing spectrum by federal and nonfederal users.
  • Improve receiver performance - To manage spectrum, FCC and NTIA have historically focused on transmitters—the equipment that emits signals. But improved receivers can also help promote more efficient use of spectrum.

Congress, FCC, and NTIA have taken many actions to improve the efficient use of spectrum. For example, with Congressional authorization, FCC adopted auctions to assign many spectrum licenses. In addition to helping promote more efficient use of spectrum, these auctions have generated nearly $52 billion for the U.S. Treasury from 1994 through the end of 2013.

Illustration and Examples of Spectrum Sharing

Illustration and Examples of Spectrum Sharing

Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

Spectrum Management:

Further Consideration of Options to Improve Receiver Performance Needed
GAO-13-265:
Published: Feb 22, 2013. Publicly Released: Feb 22, 2013.

Spectrum Management:

Spectrum Management:

Incentives, Opportunities, and Testing Needed to Enhance Spectrum Sharing
GAO-13-7:
Published: Nov 14, 2012. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 2012.

Spectrum Management:

Federal Government's Use of Spectrum and Preliminary Information on Spectrum Sharing
GAO-12-1018T:
Published: Sep 13, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 2012.

Commercial Spectrum:

Plans and Actions to Meet Future Needs, Including Continued Use of Auctions
GAO-12-118:
Published: Nov 23, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 23, 2011.

More Reports

Spectrum Management:

FCC's Use and Enforcement of Buildout Requirements
GAO-14-236:
Published: Feb 26, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 28, 2014.

Spectrum Management:

Federal Relocation Costs and Auction Revenues
GAO-13-472:
Published: May 22, 2013. Publicly Released: May 22, 2013.

Spectrum Management:

Preliminary Findings on Federal Relocation Costs and Auction Revenues
GAO-13-563T:
Published: Apr 24, 2013. Publicly Released: Apr 24, 2013.

Spectrum Management:

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