History and Current Issues Related to Radio Spectrum Management

GAO-02-814T: Published: Jun 11, 2002. Publicly Released: Jun 11, 2002.

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Peter F. Guerrero
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As new technologies that depend on the radio spectrum continue to be developed and used more widely, managing the spectrum can grow increasingly challenging. The current legal framework for domestic spectrum management evolved as a compromise over the questions of who should determine the distribution of the spectrum among competing users and what standard should be applied in making this determination. Although initially, all responsibility for spectrum management was placed in the executive branch, this responsibility has been divided between the executive branch for managing federal use and an independent commission for managing non-federal use since 1927 . The current shared U.S. spectrum management system has processes for allocating spectrum, but these processes have occasionally resulted in lengthy negotiations between the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) over allocation issues. The United States also faces challenges in effectively preparing for World Radiocommunication Conferences. NTIA has several activities to encourage efficient spectrum use by federal agencies, but it lacks the assurance that these activities are effective. NTIA is required to promote efficiency in the federal spectrum it manages, which included more than 270,000 federal frequency assignments at the end of 2000. To do this, NTIA directs federal agencies to use only as much of the spectrum as they need.

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