The End of Spectrum ‘Scarcity'

Opportunistic Access to the Airwaves


June 25, 2009

1:15 pm - 2:45 pm


New America

1899 L Street NW, Suite 400

Washington, DC 20036

As the FCC begins its year-long process to recommend a National Broadband Plan, one starting point is to unlock publicly-owned assets that can facilitate ubiquitous, affordable broadband access. Wireless spectrum remains the most cost-effective and rapid means to deliver broadband access to rural and unserved urban residents. But as mobile broadband use continues to increase exponentially, demand for spectrum will rapidly outpace availability under current spectrum management policies.

Public policy seems stymied by the myth that spectrum is scarce. In reality, only government permission to access the airwaves (licenses) is scarce - spectrum capacity itself is barely used in most locations and at most times. This underutilized spectrum represents enormous, untapped, public capacity for high-speed and pervasive broadband connectivity. It is vital to a national broadband plan to consider policies that will encourage more intensive and efficient use of the nation's spectrum resources.

What combination of technologies and policy reforms can open the airwaves and enable an era of pervasive connectivity? Our panel includes technology and policy experts who believe dynamic, opportunistic access to underutilized spectrum - especially federal government bands - is feasible if we can only muster the political will. One promising mechanism for making substantial new allocations of spectrum available for wireless broadband deployments and other innovation is to leverage the TV Bands Database that will be certified by the FCC for unlicensed access to vacant TV channels.

The Wireless Future Program also released four new papers on the subject:

The End of Spectrum Scarcity: Building on the TV Bands Database to Access Unused Public Airwaves
By Michael Calabrese, Director, Wireless Future Program

Revitalizing the Public Airwaves: Opportunistic Unlicensed Reuse of Government Spectrum
By Victor Pickard and Sascha Meinrath, Director, Open Technology Initiative

New Approaches to Private Sector Sharing of Federal Government Spectrum
By Michael J. Marcus, Principal, Marcus Spectrum Solutions

A Potential Alliance for World-Wide Dynamic Spectrum Access: DSA as an Enabler of National Dynamic Spectrum Management
By Preston F. Marshall, Director, Information Sciences Institute, Viterbi School of Engineering, USC and Former Program Manager, DARPA Next Generation Communications


New America Foundation
1899 L Street NW, 4th Floor
Washington, DC, 20036
See map: Google Maps


Kevin Werbach
Assistant Professor of Law, the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Co-lead on the Obama Administration's FCC Transition review

Preston Marshall
Director, Information Sciences Institute, Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California
Former Program Manager, DARPA
Next Generation Communications

Michael Marcus
Principal, Marcus Consulting

Tom Stroup
CEO, Shared Spectrum Company

Sascha Meinrath
Director, Open Technology Initiative, New America Foundation

Michael Calabrese
Vice President and Director, Wireless Future Program, New America Foundation