What’s spectrum got to do with foreign policy?
Sep 21, 2020 by Toby Youell



Regulators around the world seek to put spectrum, a natural resource, to its best use for society at large. This means they pursue a variety of domestic public policy objectives such as providing universal access to broadcasting services or having superfast mobile broadband networks.

So why did US foreign policy chief Mike Pompeo, by no means a man with plenty of time on his hands, attend a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) event to promote open radio access networks?

Foreign ministries do often cooperate at the ITU to ensure that international systems like satellite constellations do not suffer harmful interference. But governments also seek to promote the export of their own technologies for national industrial reasons. In other words, they pick winners.

If other countries have similar spectrum policies to yours, they might buy your favoured companies’ products. The European Union’s promotion of GSM shows that this can succeed, but the bloc’s promotion of MSS and C-ITS also shows it can fail.

Several FCC commissioners said that they were not in the business of picking winners. But by setting aside a day of the FCC chair Ajit Pai’s time, as well as deploying the services of 31 FCC staffers to put the event together, the agency certainly seems to be flirting with preferential treatment.

What does this mean for spectrum?

“I support the FCC’s efforts to free as much 5G spectrum as possible and as quickly as possible,” said Pompeo. “Freeing spectrum will drive fast buildout of our own networks and stimulate economic growth that pushes 5G technology into everything from factories to telemedicine and autonomous networks.”

The answer, then, is business as usual.•