Michael Calabrese

Vice President; Director, Wireless Future Program, New America Foundation

The Myth of Spectrum Scarcity: Opportunistic Access to the Airwaves
21 minutes, 10mb, recorded 2009-03-05
Michael Calabrese

Michael Calabrese argues that the FCC's depicted apportioning of the airwave spectrum gives a false impression of scarcity, especially as it fails to consider the real use of each frequency assignment and the full capabilities of digital transmitters and receivers today. The government can do more to assure the wireless future offers pervasive, ubiquitous, and affordable connectivity.

By considering the two general concepts of underlay (increasing use of a particular frequency, such as in a time-sharing condition) and overlay (filling unoccupied frequencies), he means to show how much more can be done with the airwave spectrum, taking into account possibilities for frequency sharing and the adjacencies now possible without interference. He gives an example of "cognitive radio," which operates at low power and searches out the most appropriate frequency in a given condition.

In the recent DTV shift, 18 of 67 TV channels of bandwidth were freed for a $2B auction. Also, Congress has opened unused TV spectrum for low-power, unlicensed (WiFi) use. Calabrese suggests FCC and Congress could go much further, and be much more careful about spectrum apportioning.

He holds the FCC's television broadcast database lookup as a model; showing how the 280 mHz currently surveyed is "spectrum swiss cheese," and demonstrating the under-utilization of available signal opportunity. He also argues the database should be extended spectrum-wide, which would demonstrate more opportunities for non-interfering use on adjacent channels, in time-sharing, or space-conscious arrangements.

Michael Calabrese, as Vice President of the New America Foundation, directs the Wireless Future Program and helps to guide the Foundation's work related to retirement security and the Next Social Contract Initiative. Previously, Mr. Calabrese served as Director of Domestic Policy Programs at the Center for National Policy, as General Counsel of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, and as pension and employee benefits counsel at the national AFL-CIO.

An attorney and graduate of both Stanford Business and Law Schools, Mr. Calabrese speaks and writes frequently on issues related to spectrum, wireless broadband, and Internet policy, as well as on Next Social Contract issues related to improving retirement security and health coverage. He has co-authored three books and published opinion articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly and other leading outlets.


  • http://www.newamerica.net/
  • http://america.ecomm.ec/2009/spectrum-scarcity.php
  • http://www.fcc.gov/mb/audio/

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