Greasing the Wheels of Federal Spectrum Deals

Adele Morris

This paper reviews the numerous impediments to encouraging greater sharing or relinquishment of spectrum to commercial users. The paper offers five pragmatic policy proposals to make federal spectrum transactions easier, faster, and more attractive to agencies. First, nearly every proposal to promote more efficient federal spectrum use will work better if agencies have clear, technology-neutral rights to the spectrum they occupy. Second, federal agencies should track how commercially valuable their spectrum rights are by preparing regular balance sheets for their most commercially valuable spectrum rights. Third, the paper argues that agencies should be able to keep and spend most of the revenue from spectrum transactions. In this context, the numerous policies designed to prevent agency over-spending are actually hurting American consumers by impeding efficiency-enhancing spectrum transactions. Fourth, policymakers should task trusted intermediary institutions, such as federally funded research and development centers or contractors, to develop potentially mutually beneficial spectrum deals between federal agencies and the private sector. Finally, the paper argues that greater spectrum sharing would be feasible with more creative contingent contracts and supporting technology.