FCC Chairman Ajit Pai complained today about federal agencies’ opposition to spectrum actions taken by the Commission and suggested that Congress consider changing the current bifurcated process for managing the nation’s airwaves.
During an event organized by the Information Technology Industry Council, Mr. Pai complained that a "lesson I learned is that arguably the biggest thing hampering efforts to use spectrum more efficiently is—our own government. On proceeding after proceeding, we saw that other federal agencies tried to throw up roadblocks. Rather than look out for the public interest, many agencies were looking out for their narrow parochial interest. And since most don’t have in-house spectrum expertise, they ended up simply parroting the exaggerated, hysterical, and often outright false claims being made by the industries they regulate. To achieve their aims, they ended up bypassing normal channels and complaining to Congress or the media in an effort to block or delay efforts to free up spectrum for commercial use.
"Anyone who thinks the change in Administration will change these incentives is obviously not a golfer. And I’m not the only one who thinks so," Mr. Pai said. "In the near-term, the FCC must hold its ground. … Interested parties will likely use the change in Administrations as an opportunity to re-litigate settled disputes like the 5.9 GHz and 6 GHz rules, the L-band, and perhaps even the C-band. If we are to preserve the value this FCC delivered to American consumers, the agency’s new leadership will have to be willing to withstand the pressure from the voices who are always going to say, ‘No.’"
"Let me put a finer point on this. To meet our nation’s spectrum needs, I ended up angering congressional committee chairs of my own political party. Believe me, it gave me no pleasure to do so. I wish it could have been avoided. But my successor is going to have to be willing to do the same thing, to have the courage to stand up to congressional committee chairs of his or her political party. Otherwise, our nation’s spectrum efforts will suffer significantly," Mr. Pai predicted.
But Pai also said that "[o]ne of the most valuable lessons I learned from our work on spectrum is to listen to the experts at the agency and use solid engineering analysis as our guide. When it comes to freeing up airwaves, there is virtually no more greenfield spectrum available. That means there are no easy solutions. Whenever you explore new uses for spectrum, you’re going to draw battles with incumbents or others worried about harmful interference. To help make the right call, you must rely on sound engineering. The only alternative, essentially, is arbitrary politics. And say what you will about the tenets of the FCC’s approach—at least it’s an ethos."
"Also in the near-term, the next Administration needs to install strong leadership at NTIA and empower NTIA to be the Executive Branch’s one voice on spectrum policy. We must bring an end to the practice of each agency having its own spectrum policy," Mr. Pai said.
"But longer term, we need to have a conversation about whether our current bifurcated framework for spectrum management makes sense," the Chairman advised. "Currently, our division of responsibility for managing spectrum has NTIA governing federal spectrum and the FCC governing non-federal commercial spectrum. Globally, this makes us an outlier. Should we think about having unified regulatory authority over spectrum entrusted to the FCC to minimize the need for coordination? To be clear, I know this change would not solve all of the discord we’ve seen over the past few years. And I understand that there needs to be a mechanism for the Executive Branch to weigh in on spectrum issues.
"And of course, this would require a legislative fix … . Only Congress can. But I also know that the current structure doesn’t work. If the FCC ultimately holds the pen on all spectrum matters, perhaps agencies will stop throwing up roadblocks by default and will recognize that the best way to preserve their interests is to persuade the Commission with sound engineering and facts," Mr. Pai said. "Again, we’re one of the only countries in the world with a bifurcated spectrum management system. The progress we’ve made since 2017 is despite this dual-track system, not because of it; indeed, the process has become an unruly mess. It may well be time to take a different approach."
During a question-and-answer session after the speech, ITI President and Chief Executive Officer Jason Oxman said, "It’s been frustrating to us to see some areas in federal government acting in their own parochial interest, of not being willing to look at the greater good." He asked what industry could do to help the FCC.
Mr. Pai urged industry entities to provide the FCC with "technical analysis" to help them make decisions, and he said they should educate elected officials and their staff, other government officials, and the public about the value of spectrum decisions. He emphasized the importance of"rebutting some of the fears that are put out there."
Mr. Pai noted that the FCC coordinates with federal agencies on spectrum issues through the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee (IRAC), adding that it tries to respond to concerns raised by other agencies.
Despite this, the FCC has been accused of taking actions that will destroy weather forecasting, result in more road deaths, and end the Global Positioning System, he noted, citing FCC orders on the 24 gigahertz and 5.9 GHz bands and on Ligado Networks LLC’s L-band order.
"Every single time, there’s this parade of horribles," Mr. Pai complained, adding that there should instead be "an honest discussion about the costs and benefits of freeing up a certain band for commercial use or sharing it." —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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