Revitalizing the Public Airwaves: Opportunistic Unlicensed Reuse of Government Spectrum

Victor W. Pickard, Sascha D. Meinrath


While many policy analysts have focused on the fate of the 700 MHz auctions, the digital TV transition, and the promise of white space devices, a more vast and underutilized resource has gone largely unnoticed: government spectrum. The best available data suggests that the majority of federal spectrum capacity is left unused. Strategic reuse of this spectrum could help obviate the need for significant additional reallocation while enabling a wide range of creative new uses and social benefits. Based on what little information is publicly available, it is reasonable to assume that the repurposing of government spectrum would go far in addressing a number of access-related communication problems. Repurposing currently unused U.S. government-controlled spectrum for opportunistic unlicensed use would benefit society by dramatically expanding access to high-speed broadband and increasing the pace of wireless technology innovation. This approach to spectrum policy presents a “third option” for reform, drawing from both the commons and property rights models of spectrum management.

Full Text: