Telecommunications:

Better Coordination and Enhanced Accountability Needed to Improve Spectrum Management

GAO-02-906: Published: Sep 30, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2002.

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The radiofrequency spectrum is the medium that enables wireless communications of all kinds, such as mobile phone and paging services, radio and television broadcasting, radar, and satellite-based services. As new spectrum-dependent technologies are developed and deployed, the demand for this limited resource has escalated among both government and private sector users. Meeting these needs domestically is the responsibility of the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for federal government users and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for all other users. The current legal framework for domestic spectrum management evolved as a compromise over the questions of who should determine how spectrum is allocated among competing users and what standard should be applied in making this determination. Current methods for allocating spectrum face difficulties, and FCC and NTIA's efforts are not guided by a national spectrum strategy. Since nearly all of the usable radio spectrum has been allocated already, accommodating more services and users generally involves redefining current radiofrequency allocations. One method used by FCC and NTIA is to increase the amount of spectrum that is designated for shared use, so that additional types of services or users may be placed within a particular frequency allocation. Another method, called band-clearing, involves relocating a service or user from one area spectrum to another in order to make room for a new service or user. The challenges the United States faces in preparing for World Radiocommunication Conferences, where decisions are made regarding the global and regional allocation of spectrum, have raised questions about the adequacy of the United States' current preparatory process. Under the current structure, FCC and NTIA develop positions on agenda items through separate processes that involve the users of the spectrum they manage. NTIA has several oversight activities to encourage accountability and efficient use of the spectrum by federal agencies, but federal officials stated that the effectiveness of these activities is hindered by staffing and resource shortages. Specifically, NTIA has directed federal agencies to use only as much spectrum as they need and has established frequency assignment and review processes that place primary responsibility for promoting efficiency in the hands of the agencies. As an accountability measure, NTIA requires that agencies justify their initial need for a frequency assignment and periodically review their continued need for the assignment, generally every 5 years.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NTIA is identifying the human capital and training needs for spectrum managers in the Federal government and industry, and, as mandated by the President's Spectrum Initiative, is seeking to develop training programs for new spectrum management personnel in needed technical disciplines to assist private organizations and the federal agencies in ensuring the continued competence of their frequency management organizations. These training programs and materials are expected to be made available to spectrum managers in federal government agencies, to non-federal agencies (state, regional, and local), and to those organizations designated by the FCC to coordinate uses of the spectrum. NTIA has begun this task by exploring training programs currently in use or in development by government agencies in other related fields of expertise, such as communications and information technologies. NTIA has taken the initial steps towards developing on-line training courses on various topics in spectrum management. In addition, in the 4th Quarter of fiscal year 2006, NTIA will convene a committee of interested Federal agencies, to include the FCC, to review their requirements and seek cooperative solutions for these human capital issues.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. spectrum management, to strengthen the management and accountability of the federal government's use of spectrum, the Secretary of Commerce should direct NTIA, assisted by Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee and the Office of Personnel Management, to analyze the human capital needs of federal agencies for spectrum management and develop a strategy for addressing any identified shortcomings. This analysis should be linked to near-term and long-term human capital issues that may be identified as part of the development of a national spectrum strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Implemented.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. spectrum management, following the 2003 World Radiocommunication Conference, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Chairman of FCC should jointly review the adequacy of the process used to develop and promote the U.S. position, including the separate processes used by FCC and NTIA, and the short tenure of the head of delegation, and prepare a report containing any needed recommendations for making improvements. The report should be provided to the appropriate congressional committees.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Implemented.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. spectrum management, following the 2003 World Radiocommunication Conference, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Chairman of FCC should jointly review the adequacy of the process used to develop and promote the U.S. position, including the separate processes used by FCC and NTIA, and the short tenure of the head of delegation, and prepare a report containing any needed recommendations for making improvements. The report should be provided to the appropriate congressional committees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Implemented.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. spectrum management, following the 2003 World Radiocommunication Conference, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Chairman of FCC should jointly review the adequacy of the process used to develop and promote the U.S. position, including the separate processes used by FCC and NTIA, and the short tenure of the head of delegation, and prepare a report containing any needed recommendations for making improvements. The report should be provided to the appropriate congressional committees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On January 31, 2003, Michael Powell, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, and Nancy Victory, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, Department of Commerce, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase coordination between FCC and NTIA to promote the efficient use of radio spectrum in the public interest. In particular, the Memorandum of Understanding set-forth the following. First, the Chairman of FCC and the Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information (NTIA) will meet at least two times per calendar year to conduct joint spectrum planning. Second, staffs of both FCC and NTIA will meet regularly to exchange information concerning spectrum management. In a September 29, 2003, letter to the Chairman, House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Chief, FCC Office of Engineering and Technology, noted that the interagency spectrum planning activities and rulemakings constitute a national spectrum planning strategy. Further, in FCC's Fiscal Year 2006 Performance and Accountability Report, the Commission identified several ongoing instances of coordination between FCC and NTIA on spectrum-related issues, including relocation in the 1710-1755 MHz band, creation of a Spectrum Test-Bed, standardization of test procedures for unlicensed Wi-Fi devices, and coordination of 1,729 frequency assignments.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. spectrum management, the Secretary of Commerce and the Chairman of FCC should establish and carry out formal, joint planning activities to develop a clearly defined national spectrum strategy to guide domestic and international spectrum management decision making. The results of these planning activities should be reported to the appropriate congressional committees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Under a Memorandum of Understanding, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission schedule semiannual planning meetings between the FCC Chairman and the NTIA Administrator, and monthly planning meetings between the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology bureau chief and the NTIA Associate Administrator for Spectrum Management. These long-term provisions in the memorandum have provided a more efficient working relationship between the two agencies and a more general agreement on planning issues. In addition, the provisions of the President's Spectrum Initiative require that NTIA assemble a Federal Strategic Spectrum Management Plan based on inputs from spectrum-using federal agencies selected by the Secretary of Commerce. Seventeen federal agencies have provided their plans as required and NTIA is currently aggregating them into a draft Federal Strategic Spectrum Management Plan. Once that has been completed in the 4th Quarter of FY2006, the President's Spectrum Initiative requires that the NTIA work with the FCC to combine the Federal Plan with a similar plan recently completed by the FCC to develop a National Strategic Spectrum Plan.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. spectrum management, the Secretary of Commerce and the Chairman of FCC should establish and carry out formal, joint planning activities to develop a clearly defined national spectrum strategy to guide domestic and international spectrum management decision making. The results of these planning activities should be reported to the appropriate congressional committees.

    Agency Affected: Federal Communications Commission

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Under the President's Spectrum Initiative, NTIA is working towards evaluating all spectrum use by the Federal Government over a five-year period to determine spectrum efficiency and effectiveness, including spot compliance checks and signal measurement surveys to verify the accuracy of the listing of government frequencies, the identification of congestion and instances of duplicative operations that could be combined, the evaluation of frequency assignment methodologies, conformance to NTIA regulations and technical standards, and the evaluation of the utility of underutilized spectrum. NTIA will use these results to improve spectrum management policies and create the Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan. NTIA will also complete and publish two reports documenting the channel occupancy and spectrum-use efficiency of specific federal radio frequency bands in the Washington, D.C., and Denver, Colorado areas by the end of fiscal year 2006.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. spectrum management, the Secretary of Commerce should develop a strategy for enhancing its oversight of federal agencies' use of spectrum, such as revitalizing its former monitoring programs, and define the Department of Commerce's human capital needs for carrying out this strategy.

    Agency Affected: Federal Communications Commission

 

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