Spectrum management: Improved interagency planning and collaboration could strengthen spectrum reallocation efforts

Fast facts

The FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) regulate the use of the radio frequency spectrum in the United States to ensure there is enough for emerging 5G networks, satellites and everything else. When interference may occur, the FCC and NTIA coordinate with other agencies.

We testified to our reviews of the spectrum reallocation process and how agencies work together on potential spectrum interference issues.

We have found:

  • NTIA lacked a comprehensive documented process to plan its reassignment efforts from start to finish
  • FCC, NTIA and other agencies could more fully utilize key collaboration practices
Strong points

What the GAO found

Spectrum is a natural resource that enables wireless communications and critical government operations, as shown in the figure below. A key spectrum management activity of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is to work with other agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to execute spectrum reassignments to that the FCC can auction spectrum for commercial purposes. However, the GAO found that the NTIA lacked a comprehensive planning process to do so. Spectrum reallocation, which involves the transfer of spectrum used by the federal government to non-federal users, is a complex, often time-consuming undertaking involving many stakeholders and steps. For reassignments, NTIA generally collects contributions from agencies whose spectrum use would be affected by a reassignment proposal. The NTIA can also help agencies assess the potential effects that a proposed reassignment could have on agencies’ spectrum-dependent operations. While the NTIA follows some typical steps in conducting reassignments, the NTIA lacks plans with goals and targets, built-in master timelines, and risk assessments. By following these program management best practices, NTIA may be able to implement reassignments more effectively.

Examples of Federal and Non-Federal Spectrum Uses

Examples of Federal and Non-Federal Spectrum Uses

To address potential interference between proposed spectrum uses, the NTIA and FCC use various coordination mechanisms. For national matters, the agencies coordinate through an NTIA-led committee that provides input to FCC spectrum proceedings. However, GAO has found that these mechanisms do not fully reflect leading collaborative practices. For example, while the documents that guide coordination between the FCC and the NTIA emphasize reaching consensus whenever possible, there are no clearly defined and agreed-upon processes for resolving disputes. problems when agencies cannot. The GAO review found that these issues affected US participation in international conferences regarding the regulation of global spectrum use. For example, inter-agency disputes and the inability to reach agreement on US technical inputs have tested the ability of the United States to present an agreed basis for decisions or a unified position.

Why GAO Did This Study

Almost all of the spectrum has been assigned to federal government, commercial sector or other non-federal uses. However, the demand for spectrum continues to grow. This is especially the case for the commercial sector looking to deploy and improve 5G mobile service. In the United States, the NTIA and the FCC regulate and manage federal and non-federal spectrum use, respectively. Along with the FCC and other federal agencies, the NTIA helps reallocate federal spectrum for commercial purposes.

This statement is based on two GAO spectrum management reports published in June 2021 (GAO-21-474) and January 2022 (GAO-22-104537). Specifically, it examines the extent to which (1) the NTIA has developed a planning process to guide its spectrum reallocation efforts, and (2) the relevant federal agencies follow best practices in collaborating on potential spectrum issues. spectrum interference. Among other things, GAO benchmarked agencies’ spectrum reallocation and coordination efforts against applicable best practices.


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