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Thomas Hazlett, Former FCC Chief Economist, Seeks to Understand the Law and Economics of Media Regulation



August 25, 2020 — Thomas Hazlett, an American economist whose research focuses heavily on regulatory measures within the communications sector, was researching cable television when his interest was peaked on broadcasters’ use of the airwaves.

Hazlett, who had earned his Ph.D. in economics from UCLA in 1984, recounted that in the 1980s, “I wrote a chapter for a book about broadcasting that was never published,” describing an ironic start to his otherwise extremely fruitful career in the academic understanding of the communications industry.

“Radio and television are inherently political,” said Hazlett during a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday, as part of Broadband Breakfast’s “Champions of Broadband” series. “Broadcast has historically been regulated politically.”

Thus began Hazlett’s career at the intersection of broadcasting and wireless, cable and media regulation. He began teaching economics at the University of California at Davis, and has taught at progressively more elite universities, including Wharton, Columbia, George Mason University School of Law. He now runs the Information Economy Project at Clemson University.

In 1991, Hazlett was elevated from academia to the Federal Communications Commission under the George H.W. Bush Administration. In his position as chief economist, he was the main economic advisor to the agency’s chairman.

“You see a lot and learn a lot as chief economist at the FCC,” said Hazlett, in an interview with the Clemson Newsstand. “You witness the good and bad, from the work of dedicated and knowledgeable professionals who try to do the right thing to the structure of a perverse system that stymies their every attempt to advance the radio spectrum, so that it serves the public’s best interests.”

His position at the FCC drove Hazlett to focus more directly about the intersections of communications and economics.

Following his time as chief economist to the FCC, Hazlett became a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute from 1998 to 2001, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute from 2001 to 2005.

Eight years after founding the Information Economy Project and teaching as a professor of law and economics at George Mason University, Hazlett in 2013 moved the research center to Clemson University in South Carolina.

Regulation of the radio spectrum has little to do with ‘chaos on the airwaves’

Throughout his years working in the communications sector, Hazlett authored several books touching on communications regulation, on the subjects of cable, municipal broadband, the internet, and more.

Hazlett is particularly interested in the regulation of spectrum. He most recently released a book in May 2017, entitled The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone.

Hazlett pins the roots of current spectrum regulation issues to regulations established by The Radio Act of 1927, the brainchild of Herbert Hoover, which he finds limits innovation and consumers’ spectrum rights.

“The interpretation of the regulatory structure had little to do with chaos on the airwaves,” said Hazlett, who argues the move was the result of pressure by incumbent radio stations and key policy makers aiming to foreclose competitive entry.

In the book, Hazlett critiques the idea that government control of spectrum was inevitable. He further disregards the idea that the government does a good job regulating the spectrum market.

Instead, Hazlett argues that outdated regulation has stymied the advancement of wireless communication through the enforcement of Hoover-era regulations, hindered by political interests.

“Despite wireless technology’s staggering growth, the bygone-era regulations have led to underutilized frequency space, which has far-reaching consequences,” said Hazlett.

Today, the system Hazlett described as “anti-consumer and anti-competitive,” has begun to loosen up.

“Wireless has taken off,” said Hazlett, “part of this is due to relaxation of some regulatory rules.”

Hazlett believes going forward, regulators should find much better ways to allocate spectrum, especially as the FCC is set to hold the largest auction of unlicensed spectrum in history in December, to meet increased spectrum demands for Wi-Fi.

“Let the consumers decide the market,” argued Hazlett, saying “that’s what we need to move towards, to getting spectrum to its highest uses.”

As of yet, Hazlett believes American spectrum is “all tied up in a regulatory proceeding.”


Rosenworcel Proposes Funding Infrastructure and 911 Transition with Spectrum Auction Money

The FCC’s chairwoman spoke on the future of spectrum during a Tuesday CTIA event on 5G’s climate impacts.



Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel by T.J. York

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel on Tuesday proposed using funds raised in upcoming spectrum auctions held by the commission to fund infrastructure projects and the transition to a next-generation 911 system.

The proposal came as part of a list of potential future areas of focus on spectrum from the commission during Rosenworcel’s session at wireless trade association CTIA’s 2022 5G Summit focusing on 5G’s impacts on climate.

Rosenworcel has stated in the past that she would like spectrum auction proceeds to go towards updating the national 911 system.

Proposed upgrades include allowing 911 callers to send first responders photos, videos and text messages rather than just calls. A bill also exists in Congress to upgrade 911, the Next-Generation 911 Act, authorizing federal grants to go towards the upgrades.

In March the FCC announced that in July it would auction 2.5 GHz band licenses for 5G services.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also speaking at Tuesday’s event, added to the calls for upgrades to the national 911 system.

