OFCOM Proposes New Spectrum Management Framework for U.K.

OFCOM, the authority responsible for regulating broadcast media and telecommunications in the U.K., released a Spectrum Framework Review (SFR) last week that would change the way spectrum is allocated in that country. OFCOM stated the current system of centralized administration of spectrum has resulted in an inefficient system that limits innovation. The SFR notes that spectrum scarcity has led to the using of lotteries and auctions to choose between competitors seeking the same spectrum in the U.S. and other countries.

The OFCOM SFR says this market-based approach needs to be combined with the ability to change use, which it calls "liberalisation" to determine the best use of the spectrum. OFCOM said that over the next five years, it plans to reduce the amount of spectrum under traditional "command and control" management from 95.7 percent to 21.6 percent, increase the amount of spectrum managed by "market mechanisms" to 71.5 percent, and increase the unlicensed spectrum from 4.3 percent to 6.9 percent of the total regulated spectrum.

The 21.6 percent of spectrum remaining under "command and control" includes communications where signals cross international boundaries (satellite transmissions and low frequency signals), where international mobility is critical (maritime and aeronautical communications, for example), and where there are legally binding European Union harmonization measures in force. The SFR notes, "However, we will aim wherever possible to deregulate and release market pressure. We are also considering the possibilities of removing the need to have a licence in areas such as amateur and maritime although technology and usage restrictions will continue to apply."

OFCOM said it is on track to allow trading in some license classes by the end of this year. Users would be able to buy, sell, aggregate or disaggregate spectrum holding and change the technology they use to access the spectrum and the type of use they make of the spectrum.

OFCOM recognizes that many users of the spectrum will be affected by these changes. While there will be many benefits to the changes, "there needs to be appropriate transitional arrangements to recognise existing investments."

The SFR lists three elements comprising the OFCOM Spectrum Vision:

1) "Spectrum should be free of technology and usage constraints as far as possible. Policy constraints should only be used where they can be justified;
2) "It should be simple and transparent for license holders to change the ownership and use of spectrum; and;
3) "Rights of spectrum users should be clearly defined and users should feel comfortable that they will not be changed without good cause."

If you're interested in the United Kingdom's approach to spectrum management, see the summary of the Spectrum Framework Review in the news release Ofcom publishes strategic review of spectrum management for background information and a time table for the changes. The Techworld article Ofcom to throw radio spectrum wide open to Market forces, it's over to you by Peter Judge explains OFCOM's plan. See the OFCOM Spectrum Framework Review (SFR) for the complete consultation. Comments are due by February 15, 2005.