Spectrum Management: Better Knowledge Needed to Take Advantage of Technologies That May Improve Spectrum Efficiency

GAO-04-666 Published: May 28, 2004. Publicly Released: May 28, 2004.
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Highlights

Recent advances in technologies that rely on the use of the radiofrequency spectrum have turned science fiction of the past into reality. Cellular telephones, wireless computer networks, global positioning system receivers, and other spectrum-dependent technologies are quickly becoming as common to everyday life as radios and televisions. Further, these technologies have become critical to a variety of government missions, including homeland security and strategic warfare. However, with the increased demand, the radio-frequency spectrum--a resource that once seemed unlimited--has become crowded and, in the future, may no longer be able to accommodate all users' needs. As a result, there has been a growing debate among spectrum policy leaders about how to use spectrum more efficiently. To help inform these debates, GAO was asked to look at agencies' investments in spectrum efficient technologies and how the nation's spectrum management system may affect the development and adoption of these technologies.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Telecommunications and Information Administration The NTIA Administrator and the FCC Chairman should jointly assess and determine the feasibility of redefining the spectrum allocation system to build in greater flexibility where appropriate to facilitate emerging technologies.
Closed – Implemented
NTIA has taken steps to implemented this recommendation. NTIA produced an action plan in 2006 to address spectrum related issues, including those intended to foster greater spectrum efficiency. The NTIA also issued a Federal Strategic Spectrum Management Plan in 2008, which is intended to provide an assessment of federal spectrum uses and needs. This plan will be used in the formulation of a broader National Strategic Spectrum Plan, to be prepared by NTIA and FCC. The federal plan specifically addresses efforts to facilitate the introduction of emerging technologies. For example, DOD is seeking to capitalize on emerging technologies which will improve spectrum utilization, such as: bandwidth-efficient modulation and coding schemes, smart directional antennas, and data throughput increases built upon multipath technologies such as multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO) technologies. To accommodate these emerging technologies, the federal plan envisions evolving spectrum allocation processes, improving analytical tools, and introducing economic incentives that recognize the value of spectrum to encourage federal agencies to make investments in more spectrum-efficient technologies.
Federal Communications Commission The NTIA Administrator and the FCC Chairman should jointly assess and determine the feasibility of redefining the spectrum allocation system to build in greater flexibility where appropriate to facilitate emerging technologies.
Closed – Implemented
The FCC has taken steps to implemented this recommendation. FCC has opened several proceedings to evaluate ways to build more flexibility into the spectrum allocation process to facilitate emerging spectrum-efficient technologies. The NTIA and FCC are also planning to develop a National Strategic Spectrum Plan. The plan, which is yet to be developed, is intended, among other things, to outline steps to jointly assess and determine the feasibility of redefining the spectrum allocation system.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration The NTIA Administrator and the FCC Chairman should jointly develop and implement plans to gain a more thorough and on-going understanding of the current spectrum environment.
Closed – Implemented
NTIA has taken steps to implemented this recommendation. The 2008 NTIA Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan seeks to incrementally improve the federal spectrum management processes through: automation and advanced analytical tools; standardized generation of spectrum requirements; and methods to forecast spectrum trends. These improvements will lead to a better understanding of existing and intended spectrum use and a comprehensive operational picture of the spectrum environment. This increased understanding will enable development of policies and standards which support the introduction and use of adaptive and dynamic means of utilizing spectrum. NTIA will assist the Chairman of the FCC in the formulation of a National Strategic Spectrum Plan. The national plan should outline steps required to gain a more thorough and on-going understanding of the current spectrum environment.
Federal Communications Commission The NTIA Administrator and the FCC Chairman should jointly develop and implement plans to gain a more thorough and on-going understanding of the current spectrum environment.
Closed – Implemented
FCC has taken steps to implemented this recommendation. The 2008 NTIA Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan seeks to incrementally improve the federal spectrum management processes through: automation and advanced analytical tools; standardized generation of spectrum requirements; and methods to forecast spectrum trends. These improvements will lead to a better understanding of existing and intended spectrum use and a comprehensive operational picture of the spectrum environment. This increased understanding will enable development of policies and standards which support the introduction and use of adaptive and dynamic means of utilizing spectrum. FCC will help NTIA in the formulation of a National Strategic Spectrum Plan. The national plan should outline steps required to gain a more thorough and on-going understanding of the current spectrum environment.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration The NTIA Administrator and the FCC Chairman should jointly strengthen efforts to develop jointly accepted models and methodologies to assess the impact of new technologies on overall spectrum use and increase opportunities to permit testing of those technologies.
Closed – Implemented
NTIA has taken steps to implemented this recommendation. The 2008 Federal Strategic Spectrum Management Plan establishes as a mid-term goal, the development of a NTIA/FCC New Technology Testbed. The testbed will enable Federal and non-Federal users of spectrum to explore new technologies and methods to share the finite radio spectrum. Both the NTIA and the FCC have solicited comment on the proposal. Each agency will identify 10 MHz of spectrum to be used in the test. NTIA expects that this project will drive future innovation and increased sharing to benefit government and commercial users, and serve as a proving ground and catalyst for advancing technologies important to dynamic spectrum access.
Federal Communications Commission The NTIA Administrator and the FCC Chairman should jointly strengthen efforts to develop jointly accepted models and methodologies to assess the impact of new technologies on overall spectrum use and increase opportunities to permit testing of those technologies.
Closed – Implemented
FCC has taken steps to implemented this recommendation. In commenting on this recommendation, FCC stated that it has, and will, continue to work with NTIA to develop jointly accepted models and methodologies to assess the impact of new radio technologies and when technologies under its oversight are developed that would operate in spectrum used by federal government users. NTIA will assist the Chairman of the FCC in the formulation of a National Strategic Spectrum Plan. The plan is intended to outline steps for strengthening efforts to develop jointly accepted models and methodologies to assess the impact of new technologies on overall spectrum use and increase opportunities to permit testing of those technologies.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration To better ensure federal agencies consider and invest in spectrum efficient technologies, the NTIA Administrator should establish guidance for agencies to determine and report their future spectrum requirements.
Closed – Implemented
NTIA has taken steps to implemented this recommendation. The 2008 Federal Strategic Spectrum Management Plan acknowledges that while federal agencies have provided extensive information on their current and projected future spectrum use, this information is primarily qualitative in nature, and that only a few have been able to supply quantified estimates of future spectrum uses. Furthermore, while agencies are motivated to utilize effective systems in order to meet their missions, further improvements to the Federal spectrum management framework are needed to improve spectrum efficiency. Agencies have taken some actions to utilize more spectrally efficient systems, for example, by taking initial steps to consider the economic value of spectrum. However, the federal plan recognizes that more action is needed to meet growing spectrum demand and that further integration of spectrum management into agency capital planning and budget processes is needed to provide a mechanism for consideration of the value of spectrum when investing in new major spectrum-dependent systems.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration To better ensure federal agencies consider and invest in spectrum efficient technologies, the NTIA Administrator should strengthen NTIA's spectrum certification process to more directly address spectrum efficiency.
Closed – Implemented
NTIA has taken steps to implemented this recommendation. The 2008 NTIA Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan acknowledges that regulatory hurdles currently prevent Federal and non-federal spectrum users from efficiently sharing spectrum, and that flexible spectrum sharing could allow both Federal and non-Federal users to more efficiently utilize the spectrum resource through economic and non-economic incentives. NTIA is studying various incentive approaches and methodologies to promote the use of spectrum-efficient technologies to satisfy Federal and non-Federal spectrum needs. These studies will identify policy changes required to implement these incentive mechanisms, possibly including secondary markets, property rights, sharing, and fees. NTIA expects to develop recommendations relating to these policy changes, as appropriate, develop legislative proposals as required, and implement such policies within the Federal Government.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration To better ensure federal agencies consider and invest in spectrum efficient technologies, the NTIA Administrator should determine approaches, where appropriate, for providing incentives to agencies to use spectrum more efficiently and then pilot and measure the effectiveness of those approaches.
Closed – Implemented
NTIA has taken steps to implemented this recommendation. The 2008 NTIA Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan acknowledges that regulatory hurdles currently prevent Federal and non-federal spectrum users from efficiently sharing spectrum, and that flexible spectrum sharing could allow both Federal and non-Federal users to more efficiently utilize the spectrum resource through economic and non-economic incentives. NTIA is studying various incentive approaches and methodologies to promote the use of spectrum-efficient technologies to satisfy Federal and non-Federal spectrum needs. These studies will identify policy changes required to implement these incentive mechanisms, possibly including secondary markets, property rights, sharing, and fees. NTIA expects to develop recommendations relating to these policy changes, as appropriate, develop legislative proposals as required, and implement such policies within the Federal Government.

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