On March 21, 2022, Silicon Flatirons convened an invitation-only roundtable in Washington DC titled, “Resolving Interference Conflicts among “Highest and Best” Uses of Radio Spectrum.” The half-day event gave a diverse group of interested and informed members of the spectrum community a unique opportunity to engage and develop recommendations that may avoid or quickly remedy future spectrum conflicts. Participants met and conversed under the “Chatham House Rule,” examining topics ranging from specific lessons learned to areas in need of future attention, and the variety of legal, technical, and circumstantial components that undergird spectrum policy as a whole.
The conversation focused particularly on how the spectrum community understands harmful interference and resolves conflicts arising from instances of harmful interference. Radio spectrum allocation and policy battles often result in extended and recurring fights among competing, incompatible uses and users. Recent conflicts include Ligado/LightSquared and the various GPS stakeholders, and 5G and radar altimeters. While stakeholders employ all sorts of tactics to demonstrate to policymakers how their service or technology reflects the “highest and best” use of scarce spectrum resources, a frequent area of dispute often centers around allegations of “harmful interference” between competing uses. Whether in the context of commercial mobile broadband communications, support for national security, safety of life and property, or scientific discovery, a coherent approach to resolving interference conflicts often remains elusive.
The roundtable explored the legal, institutional, technical, economic, and social conflicts that may arise when multiple interests collide over access to spectrum resources, and how these conflicts may be resolved. A series of three moderated discussion sessions considered the history of spectrum policy, spectrum governance, and new developments in spectrum technology. These topic areas served as three lenses through which to explore: the conflicts that exist between spectrum users and how the conflicts came about; why some conflicts were resolved while others were exacerbated; what could have been done to avoid or prevent conflicts; what technologies and policies may help resolve conflicts; and how government agencies, industry actors, and regulators can meaningfully approach conflicts in the future.