Spectrum management has an impact on almost everyone in society, since almost all of us consume or benefit from spectrum-using services. These services include marketed ones such as broadcasting or mobile communications, and non-marketed ones, such as national defence. Other firms and public bodies are more directly involved as direct users of spectrum.
These latter groups have knowledge and expertise about spectrum-using technologies and their potential. Services provided by private companies depend on people investing the capital necessary. For this reason alone, their views deserve consideration. However, the interests of service providers and end-users do not always coincide and regulators will continue to be involved in arbitrating between occasionally competing interests.
The overall universe of stakeholders includes:
- End-users. The interests of end-users, as purchasers of services and beneficiaries of public services, are pervasive. However, it may be hard to get them to participate in consultations. For one thing, most end-users have a small stake in spectrum-using services as consumers only, so their willingness to marshal their resources and make their interest heard may be small. Contrast this with the incentive for a firm such as a mobile operator which derives its livelihood from spectrum and thus from spectrum management. This is feature common to all regulation: concentrated sectional interests can outweigh dispersed consumers and the public interest.
- Equipment manufacturers. Traditional spectrum management has involved the assignment of spectrum to individual firms to provide services based on a specified technology and using specified apparatus. This clearly gives equipment manufacturers an incentive to promote proprietary technologies. For example, proponents of various versions of Wi-Max or mobile communications standard might provide information supporting the view that their equipment should be specified for a given spectrum allocation. Such information is valuable to regulators if they are adopting administrative methods of spectrum allocation and assignment, but they should recognize that it is not provided in a disinterested way. In a more flexible regime, where the spectrum regulator does not specify the technology to be employed, this issue does not arise.
- Providers of commercial services. Commercial licensees will quite properly pursue their own profits. This will involve seeking access to spectrum for their own use and preventing commercial rivals from gaining access to it and are thus likely to oppose awards to competitors. Also, when spectrum licences are auctioned licensees will argue to have limits placed on later awards of spectrum. They are thus likely to oppose awards to competitors. Also, when spectrum licences are auctioned, they will encourage the regulator to place a limit on later awards of spectrum. This may increase expected profits from the licences, and hence – to some degree – expected auction proceeds, but the cost falls on consumers, if in the later periods will have less access to competitive suppliers in the market place for services.
- Providers of public services. Much spectrum – about a third or more in many countries – is assigned to providers of public services such as emergency services or national defence. Regulators typically grant requests for spectrum from such bodies free of charge, or subject to an administrative charge only. This creates an incentive for public bodies to ask for spectrum which they may not strictly need, or may not need at the time of asking. Such requests can be justified as a precautionary measure – to accumulate spectrum for future use, or retain it in case it is needed later, but this arrangement does not encourage spectrum efficiency in either the economic or the technical sense (see Section 1.3.2). Audits or special incentives may be necessary to encourage efficiency in the use of public spectrum or better still, since public users pay market prices for other inputs should public spectrum use not be subject to the same spectrum usage fees as equivalent private user.
It is thus clear that a spectrum regulator will have multiple interactions with parties seeking to influence its decisions. The regulator's goal should be to engage with the stakeholders, understand what they want from the spectrum management regime, and gain as much accurate knowledge from them as they can, but maintain independence in making final decisions in the public interest.
There are numerous examples of industry fora where the needs of providers of public services put forward arguments for additional spectrum resources and in some cases explore both existing and predicted technical issues and problems such as interference to existing services resulting from changes to frequency allocations.