Microwave backhaul license auctions would decrease efficiency, says GAO

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Were the Federal Communications Commission to start auctioning licenses in the 11, 18 and 23 gigahertz bands, it would likely decrease the efficiency of spectrum utilization, says the Government Accountability Office.

Carriers, along with state and local governments, use fixed point-to-point microwave transmissions between line-of-sight towers in those bands for backhaul communications, with the FCC dispensing license to operate in them on a first-come basis. Experts interviewed by the GAO for a report (.pdf) dated Nov. 20 said a new point-to-point path can almost always be found, even in heavily congested areas.

FCC officials also told auditors they almost never reject common carrier microwave licenses for those bands due to lack of available spectrum. The commission does place requirements for infrastructure buildout and continued usage on license holders; in 2011, FCC officials say 474 common carrier licensees voluntarily returned their license and the commission terminated 27.

As a result, experts also told the GAO that assigning individual point-to-point licenses through an auction would be impractical "because of the nearly infinite number of links that could be created in this spectrum." An alternative, by which the FCC would auction an area-wide license to an entity that would in turn lease point-to-point licenses, would lead to reduced industry competition and result in less-efficient utilization of the bands. The result would be an artificially-created spectrum shortage, spectrum policy experts told the GAO, the report says.

The experts in question value efficient use of spectrum over maximizing government spectrum license revenue, the report says. The GAO says that "it is unclear whether there is a need for other approaches."

For more:
- download the report, GAO-13-78R (.pdf)

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