Improving consumer outcomes from spectrum policy

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the last webinar of the year from the International Telecommunications Society, “Comparing International Approaches To Spectrum Policy” that took place last week (video reply is available here).

In the chat room, one of the attendees referred to a relatively recent GSMA report, “The impact of spectrum prices on consumers”, published in September 2019 [pdf, 2MB]. That report included these recommendations:

  1. Maximising revenues from spectrum awards should no longer be a measure of success;
  2. Auctions can deliver inefficient outcomes when poorly designed;
  3. Artificially limiting the supply of spectrum, including through set-asides, risks slowing services and inflating prices;
  4. Spectrum should be released to the market as soon as there is a business case for operators to use it;
  5. Policymakers should work with stakeholders to enable timely, fair and effective spectrum licensing to the benefit of society

The webinar provided some valuable academic perspectives on various approaches to spectrum policy, examining factors that can impact consumer outcomes, such as prices, service quality and coverage.

There was an observation from Helaina Gaspard of University of Ottawa’s Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy that I found to be especially interesting: “Canada wants to improve connectivity but there is no policy mechanism, formal or informal, that assesses whether spectrum policy is delivering against the government’s overall objective for ubiquitous coverage”.

Indeed, shouldn’t we ensure that the outcomes of spectrum policy delivers against the theoretical objectives that form the basis of those policies? Whether it is set-asides, the choice of spectrum tiers or other conditions selected as part of the policy framework for each spectrum band, how do we measure success?

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