New Report Urges Reform of Spectrum-Allocation Process

(Image credit: Future)

WASHINGTON—a new report from two Washington D.C. think tanks is urging government agencies to reform the process of spectrum allocation, citing the recent dispute between C-Band operators and 5G providers that threatened air traffic in the U.S.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the leading research organization tank for science and technology policy, and the Eno Center for Transportation (Eno) says that the interagency dispute that stalled a long-planned rollout of 5G services in the prime “C band” of wireless spectrum and threatened flight cancellations underscores why policymakers must enact reforms to improve regulators’ understanding of device performance, increase data gathering and sharing, and clarify the spectrum allocation process.

“The existing U.S. spectrum allocation process contains vulnerabilities and weaknesses that will worsen as wireless bandwidth becomes more crowded and valuable,” said Joe Kane, director of broadband and spectrum policy at ITIF, who co-authored the report.

The report used the FCC allocation of C-Band airwaves to 5G as a case study to review the process for safely and responsibly allocating spectrum, identify gaps in the process, and propose policy solutions that would help identify and resolve issues before they become public safety or industry-wide problems in future allocations.

As the case study shows, the aviation industry disagreed with the FCC’s allocation of C-Band because of safety concerns. This disagreement came to a head in January 2022, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned that, without changes to the rollout, planes would be grounded around the country. To avoid this outcome, wireless tech companies voluntarily agreed to postpone their deployment and worked with the aviation stakeholders on a modified rollout.

"The FCC and FAA were not well coordinated on the timing and sufficiency of information regarding the technical specifications of radio altimeter and protection requirements," the report said. "In addition, despite the complex, fast-moving, and safety-critical nature of wireless technology, government as a whole does not regularly update its standards for spectrum-using devices. The degradation of stable leadership and lack of working interagency relationships at many levels of government during this period served as another obstruction to amicable dispute resolution."

“While the immediate crisis was averted, it exposed critical and interrelated gaps and failures in the process and policies used for efficiently allocating spectrum,” said Robert Puentes, president and CEO of Eno, who co-authored the report.

To address these shortcomings, ITIF and Eno created a joint advisory group consisting of aviation and wireless spectrum experts, as well as those deeply familiar with federal spectrum allocation procedures. This group informed the research, evaluation, and development of specific, actionable recommendations to improve the process and avoid conflicts in the future. The report presents four recommendations:

  • Agencies and standards-setting organizations should look to improve spectrum-using devices’ resiliency to interference.
  • The federal government should invest in personnel that can properly operate and lead complex spectrum allocation processes.
  • Final decisions on spectrum allocation need to be established based on clear testing, data, and definitions.
  • The federal government should clarify and enforce jurisdictions and areas of expertise within the spectrum allocation process.

“The recent spectrum allocation conflict between aviation and telecommunications was not just a significant problem for both industries but for the nation itself—and it could have been prevented,” said Eno policy analyst Garett Shrode, who co-authored the report.”

“The federal government should not wait until the next conflict to act,” said ITIF research assistant Jessica Dine. “Targeted reforms to improve the quality of personal relationships and expertise of players in the process, and to enhance the technological capabilities of devices, will go a long way toward averting problems in the future.”

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.