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CHAPTER IV - The Role of Leadership

The group discussed many principles related to leadership and spectrum institutions. First, whatever course is adopted, it will take leadership to move in that direction. Second, a sense of urgency is required, and it is not clear the urgency is understood and fully appreciated. Third, there must be an articulation of the vision and an enticing of others to work to bring about that common vision. For example, some participants suggested declaring a bandwidth crisis to push the U.S. into committing to deploy 5G ahead of other economies. As stated by one of the working groups:

We need to declare a “bandwidth crisis” to inspire reform and innovation—billions of new devices need infrastructure, spectrum and bandwidth to connect—a national imperative for competitiveness, quality of life, aging population, etc.

We must deploy 5G ahead of other economies—both to maintain international technology leadership and to establish de facto standards for device design and frequency harmonization.

Participants also discussed specific leadership mechanisms. MIT Professor David Edelman described past involvement by the White House, for example in setting the specific 500 MHz goal for making additional spectrum available. Policymaker Steve Unger noted that targets are helpful but not sufficient and that detail matters. For example, if one hits the target amount for spectrum, but the spectrum is not useful, it has not really advanced the ball. Other participants discussed the need to hold the Department of Defense accountable, and the need for change agents. Both the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) have served as change agents in the past. Change agents are useful, agreed Alex Hoehn-Saric, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at Charter Communications, but it is also necessary to have an incentive structure.

In the past, principals sitting together, without staff, have also been able to make progress. Political appointees that have been successful have won over the career staff. Noting that different communities have different ways of talking about things, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s policy analyst Doug Brake said that it is important to get the language right.

Inclusion and transparency are also important. If it is difficult to figure out where policy is being made, it is difficult to affect that policy.

In the end, MIT scholar David Edelman asked whether spectrum leadership can truly be exercised. Edelman posited “three phases to Nirvana”: (1) No one cares; (2) Big problem—get a czar; (3) Awareness at the senior level, and the development of core competency. Edelman said he felt we were still early in the process.

Spectrum management, regulation and enforcement are arcane enough in themselves. Added to the complexity, though, is the labyrinth of governments, government agencies and other institutions of regulatory or semi-regulatory authority that providers of new applications and services must encounter to innovate in the field. While this has long been the case, the newest uses, such as drones, the Internet of Things, 5G, telemedicine, autonomous self-driving cars, and other new apps still pose more issues and complications.

The group generally agreed that spectrum management institutions already face considerable obstacles, including lack of economic incentives with respect to government users, and insufficient agility. These challenges will only increase with the advent of 5G, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things. In particular, the need for swift action, creativity and flexibility will increase, but these are all challenges today.

In searching for solutions, the group considered proposals for systemic change that would require legislation, such as a “GSA for spectrum,” requirements for periodic reallocation of government spectrum, and spectrum fees. Most of the discussion centered on a GSA for spectrum, combined with periodic “spectrum mining,” and perhaps the equivalent of a BRAC for Department of Defense spectrum. Still more thought would be required to develop the details of such an approach, to address the many issues that were raised as part of the discussion.

The group also considered proposals for change within the current system, including the development of an UAS Traffic Management system for airborne drones; a set of ideas for addressing the local issues that must be resolved to deploy the small cells and fiber that will be required for widespread development of 5G; and an Executive Council for improving baseline connectivity and affordability. The confluence of expertise brought together at the conference aims to advance the thinking of industry and policymakers in this ever-evolving field.

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