Rosenworcel also spoke about the possibility of legislation targeting mid-band spectrum and development of next-gen wireless networks, work on updates to the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act that governs allocation of spectrum to the commercial sector, as well as a greater focus on receiver performance and procurement practices rather than just examining transmitters.

She emphasized that the commission is always actively working on spectrum policy through the Affordable Connectivity Program, the freeing up of spectrum with a particular focus on mid band, advocating for a national spectrum plan, and broadband data collection via the provisions of the Broadband DATA Act. She stated that the commission is actively involved with National Telecommunications and Information Administration head Alan Davidson on freeing up spectrum.

Additional speakers at Tuesday’s event included director of the White House’s National Economic Council Brian Deese, who noted that in the coming weeks and months there will be many more announcements on broadband funding from the administration on money to come from new and existing sources, and Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky.

Guthrie voiced frustration with government agencies not designated authority on spectrum over the role they took in public debates on spectrum policy, largely related to the Federal Aviation Administration’s influence over cellular providers to make concessions on their rollout of 5G over safety concerns earlier this year.

“And we must always continue to address inter-agency coordination issues,” said Guthrie.

He stated the necessity of these agencies communicating concerns to the NTIA and FCC rather than directly involving themselves in policy discussions.

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In a Move to Aid Spectrum Efficiency, FCC Begins Inquiry on Receiver Interference Standards

The FCC makes advancements towards more efficient spectrum use throughout the country.



Photo of Public Knowledge Policy Counsel Kathleen Burke from the advocacy group

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2022 — The Federal Communication Commission on Thursday voted to press forward on a proceeding designed to make spectrum transmissions in the United States much more efficient.

“By enabling more efficient use will facilitate the introduction of new and innovative wireless services that will benefit the American public,” said Paul Murray, associate chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology at the FCC, who introduced an inquiry titled, “Promoting Efficient Use of Spectrum through Improved Receiver Interference Immunity Performance.”

Receiver interference immunity performance refers to the ability of a radiofrequency receiver (as opposed to a transmitter) to reject interference. Typically, the agency focuses its rules on the transmitter side of radio systems.

But, the FCC said, “receivers and receiver interference immunity performance play an increasingly critical role in enabling more efficient spectrum use,” age agency noted in its fact sheet circulated prior to the meeting.

In it, the FCC highlighted how, increasingly, “the receiver interference immunity performance associated with incumbent services operating in spectral proximity to new users or services has been a major consideration.”

For example, the ability of incumbent service receivers to reject signals outside their intended band has been relevant to the timing and scope of the introduction of new services, such as the Ligado and the 3.7 GigaHertz (GHz) band proceedings, the agency noted. There, the FCC adopted operating conditions and rules to enable the introduction of new operations into frequency bands with various incumbent users operating under different service allocations in the same band, adjacent band, or other spectrally proximate frequency bands.

“If our telecommunications system is going to meet the modern needs of our nation, every aspect needs to operate efficiently,” said Kathleen Burke, policy counsel at Public Knowledge. She endorsed the agency’s beginning the proceeding.

Emergency alerts strengthened

During the meeting the commission also approved for the public to comment on proposals that will strengthen wireless emergency alerts. “This pandemic has made crystal clear how important it is to have good data in an emergency.   Accurate information is essential if we want to know what we need to do next.  That is also true with Wireless Emergency Alerts.  If we want to know where to go with this system next, we need to better understand it. That is why today we seek comments on how we can develop better data about the effectiveness of Wireless Emergency Alerts,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Rosenworcel also that Chief of Staff Travis Litman will be leaving the office and will be replaced by Narda Jones.

“We also welcome the uncommonly talented Narda Jones to the agency. She’s my new chief of staff,” Rosenworcel said. She comes to us from the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House.”

The FCC’s next Open Commission Meeting will be held on May 19.

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FCC Will Auction Slices of Mid-Band 2.5 GHz Spectrum for 5G in Late July

The slices of 2.5 GHz mid-band will be licenses for flexible use, including for 5G.



Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel
Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel in 2018

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2022 — The Federal Communications Commission announced Monday it will hold an auction of 2.5 GHz band licenses for 5G wireless services on July 29, 2022.

The FCC said in a press release it has adopted application and bidding procedures for a slice of the band, which will be licensed on a flexible-use basis following “substantial public comment on various process proposals under consideration.”

During her speech to Mobile World Congress, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said, “this is the single largest swath of contiguous mid-band spectrum we have below 3 gigahertz and the airwaves available in this auction are going to help extend 5G service beyond our most populated areas.”

In the same announcement, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Office of Economics and Analytics announced the launch of a mapping tool that can be used to help assess whether and to what extent there is unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum available in any county nationwide.

The FCC is simultaneously working on improving mapping to determine areas without adequate coverage. Expert witnesses discussed the lack of accurate broadband maps and the importance of crowdsourcing for accurate maps during a congressional hearing about 5G and the future in wireless technologies on Thursday.

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