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Words From Charlie - Foreword to The 2016 Roundtable on Spectrum Policy Report

The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program has a long tradition of convening two conferences each year devoted to communications policy. One, held in Aspen in the summer, addresses a specific issue of communications policy. The second, held in the fall at the Aspen/Wye River Conference Center, addresses cutting edge issues relating to the use of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The current report revisits the spectrum recommendations contained in a landmark 2009 report of the Federal Communications Commission setting forth a National Broadband Plan (NBP). That Plan is most remembered for its innovative recommendation that spectrum be repurposed from broadcasting to newer uses through the mechanism of an incentive auction, a process that took place in 2016-17. The intervening time has seen even more demand and new uses arise such as the need for spectrum for controlling drones and for billions of devices to communicate as part of the Internet of Things. So the fall of 2016 was time to revisit the spectrum portion of the NBP.

To address the issues, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program convened 25 leaders and experts in the technology, business, regulation, public interest uses and study of the spectrum. They met in November 2016 near Washington, DC, eventually breaking into three working groups. The following report, written by journalist and author, David Bollier, capsulizes and interprets the dialogue, insights and recommendations. As there are no votes taken during the meeting, the statements and positions stated in the report may or may not reflect the individual views of a participant or its employer. Rather, these are the rapporteur’s interpretations of the sense of the group.

The report recognizes the importance of fiber and other technologies to the highest and best uses of spectrum. It also focuses a fair amount on the issues and policies of sharing spectrum, and of flexibility in its use. It points out the interrelationship of spectrum to many other key communications technologies and policies such as broadband, competition, and public interest benefits. And it lists the specific recommendations each working group offered, specifically in terms of new technologies such as drones and the Internet of Things, in terms of licensing approaches (licensed, unlicensed and shared), and in terms of the place of US spectrum policy in the global context.

This Report is somewhat detailed in the intricacies of spectrum policy. Still we try to make it accessible to the lay person, as the decisions made in this specialized space will have significant repercussion for the broader world and how we live within it.

Acknowledgements. I would like to acknowledge and thank the entities represented in this Roundtable who have also contributed to the Communications and Society Program: AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast Corporation, Google, Ligado, Microsoft, New Street Research, T-Mobile, Verizon Communications, and The Walt Disney Company. I also thank David Bollier, who brought a lay person’s sensibilities to an arcane subject area and made it comprehensible; Kiahna Cassell, the Project Director for this roundtable, who organized the meeting and edited and produced this report, and Tricia Kelly, Managing Director of the Communications and Society Program, who supervised the operations and edited the final version of the report.

Charles M. Firestone
Executive Director
Communications and Society Program
The Aspen Institute
March 2017

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