GAO: FCC Needs Comprehensive Strategic Plan on 5G Spectrum Policy

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lacks a “comprehensive strategic [plan] to guide spectrum policy for 5G deployment,” according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.  The government watchdog agency made recommendations to FCC to improve its strategic plan, but the FCC was luke warm on the reccomendations.

GAO reached that conclusion after speaking with broadband experts who said that “the lack of sufficient access to mid-band spectrum is a key challenge to deploying 5G,” and that “the availability of mid-band spectrum to carriers in the United States is not yet sufficient to meet carriers’ needs for 5G network deployment because of existing congestion within the band.”

To combat that lack of spectrum access, the FCC needs to provide carriers with access to a mix of low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum when deploying 5G because of network characteristics unique to each spectrum band, the government watchdog agency said.

According to FCC officials, the FCC has taken steps to free up access to an array of bands. Specifically, FCC officials said that the Commission concluded an auction in 2017 for low-band; issued a Report and Order in July 2019 that gave mid-band access to non-Federal users; and held its first auctions for high-band 5G spectrum in 2018 and 2019, as well as concluding an auction in March of this year.

To guide its 5G efforts, the FCC developed its Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology Plan (5G FAST Plan). The plain has three key components: “(1) pushing more spectrum into the marketplace; (2) updating infrastructure policy; and (3) modernizing outdated regulations.”

However, GAO says that the FCC “has not laid out in the 5G FAST Plan how it will implement and assess progress toward the three key components.” GAO referred to best practices when it comes to strategic planning. Those best practices include identifying specific and measurable performance goals to show progress toward broad strategic goals; setting forth activities the agency will take to make progress toward its goals; and identifying related performance measures to assess actual progress made toward the performance goals.

GAO also found that the FCC developed its plan without input from outside entities, such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) or relevant stakeholders, including carriers. According to GAO, best practices show that successful organizations base their strategic planning on the expectations of their stakeholders. Thus, GAO said, involving stakeholders in the strategic planning process helps ensure that the agency’s efforts are targeted at the highest priorities.

To remedy the strategic planning issues, GAO offered the FCC two recommendations:

  • “The Chairman of FCC should develop, in coordination with NTIA and other relevant stakeholders, specific and measurable performance goals – with related strategies and measures – to manage spectrum demands associated with 5G deployment.
  • The Chairman of FCC should develop specific and measurable performance goals – with related strategies and measures – to determine the effects 5G deployment and any mitigating actions may have on the digital divide.”

According to the GAO report, the FCC “indicated that setting spectrum goals could unnecessarily limit its options but did not agree or disagree with GAO’s recommendations.”

Kate Polit
About Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs