As we move into the 5G world, access to radio frequencies has become an ever-present challenge for operators. Services need the legal certainty that their networks can function without the fear of harmful interference degrading their operations. Unfortunately, almost every frequency band or channel has an existing legal right to operate. Therefore, federal regulators must carefully examine allocations to ensure that they best support the public interest. Recently, regulators have made significant strides to do just that. For example, regulators transformed the 3.5 GHz band into a 3-tiered access system, which allows federal operations to continue, while also allowing the inclusion of licensed and unlicensed operations when available. In the 3.7 – 4.2 GHz “C-band,” regulators worked with satellite providers to resolve difficult technical challenges and make a large portion of the band available for flexible use. Past administrations expanded use in the “spectrum frontiers,” which are high-band frequencies suitable for sending substantial amounts of data over shorter distances.

However, with an ever-present threat of harmful interference, regulators often face difficult trade-offs between the costs and benefits of assigning more users to smaller frequency bands. At the same time, speed and certainty is critical as private operators deploy networks. The longer it takes regulators to complete a proceeding, the lower the value of associated legal rights.

In the United States, two separate regulators govern radio operations: the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) for federal users and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for non-federal users. In recent years, cracks have begun to show as more federal agencies go beyond NTIA’s Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee and take their grievances outside of the cooperative structure.7 These cracks will only continue to grow and therefore revising and improving this model must be a top priority for Congress.

Press Release: Two Sides of the Story: Dual Agency Approach to Spectrum Management

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