Wireless devices and services are essential to modern society. They enable a host of economic, cultural and scientific activities, and are essential to national defense, homeland security, and protecting life and property. The devices and services using radio spectrum include cell phones, Wi-Fi networks, GPS devices, terrestrial and satellite TV, air traffic control systems, radar, telemetry systems, radio telescopes and even garage door openers. Because demand for wireless keeps growing in the face of limits on the ability of multiple radio systems to coexist, government plays an inescapable role in creating the conditions for spectrum use. At the same time, radio systems are deployed and managed by private and public entities that compete for access to spectrum operating rights, with sometimes blurred boundaries between government and commercial activities. Spectrum policy is therefore made at the intersection of engineering, law and economics.
The Spectrum Policy Initiative focuses on questions where technical considerations shape public policy decisions about wireless products and services. It has a particular interest in ways to prevent and resolve conflicts that impede the full realization of the value of wireless for individuals, organizations and society at large.
The Initiative identifies issues where engineering profoundly influences public policy, and strategic topics that are being neglected due to the day-to-day regulatory and commercial priorities. It engages by participating in public advisory committees, organizing public conferences and private workshops, publishing papers in various venues, advising policy makers, and helping law students and graduates to engage in academic and public policy pursuits.
The Initiative is co-directed by Dr. Pierre de Vries and Prof. Dale Hatfield. Dr. De Vries is a member of the FCC Technological Advisory Council (TAC); Prof. Hatfield is a member of both the FCC TAC and the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC). Both have delivered testimony to Congress on spectrum policy questions.
Scholarship and Research
The Initiative's work over the last five years has included developing better definitions of the rights and responsibilities of radio operators to deal with harmful interference, improving interference mitigation and spectrum rights enforcement, and exploring ways to reform the FCC and spectrum management more generally.
Both Prof. Hatfield and Dr. De Vries have participated in drafting reports by consultative bodies like the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC), the FCC Technological Advisory Council (TAC), and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). They have also written academic papers published in engineering and policy journals.
The current research agenda focuses on the following topics
- Exploring new approaches to spectrum enforcement, including fostering public and private institutions that facilitate the public release of information on interference incidents and investigations, and convening events where government, academics and industry can share knowledge about interference resolution and enforcement challenges.
- Developing the technical foundations for risk-informed interference hazard assessment that would complement the worst case analysis that is the current default
- Exploring ways to accelerate the transitions from command-and-control regulation to more decentralized approaches where the government delegates some of its powers to spectrum users, e.g. the use of "band agents" that could represent large groups of operators (licensed or unlicensed) in negotiating changes in operating rights with neighbors.
- Investigating the changing radio frequency noise floor and its impact on radio services and regulation
Conferences and Roundtables
The Initiative organizes at least one meeting of policy makers, practitioners and researchers every year to advance knowledge, foster debate and develop recommendations for public policy. It uses two formats: public conferences consisting of keynote speeches and panel discussions, or private workshops (called roundtables) of twenty or so invited participants. In both cases, reports on the proceedings are published.
More than ten events have been organized sinced 2009, listed here in reverse chronological order:
Conference–Risk Assessment in Spectrum Policy (October 2015, Boulder)
Quantitative risk assessment broadens regulatory analysis from just "What's the worst that can happen?" to "What can happen, how likely is it, and what are the consequences?" Such techniques have been used for decades by other regulators, including those responsible for safety-of-life decisions such as the NRC, FDA and FAA. This conference explored what lessons spectrum managers, especially regulators like the FCC and NTIA, could take from the use of quantitative risk analysis in other regulated industries. It also mapped out how risk-informed interference analysis should and could be used in spectrum policy going forward.
Links to a report on the conference, video recordings, and background reading are available on the event web page, http://www.silicon-flatirons.org/events.php?id=1598.
Conference – Getting Beyond Command-and-Control Regulation in Wireless Spectrum (November 2014, Boulder)
This conference assessed progress in the migration away from command and control regulation, and explored various ways to accelerate the decentralization and delegation of regulation. It tackled two broad areas, each explored in a panel discussion, where decentralization and delegation may be useful: bottom-up coordination strategies, and enforcement and adjudication.
Links to a report on the conference and video recordings are available on the event web page, http://www.silicon-flatirons.org/events.php?id=1511.
Conference – Property Rights in Spectrum, Water, and Minerals (Apr 2014, Boulder, CO)
This conference, building on the 2013 conference discussing the move towards more dynamic markets in electric power, water, and wireless spectrum, brought together leading experts from the different fields to examine and compare two concepts that have enjoyed different success in these three domains: a "use it or lose it" regime, and different judicial or administrative regimes to guard against and address concerns around interference. It featured a keynote by Richard Epstein, a panel on each of the three markets, and an overview panel. The event was co-sponsored by the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment.
Links to a report on the conference, video recordings, and background reading are available on the event web page, http://www.siliconflatirons.com/events.php?id=1429.
Conference – Radio Spectrum Pollution: Facing the Challenge of a Threatened Resource (Nov 2013, Boulder, CO)
This event brought together academics, policymakers, spectrum users and advocates to examine the extent of, and trends in, radio noise pollution and to suggest how the associated policies and regulations might need to be adjusted to reflect changes in radio noise levels. It featured a keynote by Julius Knapp, head of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, a tutorial by Bob Matheson, and four panel discussions.
Links to a report on the conference, video recordings, speaker presentations, and background material are available on the event web page, http://www.siliconflatirons.com/events.php?id=1365.
Roundtable – New Times, New Methods: Upgrading Spectrum Enforcement (Nov 2013, Boulder, CO)
This closed door conversation brought together two dozen spectrum experts with a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise to consider the interference threats posed by an increasingly complex radio spectrum environment, explore the emerging technologies and processes that hold great promise for mitigating these threats, and seek consensus on recommendations to the FCC, NTIA and other spectrum managers regarding interference mitigation and potential next steps in enforcement systems and procedures.
Links to a meeting brief, reading list and a report summarizing conclusions are available on the event web page, http://www.siliconflatirons.com/events.php?id=1474.
Conference – Towards Dynamic Markets in Electric Power, Water, and Wireless Spectrum (Apr 2013, Boulder, CO)
This conference examined the development in markets in the electric power, water, and wireless spectrum arenas with the goal of investigating best practices going forward. The main questions to be explored included market design, rights that secondary users have to respect, and the forces driving the development of each of market. It was co-sponsored by the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment. The meeting featured a panel focusing on each of the markets, and a fourth panel that sought to draw lessons from across all three.
Links to a report on the conference, video recordings, and background reading are available on the event web page, http://www.siliconflatirons.com/events.php?id=1299.
Conference – Looking Back to Look Forward: The Next Ten Years of Spectrum Policy (Nov 2012, Washington, DC)
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the 1912 Radio Act and the tenth anniversary of the FCC Spectrum Policy Task Force Report, this conference looked back at lessons learned and discussed challenges for the coming decade. It featured a keynote by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a dialog side chat with FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, and three panel discussions. It was co-sponsored by CTIA—The Wireless Association, Public Knowledge, the Federal Communications Bar Association and IEEE-USA.
Links to a report on the conference, event program, video recordings, and panelists' position papers are available on the event web page, http://www.siliconflatirons.com/events.php?id=1203.
Roundtable – Receivers, Interference and Regulatory Options (Nov 2012, Washington, DC)
This meeting, co-sponsored by CTIA–The Wireless Association and Public Knowledge, focused on the technical aspects of receiver-oriented regulation, particularly regarding rights definition and enforcement. Its main goals were to vet and improve interference limits as a policy solution, and provide input to the FCC TAC receivers working group.
Links to a report of the conclusions, meeting brief, reading list and position papers are available on the event web page, http://www.siliconflatirons.com/events.php?id=1270.
Roundtable – Efficient Interference Management: Regulation, Receivers, and Rights Enforcement (Oct 2011, Boulder, CO)
This closed-door workshop convened a select group of experts from government, industry, academia and civil society to explore improving the management of radio interference from legal, economic and engineering perspectives. Earlier meetings (see below) had indicated that ambiguous rights definition and ineffective adjudication contributed to difficulties in resolving cross-allocation interference conflicts, leading to delay, uncertainty, and political gamesmanship. This roundtable set out to develop proposals for improved receiver management and more effective enforcement, and to seek consensus recommendations for changes in the regulatory framework that could achieve this.
Links to a report on the meeting, event brief, background reading and position papers are available on the event web page, http://www.siliconflatirons.com/events.php?id=1021.
Conference – The Unfinished Radio Revolution: New Approaches to Handling Wireless Interference (Nov 2010, Washington, DC)
This half-day conference addressed the question of how radio operating rights should be defined, assigned and enforced in order to obtain the maximum benefit from wireless operations. It opened with a framing presentation by Dale Hatfield and Pierre de Vries, followed by two panel discussions. The panelists' position papers were published in the Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law (JTHTL). The panelists and invited guests continued the discussion over lunch after the conference. The event was co-sponsored by IEEE-USA, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), CTIA—The Wireless Association, the New America Foundation, and the Federal Communications Bar Association.
Links to a report on the meeting and lunch discussion, background reading, the JTHTL article and individual position papers and a video record are available on the event web page, http://www.silicon-flatirons.org/events.php?id=862.
Conference – Wireless Broadband: Markets, Models and Spectrum (Sep 2010, Boulder, CO)
This conference examined the emerging wireless broadband marketplace. In particular, it analyzed opportunities for disruptive innovation, the nature of the changing business models, issues associated with spectrum management, and the potential public policy responses. It featured a tutorial on wireless broadband by Dale Hatfield, and three panel discussions.
The event program and links to a report on the conference and a video recording are available on the event web page, http://www.siliconflatirons.com/events.php?id=831.
Conference – An FCC for the Internet Age: Reform and Standard-Setting (Mar 2010, Washington, DC)
This Conference, co-sponsored by Public Knowledge and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), followed up on the 2009 event on FCC Reform (see below) to discuss the status of the process and explore how new models of governance and standard-setting fit into that reform effort.
The event program, a conference report and a video recording are available on the event web page, http://www.siliconflatirons.com/events.php?id=792.
Roundtable – Radio Regulation Summit: Defining Inter-Channel Operating Rules (Sep 2009, Boulder, CO)
This two day workshop brought together a select group of engineers, policy makers, academics and company representatives to develop a general approach to defining rights regarding inter-channel interference that will facilitate investment in radio systems, and the resolution of conflicts among rights holders.
Links to a meeting report, reading list and position papers are available on the event web page, http://www.silicon-flatirons.org/events.php?id=761.
Conference – Reforming the Federal Communications Commission (Jan 2009, Washington, DC)
This conference, co-presented with Public Knowledge, was convened to discuss the question, Is the Federal Communications Commission truly equipped to deal with immediate challenges that it will face? A group of academics, current and former FCC officials, and leaders from the public interest community gathered to compare visions, explore historical lessons and offer recommendations for the creation of an FCC well-prepared to confront contemporary challenges. The conference was opened by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, and closed with a discussion between former FCC Chairs Reed Hundt and William Kennard. The discussion on two panels was anchored by a paper by Phil Weiser.
The conference program and a link to the Weiser position paper are available on the event web page, http://www.siliconflatirons.com/events.php?id=560.