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Radiofrequency Spectrum Management

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Publication Date: April 1998

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: 97-218

Topic: Media, telecommunications, and information (Radio)


The radio spectrum, a limited and valuable resource, is used for all forms of wireless communications including cellular telephony, paging, personal communications service, radio and television broadcast, telephone radio relay, aeronautical and maritime radio navigation, and satellite command and control.

The federal government manages the spectrum to maximize efficiency in its use and to prevent interference among spectrum users. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) manages all spectrum used by the federal government and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages all non-federal spectrum.

For several years, the FCC has been using auctions to distribute certain commercial spectrum licenses, instead of providing the licenses for free, raising over $23 billion for the federal treasury. By most assessments, auctions are considered more effective than previously used spectrum licensing methods, both in terms of the speed with which licenses are distributed and the revenue that can be raised. The FCC plans to continue conducting auctions, and Congress is considering giving the FCC authority to conduct auctions for other commercially used spectrum. As radio technology improves, higher frequencies may become available and spectrum may be utilized more efficiently, and demand for wireless services may increase. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-33) contains spectrum management provisions to raise an estimated $21.4 billion by FY2002.