Nobody likes dropped cell phone calls or slow wireless internet service.  And, very few people think that the government shouldn’t take advantage of revenue opportunities that don’t involve tax collection.  Well, the perfect solution is for the government to sell more wireless spectrum.  Currently, the federal government is sitting on a lot of wireless spectrum that could potentially be worth billions of dollars if sold to the private sector.  According to U.S. News and World Report, “The government itself currently owns 60 percent of all wireless spectrum. Much of this spectrum is of prime value, but there is little evidence that the government is using it effectively. As industry leaders describe it, it's like the government owns miles of prime beachfront property but isn't really trying to develop it.”  It’s time to sell that beachfront property and let it be developed to help consumers and taxpayers.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering a proposal that could allow the 1675-1680 MHz block of spectrum, which is currently used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to be auctioned off for shared use with the private sector.  The proposal comes from a little known company, Ligado Networks.  The idea of selling spectrum may not be sexy, but it will help consumers access faster wireless speed while benefiting taxpayers by bringing in revenue to the U.S. Treasury.

ADVERTISEMENT
The proposal comes at an important time.  In the simplest terms, there is a classic supply and demand problem in the mobile industry.  Supply of spectrum – the backbone of the mobile industry – is limited, and demand for mobile data, products, and services – which ride on spectrum – is skyrocketing. As we look towards next-generation mobile technology and maintaining America’s edge as a worldwide mobile leader, we need to constantly be thinking about how we can free up more government-owned spectrum for the private sector. The government – both because of the FCC’s role in spectrum management and the combined, vast spectrum holdings of various government agencies – will play a significant role in determining the future success of the mobile industry.  Continually finding ways to get more spectrum into the hands of the private sector who will invest and innovate is the key factor in the United States maintaining its global leadership in mobile.   

There is one hitch, NOAA has seemingly dug in its heels and in opposing the proposal to be halted over concerns it has regarding potential interference issues.  While interference issues are important to address, Ligado has been clear that if it were to win the spectrum, it would be a good neighbor and actually help modernize the way that NOAA transmits data without any loss of service or interference.

Of course, taxpayers and consumers would expect the government to “trust but verify” any promises.  At a time when spectrum sharing is expected to take an increasingly larger role in spectrum management, this type of cooperation is critical.  The company has already done testing that rebuffs interference concerns.  There has been agreement that the FCC put conditions on the spectrum to protect NOAA, and Ligado continues to work with interested parties to resolve concerns.  But, this doesn’t appear to be enough for NOAA as they seem poised to reject the deal.

The rejection doesn’t add up. Here we have a taxpayer-funded government entity that was given spectrum for free. Yet, when faced with the opportunity to share that spectrum and generate potentially billions of dollars in revenue for the government and provide access for more users, they put their foot down.

For all intents and purposes, it’s safe to say NOAA is missing the larger picture.

Auctioning off this block of spectrum for shared use will not only support America’s rapidly growing mobile dependency, it’ll create significant new amounts of capital that can ease tax burdens for U.S. citizens, slowly but surely reduce our nation’s staggering debt, and fund other critical government programs.  Notably, spectrum auctions are revenue generators for the U.S. Treasury, with the most recent spectrum auction generating nearly $45 billion in total bids.

Allowing sharing in this band would also be a boost to private investment, which is a key pillar in the U.S. economy. The U.S. mobile industry is responsible for 1.3 million jobs, with 6.5 jobs created outside the industry for every one wireless job. This sector is also one of the largest drivers of economic growth and productivity in the modern innovation economy and contributes $400 billion annually to our country. Fostering the continued growth and evolution of the mobile industry is critical to driving economic growth throughout the U.S. economy.  

Decisions arise in our government each and every day that will either benefit or hurt the U.S. economy. And currently, there are too many decisions that counter the basic principles of a free market economy and unnecessarily hurt U.S. taxpayers who are already paying more than their fair share.  This proposal is a golden opportunity to advance spectrum policy with broad support that will have positive implications for taxpayers, the economy, and government alike.  Let’s hope the FCC recognizes this too and moves the process forward.

David Williams is president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to educating the public through the research, analysis and dissemination of information on the government’s effects on the economy.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.