Key Issues > Spectrum Management
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Spectrum Management

The growth of commercial wireless broadband services, including smart phones and tablet computers, and increases in government missions using radio frequency spectrum have increased the demand for spectrum. However, since the amount of spectrum is limited, there is concern about adequate access to meet future needs.
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Radio frequency spectrum enables an array of wireless communications services critical to the U.S. economy and government functions, such as scientific research, national defense, homeland security, and other vital public safety activities. However, nearly all usable spectrum has been allocated either by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for federal use or by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for commercial and nonfederal use. Demand for spectrum continues to increase as telecommunications companies deploy 5G networks, which puts pressure on NTIA to repurpose spectrum used by federal agencies for commercial use.

Examples of Services that Use the Spectrum

Examples of Services that Use the Spectrum

Congress, FCC, and NTIA have taken many actions to address this issue. For example, with congressional authorization, FCC started using auctions to assign many spectrum licenses. In addition to helping promote more efficient use of spectrum, these auctions generated approximately $112.8 billion for the U.S. Treasury from 1994 through FY 2017. Additionally, NTIA has developed a national spectrum strategy, which increases the transparency of NTIA and FCC’s spectrum management efforts. 

Additional actions that FCC and NTIA are taking to address spectrum needs include:

  • Repurposing spectrum for high-value uses. Historical allocations can leave spectrum tied to outmoded and less valuable services. To accommodate new uses, FCC often changes its rules to move spectrum from an existing use, a process known as repurposing. In making these decisions, FCC considers uses that best serve the public interest, including factors like economic and social value.
  • Increasing spectrum sharing. Some spectrum lies fallow or is only used intermittently. Some federal advisors, agency officials, and experts have advocated greater incentives and opportunities for sharing spectrum by federal and nonfederal users.
  • Improving receiver performance. To manage spectrum, FCC and NTIA have historically focused on transmitters—the equipment that emits signals. But improved receivers can also help promote more efficient use of spectrum.
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  • portrait of Andrew Von Ah
    • Andrew Von Ah
    • Director, Physical Infrastructure
    • vonaha@gao.gov
    • 213-830-1011