Spectrum Sales

Could agencies sell frequencies for cash?

Jessica Rosenworcel FCC

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel suggests that agencies could sell unused spectrum to offset some revenue losses.

The Federal Communications Commission's spectrum auctions have raised nearly $50 billion. In the next round, could individual federal agencies cash in on the spectrum they control?

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel floated that idea in a speech she delivered on Nov. 13, speaking at an event on "the next 10 years of spectrum policy" hosted by the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship.

Rosenworcel noted that digital spectrum is in demand, and federal agencies control a lot of it -- not always efficiently.

"Once a communications network has been built, once a land mobile radio system is operational, agencies do not want to change because it disrupts their mission," Rosenworcel said. "This is completely rational. But what if we were to financially reward federal authorities for efficient use of their spectrum resource?  What if they were able to reclaim a portion of the revenue from the subsequent re-auction of their airwaves?"

Rosenworcel argued that such an approach would be "entirely consistent with the idea of synthetic currency proposed by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology," and that sequestration-driven budget cuts might give agency executives extra motivation to think differently about how to best use precious spectrum. "There may be no better enticement than the revenue from a spectrum auction to alleviate the pain of a budget cut," she said.

About the Author

Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.

Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.

Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.


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Reader comments

Wed, Nov 14, 2012

Selling frequencies? It is almost like selling the right to use the colors blue, red, etc. (For the uneducated, those are frequencies as well.) What makes the US government or anyone else think they own some physical property that can be bought and sold? Just think about it for awhile and you will see just how weird that sounds.

Wed, Nov 14, 2012

Why not lease, rather than sell? It would seem prudent to maintain ultimate control over the spectrum in case of future (unknown) needs arise for agency use of spectrum.

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