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Highlights

The radiofrequency spectrum--a natural resource used for wireless communications--is a critical input to various commercial and government functions. Because of expanding commercial and government demand for spectrum, there is increasing debate on how best to manage this resource to meet current and future needs. GAO was asked to examine whether future spectrum needs can be met, given the current regulatory framework; what benefits and difficulties have arisen with the application of market mechanisms to spectrum management; and what barriers exist to reforming spectrum management.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
Because neither FCC nor the Department of Commerce specifically agreed to our recommendation, Congress may wish to consider taking appropriate action to address spectrum-management concerns. For example, Congress may wish to consider holding hearings on this matter or enacting legislation to establish an independent commission that would conduct a comprehensive examination of current U.S. spectrum management.
Closed - Not Implemented
On March 14, 2006, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on spectrum reform. GAO testified at this hearing, and the topic of a commission was discussed. However, a commission has not been established. There has been no additional Congressional action since the March 14, 2006, hearing.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce In order to develop solutions to key spectrum-management issues, the Chairman of FCC and the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, in consultation with officials from the Department of State, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and pertinent congressional committees should work together to develop and implement a plan for the establishment of a commission that would conduct a comprehensive examination of current U.S. spectrum management. This commission would examine, among other things, whether structural reform of our current system is needed. The commission should be independent and should involve all relevant stakeholders--including commercial interests, government agencies, regulators, and others--to ensure that the diversity of views on key spectrum-management issues are represented. The review should be time-limited and, if change is needed, have as its primary objective the stablishment of a framework to implement that change. Although the commission could be established by statute, executive order, or other means, a statutory basis for the commission may provide the most appropriate framework for achieving a wide-ranging review of issues that may ultimately need legislative solutions.
Closed - Not Implemented
In 2003, the President established the Federal Government Spectrum Task Force, comprised of the heads of executive branch departments, agencies, and offices. The Department of Commerce released two reports, with recommendations, based on the task force's work. But, this task force did not include all spectrum-related stakeholders or address government-wide spectrum issues. The Department of Commerce has not undertaken steps to establish a commission.
Federal Communications Commission In order to develop solutions to key spectrum-management issues, the Chairman of FCC and the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, in consultation with officials from the Department of State, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and pertinent congressional committees should work together to develop and implement a plan for the establishment of a commission that would conduct a comprehensive examination of current U.S. spectrum management. This commission would examine, among other things, whether structural reform of our current system is needed. The commission should be independent and should involve all relevant stakeholders--including commercial interests, government agencies, regulators, and others--to ensure that the diversity of views on key spectrum-management issues are represented. The review should be time-limited and, if change is needed, have as its primary objective the stablishment of a framework to implement that change. Although the commission could be established by statute, executive order, or other means, a statutory basis for the commission may provide the most appropriate framework for achieving a wide-ranging review of issues that may ultimately need legislative solutions.
Closed - Not Implemented
In 2002, FCC established the Spectrum Policy Task Force, comprised of FCC staff. This task forced released a report with recommendations, but did not include all spectrum-related stakeholders or address government-wide spectrum issues. On June 1, 2007, FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau will host a Summit on Spectrum Policy and Management. Depending on the structure and composition of the summit, this might address part of our recommendation for a broad-based commission to examine spectrum management.

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